Microsoft takes steps to improve its Windows 8 business-app story

Microsoft takes steps to improve its Windows 8 business-app story

Summary: Microsoft has taken steps to ease onerous restrictions that have curtailed development of business applications for Windows 8. But some say the company still hasn't gone far enough.


Two years after Microsoft delivered Windows 8, there are still relatively few Metro-Style custom line-of-business applications available.


Microsoft's onerous requirements for sideloading Windows Store/Metro-Style apps is one of the reasons for the dearth. Sideloading is the way companies can deploy custom business Metro-Style apps to their users without going through the Windows Store.

The costs and licensing terms have deterred a number of businesses from even thinking about building "modern" line-of-business apps for Windows 8. But during Microsoft's Build 2014 conference, company officials addressed some of those limitations.

Magenic Chief Technology Officer Rockford Lhotka and a handful of others have been vocal critics of Microsoft's Windows 8 app sideloading policies. Some inside Microsoft itself have tired of the lack of progress on the sideloading front and attempted to circumvent the limitations with their own projects.

It seems Microsoft is ready to address at least some of the complaints. At the Build 2014, Microsoft officials anounced they had dropped the price the company is charging for developers to unlock their devices for sideloading.

Starting in May, Microsoft will be granting enterprise sideloading rights for any domain-joined Windows Pro PC or tablet to companies with certain volume license agreements. Line-of-business app sideloading rights will be available to volume licensees for about $100 for an unlimited number of Windows 8.1 devices. Before this change, Microsoft was charging developers $30 per device for unlocking keys.

Microsoft also announced some new tools designed to help developers create and deploy touch-centric business apps running on Windows 8.1 Update, which the company began rolling out to Windows 8.1 users last week. Among those tools:

  • Brokered Windows Runtime Components: Allows sideloaded Windows Store apps to access Windows runtime components running outside of the app container
  • Network Loopback: Sideloaded Windows Store apps can communicate with desktop processes and apps via network loopback. Developers can build touch-centric apps while using existing code that depends on Win32 or Base Class Library components, which is otherwise unavailable to Windows Store apps.
  • Windows Notification Services: Sideloaded Windows Store apps can receive push notifications via Windows Notification Services.

Lhotka said the changes were good but still didn't go far enough in terms of helping developers actually install apps onto their devices. In a new blog post last week, he noted that users will still have to pay a per device/per month cost -- ranging from $6 to $11 -- for mobile-device management using Windows Intune.

"I think Microsoft has taken a substantial step in the right direction with the changes to the cost and availability of side loading keys. Couple this with the increasing maturity of projects like (Magenic's open-source) OrgPortal and CompanyStore and I think we’re getting to the point where WinRT (the Windows 8 runtime programming interface) is something to consider for business app development," Lhotka said.

Some other users were still not convinced that sideloading is viable, even with Microsoft's changes, however.

User "SleepDaddySoft" noted in the comments of Microsoft's blog post that charging for a sideloading license makes developing WinRT/Windows 8 Metro-Style apps a non-starter.

"WinRT will NEVER be a viable platform for LOB apps until you get rid of the side-loading license," he said. "Why would anyone spend resources to make a WinRT LOB app that can only be deployed to customers with a an enterprise licence, or for whom you purchase a side-loading license, when we can just as easily create a web app or a desktop windows app, or an android app, or a Mac OS X desktop app, for free, without your permission?

"It's simple. Stop being stupid and get rid of the side-loading license requirement for everyone, on every version of windows and on every device. Then watch as developers of all types, from LOB business app developers to open source scientific/medical app developers, to DIY (do it yourself) Kinect/Rift/WearableComputing/NextBigThing geeks do Amazing Things™ on Windows, and then see the windows store and the platform in general benefit from the network effects of all that active development," SleepDaddySoft said.

In a related move, Microsoft also announced that volume licensees with Software Assurance for Windows or Windows Embedded will have access to both Windows Enterprise and Windows Embedded industry SKUs. Microsoft execs said the introduction of the new Windows Embedded Industry didn't mean Microsoft is discontinuing any of its existing Windows Embedded versions and/or replacing them with Windows Embedded Industry.

Topics: Windows 8, Enterprise Software, Microsoft, Software Development


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • The lack of a built in datagrid...

    and other standard controls might have something to do with it as well.
  • InTune is optional

    Mary Jo, just wanted to note that InTune is not a requirement. Once you have the sideloading license, you can choose to use free tools to do the actual sideload. If I am understanding correctly, you can use OrgPortal to distribute and sideload once you have the sideloading license.
  • xamlhacker

    Also wanted to say, I am with SleepDaddySoft's comment. The whole sideloading business is not really welcome on Microsoft's part. WinRT's extremely sandboxed nature also doesn't help. The brokered components and network loopback etc. will allow a little bit of escape from the sandbox, are not really high-performance solutions. For example, brokered components goes through inter-process communication (IPC) afaik and that can cause performance issues in some scenarios.
    • Agree

      SleepDaddySoft sums it up nicely, why bother building a modern app, which is a hassle and costs extra money, when you can release a desktop or web version for free?

