A web tool called Winstall can make it a breeze to set up a new PC by helping you create a list of software to be mass-installed via Windows Package Manager.
If you read that and find it a bit confusing, you are not alone. I’ll break it down for you, but that means you’ll have to put up with me through some hardcore nerds. In summary, we will see what a package manager is, how to get Windows Package Manager, and how to use the Winstall tool to bulk install applications on your PC. If you are already familiar with package managers, skip to the section on how to configure Windows Package Manager.
For starters, a package manager is a collection of software tools that automates the process of installing, updating, or removing computer programs. For most people, downloading a program means looking for it in your browser, clicking the ‘Download’ button, and then running the installation software to add it to your computer. A package manager automates this process: instead of the user searching for the software, the computer searches for it, verifies it, and installs it.
Think of it like the app store on your smartphone, except instead of scrolling through a list of available apps, you simply tell the store what you want and it finds and installs the software for you. (Truth be told, that’s an over-simplified explanation, but you get the gist.)
Package managers are popular on Linux distributions and have been around for some time, but not on Windows. However, Microsoft has been working on one. It’s worth noting that the Windows Package Manager is still in a public preview state and could change significantly before its official release. That also means there are a few steps required to get it working on your PC.
Windows Package Manager Settings
Since the Windows Package Manager is still in public preview, it’s not exactly available to the masses. The easiest way to get it would be to submit a request for early access through the Windows Package Manager Insiders Program. That is the process I used. It is worth noting that you will need a Microsoft account. Follow the steps there, which involve downloading the Windows App Installer through the Microsoft Store once your application is approved. You can learn more about process in this Microsoft documentation.
In my tests, the application installer was applied on some Windows devices that I tested, but not all; your mileage may vary.
Once you’ve completed that process, you should be able to use the ‘winget’ command in Windows Terminal, Powershell, or Command Prompt. For example, typing ‘winget install [app name]’tells Windows Package Manager to find the app, download it, check the installer, and install it. You can learn more about using winget here (but not necessary to use Winstall).
Those interested in learning more about the Windows Package Manager should consult Microsoft’s documentation. here. It is worth noting that it is based on Windows Package Manager Repository, a public collection of package manifests submitted by developers. These manifests describe applications and detail the software installation and validation process.
Unfortunately, many developers have yet to add their software to the repository, which means that the selection of packages available to install through the winget tool is limited for now. However, the repository should grow as Microsoft approaches a public release.
Make use of Winstall to install software in bulk
If all the nerdy, scary talk about package managers and ‘winget’ hasn’t freaked you out yet, this is where things get exciting. Winstall helps to create scripts to install software in bulk through winget. It is made by the developer behind the desktop Tweetdeck client Tweet, Mehedi Hassan.
Winstall is a free tool available on the web (you can check it here). Users can take advantage of existing ‘packages’ (lists of installable applications via winget) or create their own. To create one, you will need to log in with a Twitter account. Creating a package is as simple as clicking the ‘+’ icon next to the application you want to download or searching for it via the search tool.
Once you create a package, or find one you like, Winstall generates a PowerShell or Command Prompt script that you can copy and paste into the respective interface. The script runs multiple ‘winget’ commands that direct Windows to find and install all the applications listed in your package through the Windows Package Manager. Alternatively, Winstall can generate ‘.bat’ or ‘.ps1’ files that users can download and run by double-clicking on them.
Some apps available through Windows Package Manager and Winstall include Edge, Teams, Zoom, Notion, Slack, Firefox, Chrome, OBS Studio, Gimp, and Spotify. But that’s just a fraction of the 1,100+ apps that Winstall lists as available to install this way.
Winstall is a useful tool for people who change Windows PCs frequently and want a way to quickly configure the software they use. In my case it is useful as I review various laptops to MobileSyrup and any tool for batch installation of programs that I use often makes my life easier. To make switching between PCs easier, I moved most of my workflow to the web, but there are still some critical applications for my workflow that I need to install every time I set up a new PC.
While Winstall and winget will probably not be useful to many people, hopefully some of you will enjoy this useful tool.