The Microsoft Build 2014 conference is this week. There is an avalanche of information flowing from the Redmondites on the future of Microsoft products and the changes to developer tools. One announcement caught my ear, the changes in the Windows 8 sandbox for Windows Store Apps.
Windows 8 store apps run inside a sandbox, which force the application to use approved WinRT APIs and prevent the application from damaging or infecting the host operating system. This is a good strategy for consumer apps but it limits what you can do with corporate applications. For example you can’t call certain .NET libraries within a store app.
The solution is to avoid making store apps and develop desktop appications instead. Now you have access to the powerful WPF GUI system and the full .NET framework. But you are missing out on some of the innovations available in the Store APIs and are prevented from using the new Windows 8 features. For example the touch system is much easier to work with in the modern libraries.
The forced separation of WinRT and .NET ends with the release of Windows 8.1. Now developers creating corporate apps can use any .NET library from within their WinRT apps. This is good news. It means that you have access to all your custom .NET libraries written for your existing projects. Plus you get access to the huge world of third party .NET code written during the last twelve years.
Now you can leverage your custom business layers written for .NET, and build a modern, sleek, touch friendly front end for your existing systems.
The Fine Print
You only get this “interop feature” if you side load the application. You cannot distribute your app through the Windows Store. That, of course, means that you have to have a way to sideload apps onto employees computers. Usually that entails having a Intune subscription for your company or buying packets of 100 sideload keys. This is a contentious topic, the past couple years have seen a lot of complaints about the current sideloading costs and limitations in the developer community. But those stipulations are changing too.
My sources at Microsoft confirm there are changes in the sideloading licensing costs and restrictions but details on the changes have not been announced.
Microsoft has released some information regarding the changes to sideloading. Rocky Lhotka tells the story on his blog.
Microsoft has now radically changed the cost of step 1. This blog post from Microsoft contains the following statement:
Enterprise Sideloading– In May, we will grant Enterprise Sideloading rights to organizations in certain Volume License programs, regardless of what product they purchase, at no additional cost. Other customers who want to deploy custom line-of-business Windows 8.1 apps can purchase Enterprise Sideloading rights for an unlimited number of devices through Volume Licensing at approximately $100. For additional information on sideloading licensing, review the Windows Volume Licensing Guide.