Modern vs legacy: On desktops and apps at Microsoft Ignite 2018

Microsoft moves to meet customers where they currently are, rather than only pushing them to modernize.

At Microsoft Ignite 2018, held in Orlando, Florida last week, Microsoft made a large number of announcements affecting the world of apps and desktops. Many announcements came in breakout sessions without press or blog releases, so we will have to wait for complete information on some.

As Jack previously reported, Microsoft announced the rumored multi-user version of Windows 10, called Windows Virtual Desktops. Also at Ignite, Citrix announced a full desktop as a service offering on Azure. I know that Benny Tritsch will likely be detailing those announcements, so I’ll leave it to him.

Instead, I want to cover Microsoft’s announcements relating to modernizing apps.

Moving to modern

In the world of apps, there were a large number of announcements that fall into the bucket of “Microsoft wants you to modernize your desktop and app deployments.” But at the same time Microsoft showed at Ignite 2018 that the approach has more meeting customers where they are, providing very flexible options that decouple the delivery infrastructure from the app package format. This means that they don’t want to force you do make bold moves to take advantage of new capabilities.

I look at it like this:

  • It is easier to get you to work with some of the new app stuff without asking you to ditch your entire on-premises infrastructure for cloud equivalents.
  • A lot of the new stuff is available (or will be shortly), but not really ready with everything that you need. Microsoft will require time to complete the full set of features for enterprises.

On the delivery front, Microsoft is now supporting your apps no matter what the format and no matter how you want to deliver them. This includes combinations of “modern” and “legacy” apps, and “modern” and “legacy” delivery infrastructure. I hate those labels, but Microsoft insists on using them.

Additionally, Microsoft is offering free help with Application Compatibility issues in Windows 10  with Desktop App Assure. Originally a service for Microsoft Partners, this is now being expanded to Enterprise/Edu customers.

‘Modern’ versus ‘legacy’ applications

 For decades, apps have been delivered in EXE and MSI formats. Probably a very large percentage of your apps are still delivered this way today. But modern app formats are designed to be clean; they deliver clean and they can be fully removed from a system without too much of a fight. The formats also can run under different runtime environments that help protect both the application and the operating system from changes.

Windows Universal Apps are modern. Microsoft App-V is modern (sometimes). Centennial apps are modern. And the new MSIX formatted apps are modern.

The announcements in the modern app area include:

  • Inclusion of a MSIX runtime as part of Windows 10 version 1809 (due out soon). Those of you familiar with App-V can think of it as the App-V client.
  • The MSIX packaging tool, currently available in Preview, will be released in October. This tool allows the IT Pro to convert legacy installers into a modern MSIX format.
  • Microsoft, along with partners, showed off MSIX package fixups. Unfortunately, taking a MSI installer and repackaging is often not enough, In my lab testing, very few apps would be considered production ready without some sort of fixup to run inside the current MSIX container. Microsoft has an open source framework for fixups called the Package Support Framework. As IT Pros are unlikely to build their own fixups from this C++ code, Microsoft is counting on partners to fill that gap. Both Advancedinstaller and Cloudhouse demonstrated their tooling at Ignite, but others like Flexera, Raynet, and FireGiant are shipping some form of support for MSIX as well.
  • Microsoft surprisingly announced that they plan to have a MSIX on Windows 7 option. While they’ve hinted at this possibility in the past (and even used it for a public demo), I never expected to see it released. But having it as an option is really a play to get the software vendors on board. Those vendors made it clear that if they change to a new release format, it has to work everywhere their customers are, and that includes consumers that are less concerned with the Windows 7 end of mainstream support date in 2019. There weren’t a lot of details on how this support on Windows 7 works, but it looked to me like that it would use MSIX as a delivery format, but effectively just install it natively, just like a MSI (but without custom actions).

This is year one for MSIX, and even when Microsoft announced it last spring, they said that it would take several release cycles to complete it. The capabilities thus far are more aimed at application developers, but more capabilities and maturity of the runtime and tooling will be required for IT Pros to repackage and deliver production ready apps.   

‘Modern’ versus ‘legacy’ delivery

Enterprises typically use the “legacy” option, Configuration Manager, tied to in-house Active Directory, to deliver operating systems and apps to desktops.

Modern delivery refers to delivery using cloud-based management. And in the Microsoft world that also means cloud-based identity and policy management via Azure AD. Microsoft’s modern delivery methods include Windows Store (for consumers), Windows Store for Business, Intune, and AutoPilot.

The Windows Stores and Intune already support both AppX and Centennial packages. These will shortly also support MSIX format (delivered to OSes that support them). But Microsoft announced that Intune will now also support your older application formats, including MSI and EXE.

Meanwhile Configuration Manager already supports legacy formats and App-V. This year Microsoft is adding support for AppX, Centennial, and MSIX formats also. Microsoft announced plans for a converter within Config Manager to convert to MSIX format (but again, I caution that most all of the apps will need PSF remediation, so don’t get too excited).

Conclusion

It looks to me that Microsoft is meeting you where you are today, and will encourage you to adopt dual management to take advantage of new features, like Microsoft 365. Eventually, I think the modern products will mature over time and include all of the features that enterprises need. There may be day in the future that you decommission your Configuration Manager infrastructure. And if Intune policy management matures, and we can eliminate NTLM dependencies in applications, maybe even the domain controller, too.

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