Microsoft slips, spills app volume purchase program for Windows 10

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As part of Windows 10, Microsoft will consolidate its multiple app stores and for the first time offer an app volume purchase program.

Microsoft will be following in the footsteps of its OS rival Apple, which introduced volume purchasing programs for both business and education -- the latter an important market of the iPad -- last year.

The disclosure of Microsoft's volume purchasing program seemed to have been premature: A long blog that on Wednesday revealed details of the store consolidation, volume purchasing program and enterprise-created "stores-within-the-Windows-Store" was deleted earlier today.

On Tuesday, the Redmond, Wash. company sketched out some of the features and UI changes of its new Windows 10 during an hour-long presentation. There, executives briefly highlighted the upcoming changes to Windows Store, Microsoft's umbrella term for its app markets.

There will be "one store, one way for applications to be discovered, purchased, and updated across all of these devices," said Terry Myerson, the company's top OS executive, at the news conference, repeating previous promises. "With Windows 10, our enterprise customers will be able to customize the app store, ensure that their employees and their devices have access to just the right apps, ensure they buy just the right number of licenses for those apps, and those apps can be consistently updated and managed across the enterprise and across all their devices."

Yesterday, Oliver Niehus, a principal application development manager and a technology lead on the Windows team, outlined several aspects of Windows 10 in far more detail than did Myerson.

Although Niehus' post was visible Thursday morning, it was subsequently deleted; cached versions remained available on Google as well as Bing, however. (Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, tweeted a link to Niehus' blog around 10 a.m. PT; the blog vanished about 20 minutes later.)

Niehus noted that the new consolidated app store will let enterprises buy apps in volume, and then manage the apps and their licenses. "We will create a new volume purchasing program that enables organizations to purchase apps in bulk, deploy those apps using a variety of scenarios, and manage the licenses (reclaiming and reusing, e.g. when an employee leaves the company)," Niehus wrote.

Unlike the current Windows Store (for the "Modern," née "Metro" apps that run on Window 8 and 8.1) and Windows Phone Store, both of which require payment by credit card or in some cases PayPal, the volume program will allow businesses to use more traditional payment methods, including purchase orders and invoices.

Corporate customers will also be able to create a "store" for their organization that only employees can access, to obtain both publicly available and private-to-the-company apps. "You will also be able to create your own organizational store, basically a store within the public Windows Store, where you can put a fully curated list of public and line-of-business apps," Niehus said. A half-baked version of that mechanism has been available, but it required companies to "sideload" the apps using installation files, which weren't always easily obtained. The new enterprise stores inside Windows Store, however, will provide the installation files by Microsoft through the volume purchasing program.

 Benefits to enterprises include: They can create curated lists of publicly available apps, those they've developed themselves, and others purchased directly from the maker, then limit workers to only those apps by disabling access to the Windows Store itself.

IT departments will be able to manage app availability, licenses and devices using their preferred mobile device management (MDM) tools, such as Microsoft's Intune. Employees will be able to use Active Directory (AD) or Azure Active Directory (AAD) accounts, rather than their personal Microsoft accounts, to acquire the organization's apps.

Niehus also said that the Windows Store for Windows 10 will stock desktop applications and "other content," although he didn't elaborate on what the latter might be.

For its part, Apple's plans allow organizations to buy iPhone and iPad apps (iOS) and Mac applications (OS X) in bulk, then distribute redeem codes to employees, who use those codes in the App Store or Mac App Store.

IT can manage the program using its preferred MDM solution, and an organization's finance department can buy what the Cupertino, Calif. company calls "Volume Purchase Program Credit" using purchase orders or through its existing Apple account.

The Technical Preview of Windows 10 that was released Wednesday still relies on the Windows Store designed for Windows 8 and 8.1, but Microsoft has stressed that the sneak peek was unfinished and would be regularly refreshed from now until the final version ships in mid-2015.

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