Sideloading Windows Store Apps – When Unlimited Has a Limit

In part 1 and part 2 of this series, I describe how & where to buy a Windows Sideloading Key and then how to configure a machine to sideloading your “store” application.

I did not think there was another part to this story … until I checked my license and it’s number of activations. The license you purchase and use to sideload Windows store applications is supposed to be for an “unlimited number of devices“.

Unlimited Devices

MS Claim of Activations on Unlimited Devices

You can imagine my surprise and frustration when I saw in the Volume License Service Center that I had burned through 7 of 25 activations in the first few days!!

Long story short, after a few emails with the VLSC, they said they set the number of activations on that “UNLIMITED” license to 25 “for Microsoft tracking purposes on how many times the product has been used“. In the event you run out, you can request more activations by contacting the MAK team.

I do NOT want to be in production and getting calls from a customer that can no longer sideload the application because we have reached the maximum number of activations. Sure enough, it took another couple emails, but the MAK team was “happy” to increase the number… to 225. Still not unlimited, but a somewhat large number that I will someday likely have to increase again.

225 Activations

225 Activations

Where I uncovered the answers

      vlserva -at-
      MAKAdd -at-

Sideloading Windows Store Apps – Install and Configure the Key

In a previous post, I described the process of obtaining a Microsoft key to use for Windows Store apps that are sideloaded (not obtained or installed via the store).  We have taken this approach most recently with the “Magic Wall” software that we built for CNN. Now that you have the key, let’s configure a machine with that key to install and run the sideloaded application.

I was surprised to see that there is nothing to do to the application itself to enable it for sideloading.  You don’t embed your key in the app – it’s completely stand-alone.  This kind of makes sense and has a huge benefit of allowing you to use the same sideloading key for any application, even if it wasn’t originally intended to be sideloaded.  You DO still have to sign your application with a code-signing certificate.  Let’s take care of that first. 

Sign the App With Code Signing Certificate

In your WinRT application project manifest, Packaging tab, use the button to “Choose Certificate…”.  Point to your code signing cert, provide your password, and you’re good.

Sign the application

Sign the application

Now build your app, and create the app package.  You only need two files from the directory of files created by the app package tool: 

  • the .appx (application and resources bundled for installation)
  • the .appxsym (debug symbols, useful for digging through crash dumps, etc)

The appx is still not signed, it’s just built with the certificate.  Now let’s sign it.  Open a command prompt with administrative privileges, and run the following command, providing the path to the certificate and the certificate password.

SignTool sign /fd SHA256 /a /f {PathToCertificate} /p {Password} {PathToAppx}

Install Sideloading Key

Next you have to configure the machine where you want to sideload the application.  You only have to do this once for each machine, and then you can sideload any applications on it.  Again, the key is not tied to the application.  You can easily find this info online, but here it is again for reference.

From an administrative command prompt:

The command below installs the sideloading key on the machine.  Use the key that you got from the Volume License Center key manager.  You should see a success message when it completes.

slmgr /ipk {your sideloading key without curly braces}

Then run the next command, which “activates” the sideloading key.  You must be connected to the internet to run this command, as it will connect with the Microsoft licensing servers to verify the key.  Unlike the GUID above, the GUID used below is not specific to your sideloading key.  Everyone should use this same GUID. You should see a success message when it completes.

slmgr /ato ec67814b-30e6-4a50-bf7b-d55daf729d1e

Allow Trusted Applications to Install

Next, a simple registry entry allows the OS to install trusted applications (those that are signed).   Add the following key and value to the registry.  You should add the “Appx” key if it doesn’t already exist.

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\Appx\AllowAllTrustedApps = 1 (DWORD)

Install the Application

Finally, you install the application using PowerShell. Copy the .appx and .appxsym to the target machine where you have enabled sideloading from above. From a PowerShell command prompt, use the following command.

Add-AppxPackage {PathToAppx}

Now you can find the installed application on the start screen list of all apps, or through search. Pin it to the start screen or run it from there.

That’s it.  Hope that works for you.

Sideloading Windows Store Apps – Purchase the Key

Back in April, Microsoft announced that it was making it much easier to obtain a sideloading key for deploying “internal” line of business Windows Store applications. Until then, it was ridiculously prohibitive to acquire a key, so the sideloading story was crippled.  The above link (and this one) has the details, but suffice it to say that you are now able to get a sideloading key for $100. Sounds easy, right?

I set out to buy a key for us to use at InterKnowlogy, but … I searched high and low for information on WHERE to buy such a key. We get our volume licensing via our Microsoft Gold Partnership, and that’s not one of the qualifying methods for already having a sideloading key.  WHERE can I buy the key?

After many calls, I find that the Microsoft Volume License Service Center does not sell it, but instead recommends a volume license re-seller.  (I’m not trying to buy a volume license, just a single license for unlimited sideloading.)  I assume there are lots of volume license re-sellers, but that I ended up with was Software House International (SHI).

LONG story short:  this key is being offered as part of the Open License Program, which allows you to setup an account even though you haven’t or won’t be buying LOTS of (volume) licenses.

Setup the account, purchase the “Windows Sideloading Rights” license (QTY 1), part #4UN-00005.

No good.  You must buy at least 5 items to qualify for a “volume license”.  WHAT?  I only need a single license, that gives me UNLIMITED sideloads.  Why would I need more than one?

The fix (salesman’s idea): find the cheapest thing in their catalog and buy 4 of them:  “Microsoft DVD Playback Pack for Windows Vista Business” (QTY 4).  $4.50 each!!

Make the purchase, $111.58, and now I have some sweet DVD playback software to give away to developers as prizes!  🙂  Download the key, and next blog post, I’ll show you how to use the key to sideload.

Really cool that Microsoft made it cheap to get a sideloading license, but the mechanics of the process (at least to purchase) are still pretty wonky.

(We have taken this approach most recently with the “Magic Wall” software that we built for CNN.)