07/10/14

Numecent Application Jukebox

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This past year my curiosity ran wild over Numecent Application Jukebox, it featured in the Application Virtualization Smackdown for 2014 (which you can find HERE )  that I contributed to, but I had never used it before. I read in the feature matrix at the bottom of the book (the one which illustrates side by side, the biggest technologies on the market) that Numecents solution had much fewer limitations when it came to application compatibility than all others including the big names such as Microsoft App-V, VMWare ThinApp and Symantec Workspace Virtualization. I couldn’t wrap my head around how this could be possible, I needed to get my hands on it to try it out.

Over the course of a few weeks, I had the privilege to take a look at Numecent Application Jukebox. I installed the client software on my personal laptop and used some ‘cloudified’ applications delivered with Numecents patented Cloud Paging technology. As is the case with all other streaming technologies the first launch took longer than subsequent launches as the application became cached on my drive. Don’t worry, this is not mandatory, it is possible to stream to a network share so this solution is certainly viable in a VDI implementation.

The tool available for packaging of ‘Cloudifying’ applications is called the Studio. Which like with any good capture tool should be on a clean Virtual Machine. You simply run the capture and Install the application and configure to your needs. When finished, you just click ok a waiting prompt. You can then browser through any captured files, registry, services, drivers, environment variable or startup tasks that may have been captured and alter as you see fit. It really is a very straight forward tool to use, if you have used an other application virtualization packaging tool or even a capture tool, this should be no problem for you.

As I learned over the few weeks, this solution provides the ability to capture a pre-fetch. Which basically allows you to capture the initial launch and whatever actions or steps you believe are most important for your users. This might include browsing to certain menus to ensure those are available right away or maybe opening the Options or Preferences dialog or whatever you desire. This optimizes the performance of the streaming and ensures a great user experience. This may sound a little like Feature Blocks in App-V and it is but something which is unique to Numecents solution is the fact that you can capture multiple pre-fetch’s and tailor them to different subsets of users as you may have some users which require something others do not. Also unlike Feature Blocks. You capture the pre-fetch on a client machine, not during the cloudification\packaging\capture itself.

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Pre-fetching the application on first run

In all honesty, I didn’t get much exposure to the Studio tool. I did get to see it in action but didn’t get to really do anything of great substance. What I saw was very promising. If like me, you have been creating virtual applications for years, the one word in the Application Virtualization feature matrix for Application Jukebox that stood out to you, was likely that drivers…there’s no typo. You can actually include drivers as part of the package! How is this possible you might ask? Sorcery? Witch Craft!?!?

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Original image sourced from TailWaggersGuide.com

From what I can see and I should qualify this with the fact that I only got a limited exposure to the product, It seems Numecent Application Jukebox is much more flexible than the other solutions I have used. There’s a much broader control of what Isolation can be applied to your applications. Other technologies such as App-V and ThinApp that boast isolation, struggle to deal with any applications which contain components that require system wide visibility and\or to run in the Kernel layer. Thus, why drivers do not work, thus why COM+ does not work with App-V or ThinApp as of this writing. Numecents Isolation options are presented in different layers you can choose from. For example, if you configure to the layer 2 isolated setting with Application Jukebox you can capture COM+ and DCOM and if using Layer 4 you can pretty much capture and run anything else which causes a problem with other Appvirt technologies as this is the least isolated layer. Layer 3 and 4 are closer to the isolation you expect with the likes of ThinApp. Using Layer 1 and 2, is of course is not without it’s own draw backs, if Isolation is a huge priority of yours then doing this may be taboo. Your application may conflict with others.

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Hosted Applications

Personally, Although I do like Isolation, I love having the option to go with a non-isolated mode. In my own personal experience the newest software being released by vendors doesn’t suffer from the old problem of DLL Hell, programmers have improved their own practices and tend to produce applications which can work side by side without causing conflicts, for the most part. I do like streaming as a delivery mechanism, it is vital to a non-persistent desktop experience and the fact that I can stream pretty much any application with Application Jukebox means it’s a force to be reckoned with. I only wish I had more experience packaging with the tools and testing it out.

