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MSIX – One format to rule them all

MSIX is coming, MSI isn’t leaving, AppV is a safe bet, APPX is better, UWP will be fine if your applications fit…. How simple can you get?

Application Containerisation is coming, in fact with a number of technologies for Legacy 16 and 32 bit applications it’s been here for a while.

Microsoft is looking to push standardisation on MSIX, a developing application packaging format, and the Goal is truly worthy;
• Containerised – Removed from the OS, Installation, Updates and removal is managed by MSIX, not the OS
• Safe – binary level application verification on a user level before an application runs
• Streamlined – Binary level Delta updates only, better than file level
• Reduced Storage – no components installed multiple times
• Enterprise configuration – configuration and enterprise specific requirements are contained within modification code within the container

Some promised features are perhaps slightly less sought after by businesses but may become relevant in more SaaS oriented procurement models. For instance, if your apps are provisioned through the Microsoft Store or your Store for Business portal, then there is the opportunity for Vendors to control update releases, direct to your users, leveraging MSIX delta technology to reduce network impact. This is perhaps an area that businesses will be uncomfortable with, but it is of course aligned to the principles of Evergreen IT. Businesses are becoming used to windows servicing, early adopters, pilot and general release cycles, and the principle of test some critical elements, “try it and see” for the rest.

How to get to MSIX

Advanced Installer were the first mainstream packaging toolset vendor to introduce MSIX support, with Flexera being the most recent at the time of writing. Expect some rapid product development, but at the point of release there are MSIX restrictions that will reduce the impetus to take up the new technology. Principally this includes limited application customisation, which is a large shortfall for enterprises used to advanced config and deployment management.

MSIX and using the Store

Your Internal Developers, service providers or vendors that you grant rights to, can publish your Line of Business Applications for submission to the Store. Once there, your applications will be available just for your company, and can be managed in the same way as any other Store supplied application. Where none supported customisation or capabilities mean the Store won’t work for your enterprise, sideloading is supported on Windows 10.
For enterprises used to managing their software estate, MSIX support has been added to the 1806 Configuration Manager current branch, so you can maintain more incremental control over your MSIX distributions using the likes of Software Centre for user driven installations.

MSIX Summary

MSIX is an understandable mid-term goal of Microsoft. Apps delivered from the Store bring a wide range of benefits to businesses that are principally happy to tick and forget the small print box on a vendors and Microsoft’s terms. What this means for enterprises that run a full ALM process, or have risk based approaches for Evergreen IT still needs to be seen, MSIX needs to be integrated into the relevant enterprise toolset processes for SCCM, Intune, MDM, Azure AD, Conditional access… the list goes on.

MSIX does not currently have the functionality and technical capabilities of the other mature application packaging technologies, however with the base technology being containerisation then in principle the complexity only needs to apply to the container’s “edges”, covering the interaction with the base OS and other applications. With the packaging toolset Vendors taking on at least an initial stance of MSIX suitability checks, then we can see that there is development work to include MSIX into the mainstream packaging formats.

It would not be a huge amount of effort to assess an Enterprise’s existing packaged software estate for MSIX suitability. Assuming the conversion process from existing formats is proven and bullet proof then it would not be a major undertaking to move to MSIX when the technology’s benefits start to deliver Enterprise grade requirements.

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