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Microsoft's Plans for 'Windows Store for Business' Take Shape

Lately, Microsoft has been sharing more about its plans for the upcoming Windows Store for Business, a Windows 10 app distribution system that will let organizations distribute apps -- including so-called "line-of-business" or custom-made apps -- to end users.

Microsoft's approach aims to give organizations a more active role than just buying commercial software from the current Windows Store. The Windows Store for Business service also will add some license management capabilities for IT pros. Licenses can be bought in bulk. IT pros also will be able to more easily reassign existing licensing among end users. Organizations also can invite independent software vendors to build apps for them that get accessed via Windows Store for Business.

Windows Store for Business can be tested right now by Windows Insider Program participants, according to a report last week by journalist Mary Jo Foley, citing a comment from a Microsoft official. However, the service looks like it's live. Microsoft already has its Windows Store for Business Web site in place. The sign-up instructions are located here. The Web site doesn't indicate, though, that the Windows Store for Business service is just at the preview stage.

Missing in Action
Microsoft has mostly stayed quiet about Windows Store for Business until recently. Its last talks about it were about a year ago. The capability did not make the initial July Windows 10 release. Microsoft described this missing Windows 10 feature back then as "Windows Store for Organizations."

It was thought that Windows Store for Business might finally light up on Nov. 10, which is Microsoft's Patch Tuesday release date. It's rumored that Microsoft will issue its fall Windows 10 build on that date -- namely, its so-called "Threshold 2" Windows 10 release that's expected to deliver new enterprise capabilities. However, Foley's report seems to have thrown cold water on the idea that the store will go live on that date.

Recently, preliminary information about Windows Store for Business has been surfacing in Microsoft's TechNet library pages. A TechNet "Overview" article seems to have nailed down some loose ends.

Current Plans
One early idea floated by Microsoft about a year ago was that Windows Store for Business would be capable of lodging "Desktop" apps or Windows 7 apps. However, that idea seems not to be part of Microsoft's current plans. The TechNet Overview article indicates that only "Universal Windows Platform" apps (meaning Windows 8 and Windows 10 apps) can be stored using the Windows Store for Business service.

Oddly, though, if an organization buys apps from the Windows Store for Business portal, then those apps have to be Windows 10 apps.

Microsoft is going to require the use of Azure Active Directory accounts to use Windows Store for Business, both for administrators and employees. The one exception will be for so-called "offline-licensed apps," where employees won't need an Azure Active Directory account to access those apps.

These offline-licensed apps aren't described in much detail. The TechNet article indicated that they are "a new licensing option for Windows 10." The standard approach will be "online licensing," where devices will be required to connect to the Windows Store for Business service, presumably for updating purposes.

One potential benefit of using Windows Store for Business is that the online licensing apps will get automatically updated. That circumstance can be beneficial or problematic for organizations, depending on the flexibility of IT infrastructures, as well as the flexibility of end users in adapting to new software feature shifts.

Microsoft will permit the use of management tools to control the distribution of apps, including the timing of software updates, for apps synced to the Windows Store for Business service. Past discussions by Microsoft officials have indicated that System Center Configuration Manager, Microsoft Intune or third-party mobile device management solutions could be used to carry out those tasks. One new bit of information, per the TechNet article, is that these tools will be required to synchronize with Windows Store for Business to have such management capabilities.

Microsoft is indicating that Windows Store for Business can be used by both small and large organizations alike. Previous discussions had suggested that small and large organizations might have a different experience. For instance, large organizations could create a company portal to house Windows 10 apps, while smaller organizations were described as just being able to carve out a "private section" in the new store. That distinction, though, seems to have been dropped.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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