Windows Phone 8.1 – Kiosk Mode

We’re not entirely done covering new enterprise features in Windows Phone 8.1. Let’s dive into what I would usually call "Kiosk Mode". (At least it’s meant as an enterprise feature, but if you’re the controlling type I suppose you could turn it into a "kids mode on steroids".)

Smartphones are nice devices for enabling the user to do a whole bunch of things, but there are plenty of scenarios where you don’t want the end-user doing all sorts of stuff on their devices. If you control a fleet of delivery drivers who carry a smartphone for keeping track of their routes & pickups, and having the customer sign for the delivery, you don’t want the driver playing Angry Birds on the device on their break. Quite often I hear enterprise customers asking "how do we lock down these devices so the user can’t mess it up"?

We can lock it down by placing it in what we call a "kiosk mode". A kiosk mode alters the interface so the end-user can only access very specific parts of the operating system. Most of us face these kinds of interfaces almost every day; paying for bus tickets on an unmanned machine, withdrawing money from ATMs, etc. And I think I’m not the only one to be happy that I face a simplified UI focused on the specific thing I’m trying to achieve.

iOS has what they refer to as "Guided Access" to put one app in focus, and while Android has no Google-provided feature (that I’m aware of) you can lock down Samsung devices by using their enterprise APIs.

Windows Mobile (old school pre-Metro) also had the ability to lock down the UI fairly good back in the day. Technically kiosk mode wasn’t officially supported or sanctioned, but is was possible to implement nonetheless through different tweaks.

Windows Phone however hasn’t had any ability to do this until now. With the 8.1 version bump Microsoft adds a kiosk mode, but prefers to call it "Assigned Access". The naming is in line with 8.1 non-phone, however how it works is not fully synchronized between the two operating systems. This post will focus only on the Windows Phone implementation.

The Assigned Access features consists of more than just slapping one app in front and saying that’s all you can use. You could say that you create a set of apps and settings to compile a complete kiosk experience.

The kiosk mode can to the best of my knowledge only be configured through MDM.

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Extending Your Azure Active Directory – Part 2

In the previous post we built a web app that would let us add a custom attribute to our Active Directory tenant in Azure AD, and manipulate the value of this attribute on a per user basis. If you haven’t read the previous article I strongly suggest going back and doing so, or this might not make much sense Smilefjes

In this part I’m going to build another app that will use the information the first app provisioned into Azure AD. The first app let me register YubiKeys, and this app will let me authenticate based on these keys. The code is fully functional without the physical keys, so you will be able to follow along even if you don’t have one in your hand.

This app could have been implemented as a Windows Phone app, an Android app, or what have you really, but to make it available for all scenarios without too much fuss I’m building it as a web app. (Which is an entirely plausible use case by it’s own merits.)

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Extending Your Azure Active Directory – Part 1

I don’t know about you guys, but I use Microsoft Azure all the time (it’s not Windows Azure any longer). Not for everything I do, I still have servers at home and at work, but if I need to deploy something to "the cloud" that cloud is often Azure. One of the features in Azure I’ve taken a liking to recently is Azure Active Directory, which lets you either extend your current on-premise AD or setup a cloud-only AD. Since this AD provides APIs as well as the UI management tools you would expect by default this gives you the benefit of not having to implement a separate identity system for stuff that you create, and users can reuse the credentials they already have instead of having to remember multiple logins.

The general workings of Azure AD works may be familiar to you already, so I’m not going to do an introduction on how to get started with Azure AD. If however it doesn’t ring a bell you may check out MSFT’s site:

To follow along with this article you will need access to an Azure AD tenant. It doesn’t matter if it’s cloud only or the full DirSync experience. The code stays the same.

When you break it down to the basics you could say that Active Directory is just a database. For a long time it’s been possible to use AD as a database by "extending the schema", but if you’ve ever tried to convince a sysadmin that "hey, my app wants to put extra stuff into your directory" you will know that’s a pretty tough sell. (I am equally hard to convince if an app I didn’t create wants to insert config data into my AD, so I don’t blame the admins.)

Microsoft recently introduced a new feature called "Directory Extensions" to Azure Active Directory. Still only in preview, but that’s not a problem as far as introducing it to the lab :) These extensions live exclusively in the cloud, (if this will change later on I do not know), so they do not get synced back to your on-prem AD.

A blog post from the AAD Graph Team should give you an idea:

Graph API is the term for the RESTful interface that developers use to access the Azure Active Directory tenants; you don’t get to talk directly to the underlying files that make up the directory :)

The idea is that your app might be in the possession of data that it would make sense to attach directly to the user object in the identity directory, and/or data that might be of interest to other apps. This data should be inserted in, and extracted from, Active Directory in a manner that doesn’t interfere with the internals or break something.

It’s not necessarily easy at first glance to understand what this feature could be used for, or how it works, so I thought I’d try to create a walkthrough where I implement a simple scenario to illustrate what you can leverage these extensions for.

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