      We've been building touch oriented desktop apps for more than a decade, under Windows and Linux, why would we swap to modern apps if we have to pay extra per machine to achieve the same results?
  • Sideloading should be there from the get go

    All devices should allow side-loading out of the box, although perhaps it should be turned off by default so that only semi-sophisticated users can go in and find the obscure setting to turn it on. However, there should be a Domain rule that can prevent -- and even automatically remove -- any non-approved side-loaded application.

    By the way, they should allow side-loading on WP, too. The deal should be: You want safe and convenient? Get it through the store. You want something else? Go get it yourself.
    x I'm tc
    • Sideloading is BS

      Windows has always allowed the creation and loading of apps made anywhere and by anyone.

      Microsoft is trying to generate revenue from other peoples work by charging them to put apps on Windows 8 either through the app store or through sideloading.

      They should build and sell an operating system that people want to use and be done with it.
  • It's Windows Phone 8 also

    IMHO, some of the problems Microsoft is facing are based on barriers against developers and users. This article explains one of them. There is other about apps for Windows Phone 8. Windows 8 is not selling enough, but it is the required OS to develop Windows Phone 8 apps. The most used Windows OS is Windows 7, but you cannot develop Windows Phone 8 apps with it. Without that requirement there would be more apps in Windows Store and Windows Phone 8 would have a greater market share. I do not understand why Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 were launched at the same time (October 2012, with a week's time difference) if you need one to develop apps for the other.
  • Seriously Microsoft

    Why do they make all these stupid decisions that only end up being a regret. They need me to be a Ultimate CEO so I veto these Bu11 $h!t MBA obviously decisions. Mr. Nadella must do everything in his power the purge the company of all Ballmer MBA worshippers. They are still there and they are part of the problem. The focus should be getting developers to write apps for Modern with hindrance or deterrence.
    • MSFT wasn't expecting resistance

      MSFT expected world & dog to embrace WinRT apps, and enterprises to be more than willing for pay for sideloading licenses. That didn't happen, and MSFT is now in damage control mode.

      The big danger for MSFT is that it wasn't the cost of sideloading that's held back WinRT LOB app development but rather indifference to or dislike of WinRT. If most enterprises have decided that WinRT apps aren't useful, it won't matter if MSFT makes sideloading free.
      • Why would businesses pay for sideloading licenses

        for an OS they already have too many other reasons to not deploy anyway?
  • metro apps

    are way too restricted in general. lots of apps have problems with downloads, saving places in playing media, etc. I've had the reader app wipe out what I've been writing into a PDF randomly while I'm in the middle of using it even. I want to like the metro apps but they just don't work like they should a lot of the time.
  • The big issues is

    The market share of Android and iOS devices is so ginormous, it is the reason app developers aren't jumping aboard right way. Android and iOS is where are all the money is currently, not Windows 8 metro and Windows Phones. If Microsoft released Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 before the Android came out, Win 8 and Win 8 phones would have been considerably more successful.
    Pollo Pazzo
  • A year and a half

    18 months (30 months in dev time) into the Win8/WinRT fiasco and losing more ground by the minute. It's dead, stick a fork in it.

    Microsoft: Kill WinRT and move on or become irrelevant.
  • Bill Gates

    This all has to do with Bill Gates. Steve Jobs said in an interview with Bill Gates that Gates wants to be the richest man in the grave yard. And I do believe that that will be Bill Gates legacy. Not Windows nor his killing of misquotes in Africa.
    Tim Jordan
    • Uh Steve Jobs achieved that already

      I am sure somewhere in a California cemetery, Jobs is the richest man there. Gates proved he is a visionary and he said it in Walter Isaacs BIO about Jobs. Gates noted, Apple prospers when Jobs is around, but happens when Jobs is 'not around'? We have seen it before '85 - 96'. Its happening again, Apple has not released any departures since Jobs death, all products have been refinements since 2011.
    • or does it have to do with your need to find something to complain about?

      It is interesting how you have turned a company giving away software for free and a man giving away his money to fight diseases and help people live into a story of needless greed.

      That is pretty low, even for you.
    • Seriously?

      You're still blaming a man who left his active role in the company years before W8 development began?
  • Tolls

    Tolls at every platform on ramp. This is how they plan to replace the lost Windows licensing fees. They have no choice. If revenues fall the board will be voted out by activist investors.
  • Security

    My understanding was that the whole point of having a curated Windows Store model for apps was so that the apps installed from there would be pretty much guaranteed to be secure. People are always complaining that Windows isn't secure when, in fact, it's been proven time and again that the security problems come from malicious or incompetently written third party apps people install. Third party apps have complete access to the underlying Windows SDK and can do pretty much anything with some sharp coding. A malicious app developer can make an attractive Win32 app free for dowloading that can do any number of things behind the scenes. Windows Store apps have a much more limited toolbox to work with in a secure sandbox. As we all should be pretty aware by now, the security vs. freedom thing is a balanced tradeoff. Even non-store apps from supposedly "trusted" sources can be problematic - Java comes to mind. I doubt that many people who complain about the restrictions placed on Windows Store apps do the same thing when the topic of Apple's or Android's store comes up. No, most likely they say you'd be crazy to allow other types of apps onto iOS or Android devices.
    Sir Name
    • Corporate

      Why would a corporate user want to pay special fees to Microsoft to be allowed to make or use corporate LOB applications? That's what this sideloading nonsense is really about, and the entire policy has been absurd from day one.