What your traditional software inventory solution does not tell you, part 4

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

This post was originally published on 22 June 2016.

Last time, virtualized and published applications were discussed. This time we take a look at another new Windows application technology not easily detectable by traditional software invetory tools.

Modern/Universal apps

When Microsoft introduced the concept of Modern applications in Windows 8, which arguably was a failure for them in many ways at the time, they sought to create an application model that was lifted straight from the playbook of smartphones and tablets.

These “Modern” applications were and mostly still are (now, in Windows 10 they are called Universal applications; this I think is the fourth iteration of what they are called, but in this article for consistency’s sake I’ll refer them still as Modern applications) meant to be very much sandbox-restricted applications and thus are more single-purpose than richer traditional applications. The term “app” itself that is predominately used in mobile-device world in stead of “application” is, I think, indicative of this notion of “simplified applications”.

However, due to the design choices and restrictions Microsoft placed on them when introducing Modern application concept, traditional software inventory solutions are oblivious to their existence. They are, first of all, basically all per user –based, as their delivery model is Windows Store except in restricted side-loading scenarios that the enterprises can take advantage of. And secondly, they are not traditionally installed on a machine, but rather through the Windows Store –specific mechanism that also takes care of updating them. Technically, this means that none of the Modern apps shows up in the list of installed programs on a machine, especially in the system context.

Like user installed applications discussed earlier, Modern apps in Windows 8 upwards are predominately installed by the users themselves, in their own context, even though they physically are stored on the PC (but not in the user’s profile in this case). In the recent builds of Windows 10 Microsoft has made it more and more as default that you could sideload these managed apps without jumping through hoops, but the intended use-case is clearly still the ”install from the Store” (or intra-organization Store as it may be) much more than users or IT itself installing them.

As the delivery mechanism is through the Windows Store, there are of course mechanisms in there to make sure that paid-for software are always licensed correctly as you have to purchase them through the Store’s payment workflow before even being able to access the actual bits, but the fact that the Modern apps bypass the traditional installation mechanisms in use in Windows in favor of custom-tailored process that the Store uses (putting the enterprise side-loading aside here), software inventory processes won’t be getting any information about them unless explicitly designed to do so. Which, I believe, not many are still doing. An added hurdle here is the fact that most Modern apps are per user –based installed and they actually leave remnants on the disk after upgrade or removal, so just looking from the system perspective does not tell the accurate picture of who’s actually entitle to what.

It’s very unlikely that traditional Windows applications are going anywhere for a long time – if ever – especially considering the limited nature of what Modern apps are able to do and the fact that they require re-writing from scratch which is not something many software vendors of existing products would do just for the sake of it. Even when Microsoft did introduce so-called bridging technology to bring traditional Windows applications into same container as used by Modern apps.

But the fact is that Microsoft is still pushing these apps, especially now with the idea of having one universal application that could adapt to different device types like phones, gaming consoles etc. (how feasible that is in reality, I don’t care to comment, but let’s just say that as a concept is surely sounds enticing even if the execution can easily be anything but). So the fact is that those PCs are going to run these kind of applications by the numbers, and by not seeing them with the chosen software inventory solution you are not actually seeing the whole picture.

Even more so considering that the users can just go and install whatever free apps might be available, to pass time instead of using the designated business applications. It’s the consumerisation phenomenon creeping in to the organizational setting, in the form of applications this time!

In the last part of the series we will discuss web -based applications and wrap up everything discussed so far.