Here's how Windows 8 will allow administrators to sideload and manage apps

Microsoft slowly but surely is fleshing out some more Windows 8 details of potential interest to IT admins and business users.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Last week, with the rollout of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Microsoft officials focused on the consumer features and applications for its next-generation Windows client. But on March 6 (at 10 am CET/4 am ET), the business features are slated to be in the limelight.

Microsoft plans to show off some of the business features in Windows 8 this week at the CeBIT show in Germany. Specifically, the Softies are planning to use Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner's keynote as another venue for demonstrating Microsoft's coming Windows client.

Microsoft posted for download last week a business-focused version of its Windows 8 Consumer Preview guide -- which seemed to indicate that  Windows 8 on ARM (WOA) tablets won't be enabled to join Active Directory domains.

But the Softies also are slowly but surely posting more content on the company's Web site that may be of interest to business users and administrators charged with supporting Windows 8 in the coming months. Among the new content are articles on using the Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK) and additional Microsoft deployment tools with Windows 8. There is a placeholder page for "managing Windows 8" but no content there yet beyond managing Windows Store.

The new Windows Store managability content does provide some details beyond what Microsoft officials shared at the company's Build conference in September 2011. It adds more details regarding the ability of IT administrators and developers to sideload line-of-business (LOB) applications. (Sideloading, enabled in both the Windows 8 Consumer Preview and the Windows Server 8 beta, allows the installation of apps directly to a device without going through the Windows Store. From that guidance:

"LOB apps do not need to be certified by Microsoft and cannot be installed through the Windows Store but they must be signed with a certificate chained to a trusted root certificate. It is recommended that IT administrators use the same technical certification that is done by the Windows Store on LOB apps."

Microsoft officials already have said that the Windows 8 Store will allow users to purchase and download Metro-style/WinRT apps. Desktop apps may findable from within in the store, but won't be downloadable or purchasable from inside it.

The latest Windows Store manageability article notes that IT administrators can turn off access to the Windows Store for specific groups of users and/or individual machines. Admins also can use group policy to fine-tune the automatic downloading of updates and apps that their users acquire from the Windows Store, and to "manage the abilities of sideloading app installations." The article notes that IT admins can only provide this level of Store manageability to Windows 8 devices which are domain-joined, so this may mean that WOA tablets cannot be regulated this way -- though we're still awaiting final official word from Microsoft on that one.

A few more tidbits:

  • Admins can control access to which Metro style apps can be installed by using App Locker. These policies can be enabled on apps from the Windows Store or Metro style LOB apps that have been sideloaded by the admin
  • App updates from the Windows Store cannot be managed by the IT admin
  • All updates to apps that come from the Windows Store must be initiated by the user
  • Admins can configure the ability of the Windows Store to auto download (but not install) available updates via group policy

The Windows 8 Consumer Preview has gotten a lot of positive public feedback from consumers and some press. But some business users and IT admins have expressed qualms about the mouse and keyboard navigation -- even with the Consumer Preview improvements; a desire to circumvent the tiled Metro interface; and early worries about the amount of retraining that will be required with the much-different-looking OS.

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