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Windows Bridge and UWP will change enterprise application management

Microsoft's Windows Bridge tools help IT treat different types of applications as universal apps, making it easier to manage physical and virtual desktops.

Some of Windows 10's new Universal Windows Platform features will directly affect how we manage applications as we move away from Windows 7.

The concept of the universal app has been around since Windows 8, but we didn't pay much attention to it because there weren't too many of us rushing to get Windows 8 on our enterprise desktops. Basically, a universal app is one that is packaged to be delivered from the Windows Store. The emergence of the Universal Windows Platform (UWP), in turn, will change enterprise application management because it's arguably simpler to provision apps from a centralized location via a cloud service than it is to design, implement and maintain a proprietary system.

In addition, the introduction of UWP Bridges, which help IT package and deliver other types of applications, helps us see what the future of Windows in the enterprise looks like. Compartmentalizing applications for individual delivery, even in a self-service manner, does a lot to streamline desktop management. When you also consider the mobile device management capabilities built into Windows 10, you can see a new paradigm in total Windows management. These changes can have a positive effect on how we manage physical desktops and can also make managing our virtual desktops more efficient.

What 'universal' really means

Being universal doesn't mean an app can run on any device that runs Windows, however. Universal apps are simply packages that contain application code and user interfaces for whatever device families a developer wishes to reach. This approach isn't a bad thing because an app that was so stripped down that it could run anywhere would hardly be considered full featured (think about apps written in 100% Java), so the user experience would suffer.

Microsoft created four UWP Bridges to help extend the universal app concept to other types of applications.

f a developer wants an app to work on Windows 10 Mobile in both phone mode and as a desktop application, he or she could package the application with both user interfaces. In fact, this technology is what enables Continuum, which offers the ability to use an app seamlessly between form factors and device types -- even running the full Office user interface (UI) from a Windows 10 Mobile phone.

Beyond Windows

With Windows 8, most companies were unwilling to create universal apps because it meant writing new applications from scratch. To address this issue, Microsoft created four UWP Bridges to help extend the universal app concept to other types of applications. These bridges are:

  • Windows Bridge for Android (Project Astoria)
  • Windows Bridge for iOS (Project Islandwood)
  • Windows Bridge for Web (Project Westminster)
  • Windows Bridge for Classic Windows (Project Centennial)

The Windows Bridges for Google Android and Apple iOS work in very different ways. For Android, Microsoft basically created a subsystem within Windows 10 Mobile based on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) that allows Android applications to run directly on Windows. The main limitation here is that it's limited to Windows 10 Mobile because Android apps are in large part compiled for ARM processors. The subsystem that runs AOSP isn't a virtualization layer­ -- the apps run natively -- so it can't translate from one processor architecture to another.

Windows Bridge for iOS doesn't allow iPhone and iPad apps to run directly on Windows; rather, it recompiles iOS applications to run on Windows -- provided the source code is available. It's basically an extension to Visual Studio. The nice thing about recompiling is that you can compile the app for any platform, even x86 or x64.

The Windows Bridge for Web Apps packages browser-based applications and makes them deliverable via the Windows store. Developers can specify a URL mask and specific UI elements that will lock the application down to a specific set of pages or sites so that users can't click their way through to unauthorized pages from within the app.

The Windows Bridge for Classic Windows packages pre-Windows 8 applications and makes them available via the Windows Store. Windows Bridge for Classic Windows  is not intended for use by customers, however; the intent is to give independent software vendors a fast path to getting their large, legacy apps into the Windows Store.

Windows Bridge for Classic Windows likely uses a subset of the App-V platform, and it requires additional components to make an application universal; for example, the UI elements for different form factors. It's not impossible for homebrew applications to use Windows Bridge for Classic Windows, but don't get any ideas about taking that old FoxPro accounting app and wrapping it up for delivery from the Windows Store on your own.

These tools represent just one way of compartmentalizing Windows applications, too. If you're not completely sold on the total Microsoft stack, you can still approach enterprise application management better with other technologies, such as FSLogix Apps, Cloudhouse, VMware App Volumes, or Liquidware Labs FlexApp. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me to see some of these products build in hooks to turn the applications they manage into universal apps at some point in the future. 

Next Steps

Find out why UWP apps have a universal problem.

Microsoft's universal applications and virtualization are a useful combo.

Universal apps are one of Windows 10's features that IT pros will love.

This was last published in August 2016

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