Windows Package Manager & WinGet Applications – Is This the End for Application Packaging?
Windows Package Manager is a Microsoft tool that makes it easy to manage software applications. You simply use the winget command line tool to find and install the applications you need. You can also manage applications using the winget command line tool in Windows Package Manager, including upgrading, configuring, and removing apps. So, is this the end of application packaging? Not quite yet – and probably not any time soon.
Windows Package Manager is a new solution from Microsoft, having been launched in 2020. While it is not a tool to replace application packaging, it has the potential to refine or alter endpoint management and the way you manage your application estate.
A Brief Overview
The super-manual way for finding and installing an application on a computer is to look for the app on the vendor’s website before downloading and running the installer. This is waaaay too cumbersome for organisations with hundreds, let alone tens of thousands of applications.
Microsoft created app stores, including Microsoft Store for Business, to help organisations manage end-user applications, but the stores didn’t really take off and developers largely ignored them. It got to the point, in fact, that Microsoft announced the retirement of the Microsoft Store for Business (at the time of writing, the retirement of Microsoft Store for Business and Microsoft Store for Education have been postponed).
Third-party solutions were filling the vacuum, including the popular open-source package manager, Chocolatey. Windows Package Manager is Microsoft’s answer to tools like Chocolatey.
How Does Windows Package Manager Work?
Windows Package Manager (which is often referred to simply as winget) is also an open-source package manager. Any developer can add their application package manifest to the Windows Package Manager public GitHub repository. When it is in this repository, anyone can use the winget command prompt tool in Windows Package Manager to find, install, and manage the application. Furthermore, multiple applications can be installed and managed at once.
Microsoft has also been extending the functionality of Windows Package Manager, including integrating it with Intune / Microsoft Endpoint Manager.
Why Is Application Packaging Still Relevant?
Application packaging is obviously still relevant to software vendors and developers as they need to create application package manifests to add to the Windows Package Manager public app repository. However, application packaging remains relevant to all organisations.
After all, the public repository of Windows Package Manager only contains common software applications. Common software applications is a broad category – currently, there are thousands of applications in the public repository. This will cover a large proportion of the applications in your app estate, but it won’t cover them all. Legacy apps and custom-developed apps in particular will not be available in Windows Package Manager as standard.
The “as standard” part of that last sentence is important as it is possible to create a private repository in Windows Package Manager that includes legacy applications, custom applications, and other applications that should not, for whatever reason, be available for general download on the public repository.
In other words, you can have your own private repository of apps. You can then use Windows Package Manager to install and manage applications on build images and/or end users’ machines.
That brings us back to application packaging, as you need to create application packages in modern formats to add them to your private winget repository.
Creating Application Packages in a Winget-Supported Format
Windows Package Manager has a number of supported installer formats that can be used, including MSI and MSIX. These supported formats bring added benefits to your app and end-user management operations, as you can use the automation features of Access Capture to streamline multiple tasks, including packaging apps in the MSI or MSIX format. You can also test the newly packaged apps before adding them to the Winget private repository.
The Way Forward
Microsoft is continuing to refine its endpoint management tools, and Windows Package Manager appears to be an integral part of the solution. Microsoft is doing this to not only improve the service it offers to technology service teams, particularly in large organisations, but to also head off competition from innovative and potentially disruptive third parties.
For organisations looking at the best way to manage applications and endpoints, there are multiple options available, and Windows Package Manager is a compelling choice. However, the day of the legacy application is not yet over and is unlikely to be over for some time to come. The day of the custom application is unlikely to ever be over.
Therefore, even with tools like Windows Package Manager, it looks like application packaging processes are here to stay.