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Microsoft’s Desktop Analytics is Here and it’s Free—Do you Get What you Pay For?

Greg Lambert
December 5, 2019
7 minutes

Analysing your desktop applications prior to migrating to a new system or doing a major update is vital. One of the major reasons why ‘software update’ often elicits an entire series of groans from users is that something always breaks. Running a proper analysis might not completely prevent something from breaking, but it reduces the risk significantly.

In acknowledgement of this, Microsoft has released Desktop Analytics, a free tool designed to help Windows users do this analysis quickly and easily. Yes, it’s free, and it does work. Should your organization rely on it?

Here are some factors to consider:

It’s from Microsoft

Because it’s actually created by Microsoft, you can be sure it will properly integrate with the operating system and give you accurate results. It’s less likely than a third-party tool to miss an application that will break after the update. However, this does mean it is from Microsoft, and if you commonly have frustrations with Microsoft products, you may find Desktop Analytics no better. Integration may not overcome the other issues with the software listed in this article.

It Requires an E3 or E5 Licence

You can’t use Microsoft Analytics with a standard Office 365 licence (which costs about $15 per client). Instead you have to have a Microsoft Enterprise licence that charges each client over 120. Given an average ratio of one application for every 10 users? It’s not actually free. In fact, it will cost you about $1000 per application. If you already have an E3/E5 licence for other reasons then obviously it’s still free. But if you don’t, then it’s probably not worth upgrading your license just to use Microsoft Analytics. Educational organizations can also use it with an A3/A5 licence, but there are obviously rules around this.

It Has Certain Software Requirements

In order to use Desktop Analytics, you have to use certain software and systems. Specifically:

  1. You have to have all of your users on Azure Active directory. If you don’t, then it can take several years to get everyone switched over. You have to have an active Azure subscription. At present, you also have to deploy the Office 365 in your Azure AD tenant, although that is temporary. Migrating to Azure Active is a complicated process, and you may have other reasons why you would not want to. If you are using Office 365 then you already have Azure Active, but if you are not (for example because you don’t use Office or because you prefer to buy up front rather than subscribe to software), then you will not be able to use the device without changing.
  2. It does not yet work with Intune-managed devices. You have to use Configuration Manager.

Although Intune is not often used by companies that would benefit from the service, it’s worth considering. Microsoft has said that they plan on adding this functionality in the future, but there is no specified date.

Potential Privacy Concerns?

​Ah, privacy. So, here’s the privacy issue with Desktop Analytics: It sends all of your usage data from all applications to Microsoft. This may, for some companies, violate regulatory requirements. It’s impossible to use Desktop Analytics without a direct connection from the device to Microsoft Data Management. The data for Microsoft Data Management and Azure Analytics Storage is hosted in the United States, which generally has more lax privacy protection. It also means your data is being sent internationally. Although the data is encrypted, it is still an extra step that could result in hackers getting into your data.

Because of privacy and regulatory concerns, Microsoft also doesn’t collect data from devices located in the EEA and Switzerland that are running Windows 8.1 or Windows 7. This may mean that the system won’t work properly for offices in Europe, which every major corporation has these days.

You also may simply not want Microsoft to be processing that kind of data, especially if you have proprietary apps or other processes.

It Only Handles In-Place Updates

Desktop Analytics is explicitly designed to handle in-place updates. It won’t help if you are replacing the entire OS, and has limited use if going from 32-bit to 64-bit (for example when migrating an ancient desktop). Microsoft suggests using an imaging scenario for that. Ergo, while you can probably run just using Desktop Analytics for a while, sooner or later you will have a new OS version or another major update to worry about. It can still provide some useful information, but is not going to give you the full picture you need.

When you need to do major updates or migrations, you will need a more full-featured, specialist program that can cover this. Given every company has to do major updates at some point, there’s seldom a reason other than cash flow not to implement a program like that right away.

You Need to Have Everything Updated

Desktop Analytics will only work on machines that have all of their updates in place. This is an issue if you have skipped an update (say, because analytics told you it would break a key legacy application you can’t get afford to have recoded). In fact, the system requires that you install all of the latest updates before you run it for the first time. The very same updates you want to make sure aren’t going to break anything. This means it’s only useful if you routinely install updates as soon as possible. In particular, you need to make sure Configuration Manager is fully updated. This significantly limits the utility of the service, especially for companies which are planning major upgrades from legacy software and operating systems to a modern desktop.

Desktop Analytics also does not work with or support upgrades to Windows 10 long-term servicing channel, mostly because LTSC does not offer the same feature updates and therefore doesn’t need it as much. However, for the edge use cases where LTSC is useful, this is worth remembering.

It Doesn’t Work With Virtualization

It doesn’t work with either Microsoft or third-party virtualization platforms. If you are using anything like that, then you won’t be able to use or rely on Desktop Analytics. Unfortunately, virtualization is so useful these days that giving it up is unlikely to be worthwhile. If you never use virtualization, then you may find Desktop Analytics sufficient. You should, however, consider the future and whether you are likely to upgrade to apps that require it.

Initial Setup Requires Patience…a Lot of Patience

Initial setup of Desktop Analytics can take up to 72 hours. The portal will show ‘processing data’ during this time. If you don’t have something setup right, for example don’t have data sharing turned on or Azure AD applications properly provisioned, you may not realize until after that time has passed. Then you will have to start over. It could easily take a week or two before you can actually use the application, making it not exactly plug and play. If you end up having to contact Microsoft support, it could take even longer. Thus, it’s not a good idea to try to set up Desktop Analytics right before a planned update. In fact, the best time to set it up is right after a planned update, right when you don’t actually need it.


In conclusion, there are very few reasons why an enterprise would prefer to use Desktop Analytics. It is certainly better than nothing, and may be useful if you seldom do major updates, already have an E3/E5 licence, and keep everything updated all the time. Of course, the second you find that an upgrade will break an app you can’t immediately replace, Desktop Analytics becomes a lot less useful. This happens to everyone fairly regularly. If Desktop Analytics is really going to cost you nothing and fulfills your current needs, then it might be a good solution, but this is true of relatively few companies or organizations.

For most companies, therefore, it’s worth shelling out the cash for a specialized tool that can also put you on the road towards remediation. Readiness will do everything Desktop Analytics does without your precious data being sent to Microsoft. It will also check applications for cross compatibility between Windows 10 and Server 2016, support virtualization technology, and ensure compliance with your corporate standards and regulatory needs. Oh, and we also have actual, real humans who can check compliance and complications with you and the vendor. Readiness also supports all major updates, and will help with updating to all versions of Windows 10, not just the ones Microsoft considers to be widely-adopted.

If you are planning a massive migration to Windows 10, or are concerned about the next massive migration (Windows 10 is not brand new at this point and no doubt Microsoft is already working on the next new version), then you should contact us today. You can also try Readiness out. The free trial will assess your first 25 applications, which should be enough to help you know whether Readiness is the right application compatibility solution for your business. Alternatively, we can set up a one-on-one demonstration for you.

Greg Lambert

CEO, Product Evangelist
Greg Lambert is the CEO and product evangelist for Application Readiness Inc. Greg is a co-founder of ChangeBASE and has considerable experience with application packaging technology and its deployment.

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