Microsoft is launching a new version of its Store with Windows 11. There are lots of changes for consumers and businesses.
Update on Oct. 27, 2021: Microsoft’s Windows Store team has announced that the new Store will start rolling out to Windows Insiders on Windows 10 from today, with a full release to all users due soon.
Microsoft unveiled its Store with Windows 8. Originally intended to be the distribution method for the new Appx packages introduced alongside the WinRT SDK, it’s since grown substantially, adding support for the newer cross-SDK MSIX, as well as hosting video and games downloads for Xbox. Now with the advent of Windows 11, the Microsoft Store is set for a new lease of life.
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It certainly needs it. Even with attractive revenue share models, it’s never had the success of Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store, and is often seen as a home for copies of more popular applications. Much of that’s due to lack of support for apps built with the older Win32 SDKs and a reliance on its own payment tools rather than many software vendors’ existing payment platforms.
A new look Windows Store
Windows 11 aims to give the Microsoft Store a new lease of life, rolling out a new version of the Store with support for a much wider range of application types and removing the requirement for apps to use Microsoft’s own payment and subscription tools. That’s allowed companies like Adobe to bring its Creative Cloud suite to the Store, using it as a way of discovering Adobe’s applications. Once you’ve downloaded the installer, you’ll be directed to Adobe’s own payment platform to take out a subscription.
Microsoft no longer gets a cut of the transaction when payments are made outside its store, so if you use your own payment system or work with a cheaper, third-party payment service, you get to keep more of your app’s cost—changing the economics of using the store considerably. As an added bonus you can keep using your own content delivery network, all the new store needs is an endpoint URL and an installer that supports silent installs.
Expanding the Store to all Windows applications
That’s matched by an increased reach, supporting more than only Appx and MSIX, adding both the older MSI format installers and pre-packaged EXE installers. This will allow you to bring desktop apps built using additional frameworks, like Win32, Java and .NET to the store without changing any of your existing build processes. The new store will be where Microsoft manages its upcoming Android application support, which will run Android code on Windows PCs through an Intel ARM to x86 emulator. Apps will be delivered using a hosted version of Amazon’s App Store to install APKs on your PCs.
You’ll soon be able to add links from your own web presence to the store, using a new Pop-up Store web application that triggers a store download from the web, without opening the full store app. This approach allows you to continue using your own web presence to advertise, monetize, and support your code, only now using the Microsoft Store as a repository, delivery and update channel. Once an app is installed from the Pop-up Store, it’s kept up to date from the Windows Store, so you don’t have to write and manage an update mechanism.
Microsoft recently began to add support for Progressive Web Applications in the Store, initially offering a curated set for use with Edge. It’s significantly expanding this with the updated Store, putting PWAs on a par with traditional applications in search, adding a certification process for initial upload. Once certified and in the store, any updates to installed copies are handled by browser PWA tooling.
All you need is a web application that’s ready for packaging, and a tool like PWAbuilder to take the site and build the necessary manifest and icon files for use in the store. Once packaged, you can deliver your PWA manifest and assets to the store submission portal.
Changing how software is delivered to enterprises
One big change that comes with the new store is the closure of the Microsoft Stores for Business and for Education. This will be shut down in early 2023, in favor of using the new Windows Package Manager and the winget command. Instead of using a private instance of the store, with only your whitelisted tools, you’ll need to build managed scripts to install your preferred apps from the public Windows Package Manager endpoints, which include the public store. Apps from third parties can be stored in your own local repository, again using winget to load and update them onto user devices.
Microsoft is integrating the winget platform into Intune, with a public preview in the first half of 2022 and general availability sometime in the second half of the year. This should allow time to migrate to a new platform before the store closures. Microsoft has already started the process, removing support for bulk purchases of applications in April 2021. Support for private app repositories should replace this, giving you your own managed central location for application distribution. It might not be as user-friendly as the familiar Microsoft Store app, but a new Intune- and winget-powered company portal should allow you to bring Windows and mobile application management into one place, using Intune to manage licenses directly rather than managing a license pool through the Store.
There’ll be the option to use Microsoft Endpoint Manager to define mandatory and optional applications, controlling what users must install and what they can browse through the company portal. Microsoft has yet to show how winget and the Windows Package Manager will work here, but we’d guess that Endpoint Manager will end up including a version of winget, using its catalog and your defined list of repositories to provide a way of selecting what various users and groups will get access to.
Removing Microsoft from the equation makes sense. There’s no reason for Redmond to know what applications your users are installing and certainly no reason for it to be a license-management framework for your partners. With winget rapidly gaining support from vendors and with it treating the public Microsoft Store as just another repository, your own private store becomes a first-class citizen in Windows, one that you control, not Microsoft.
There’s a lot to like in this new iteration of the Microsoft Store. Separating out consumer and business application management makes sense, with the increasing importance of Endpoint Manager and other Microsoft 365 tooling to its enterprise strategy, with a cross-platform set of tools for managing not only Windows, but also mobile applications. The new Microsoft Store expands application delivery for consumers and small businesses, with support for a wider selection of installers and payment systems.
And there’s one more thing:This new Store (minus Android apps), will be available on Windows 10. It’s a big change to how Microsoft delivers apps, but it’s one that’s moving the needle toward users at last.