Conclusion

From what I saw of Application Jukebox, which was 30 days using some Cloudified apps and about an hour or so of looking at the Studio tool. The product is pretty cool. It’s seems very simple to package with the studio tool, which provides a great level of control in terms of setting isolation and also the ability to include some custom scripting when desired. Anything I could think of which you may want to modify in a package is catered for in the tooling. Obviously as stated the option to stream without a very restrictive isolation setting is a big win for a VDI project and the fact you can enforce isolation means it’s also a winner for Servers and Cloud Hosting applications. The ‘CloudPaging’ streaming seems to be a very efficient mechanism for streaming. I honestly don’t know a whole lot about the Infrastructure setup so I can’t speak to that.

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Performance of Large Complex Application is Very Impressive

Of course, my reviews of all products come with some faults. My fault with this product so far is merely it’s lack of presence and awareness. It’s quite difficult to find information online other than that on the Numecent website, there is no real online community, there’s no trial version freely available for download or a community edition to give consultants or enthusiasts necessary exposure. I believe the product is being more aimed towards the likes of Universities rather than big Enterprise and so I believe this product may remain on the fringes which is a real shame. At the end of the day in order to gain a wider audience they will need to cater for a wider audience and at this time I Believe they are happy to cater to a very select few. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it just sucks for the rest of us! :)

Update: I shared this post with the nice people over at Numecent and received the following feedback:

Thank you for the review and exposure of Numecent Cloudpaging. We wanted to follow up and let you and your readers know that we support both enterprise and ISVs customers directly and indirectly through our resellers. And while currently we don’t have an open self service trial available, we do provide free hosted trials of our software by invitation. We can be contacted through our website at “numecent.com”.

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05/22/14

Missing Shortcut Icon with App-V 5.0 Applications

I’ve now seen this type of issue a couple of times with App-V 5.0. When I publish an application, sometimes the shortcut icon does not display. The icon appeared fine in the sequencer, it also appears fine in the sequencer when I open the application for edit or upgrade. So, what’s going on?

Note: I was using App-V 5.0 hotfix 4 for sequencing and Client.

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Journey to the Answer

First, I checked my reports.xml file to see if any .ico files were excluded. Perhaps this application put the icon files in an excluded folder. Not likely but the reports file is always my first port of call. Nothing showed up in the report this time….

Next, I opened up the Event logs on the Client Machine to see if there was any issues during the publishing of the application. Maybe it would show a missing icon file. The Analytic and Debug logs show any publishing issues , as well as issues with the Shortcuts subsystems. But this all came up empty.

Next up was checking out the AppXManifest.xml file, which has become a feature in all of my App-V 5.0 troubleshooting. I checked for any references to .ico files…NADA! I searched for ICON to see what the default icon and my shortcut icon were set to. I found that this was pointing to .exe file…the file did exist in the directory it was pointing to. I found this odd…I thought an Icon would point to a .ico…for this particular application, I didn’t modify anything to do with the shortcut. I left it as default…so what the hell was going on.

<appv:Icon>%ProgramFiles(x86)%\FreeMind\Freemind.exe</appv:Icon>

As a not so interesting aside. I’ve used the App-V 4.x Sequencer as my own icon extractor in the past. It actually works great, if you open the sequencer, add an application and point to .exe it will grab the icon and place it in the scratch directory, you can then take a copy of it. The only time I’ve had issues with icons not appearing like this is App-V 5.0 was when I accidentally deleted some .ico files from the Windows Installer folder…but I didn’t delete any AND none were excluded in this case. The Sequencer simply just didn’t extract the icon file. There was a pretty simple work around.

Answer

I opened the Application for Upgrade with my sequencer, edited the Shortcut and browsed to a different file for the Icon. I then browsed to my .exe again. The name field got cleared out, I re-typed in the name and saved the application again and walla, the shortcut worked!

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Checking the AppxManfiest.xml file, I found that the shortcut icon is now pointing to an .ico file:

<appv:Icon>[{ProgramFilesX86}]\FreeMind\FreeMind.exe.0.ico</appv:Icon>

It appears in this case the sequencer did not capture the icon file successfully, it didn’t extract the icon from the .exe. In fairness, this was the I have not his this problem too often, but I did try re-sequencing a few times on different machines and saw the same result. So thought it was worth posting this blog to help others and maybe save them some time. In most cases I would bet the issue will be caused by deleting a folder that contained the .ico file, you’ll see that in the AppXManifest.xml file but this one was a little different. I hope this helps..

05/20/14

Spoon Browser Studio

A few weeks ago I had a twitter conversation with Jurjen Van Leeuwen (featured in my Blogroll) that was the catalyst for this blog post, we’re both Microsoft MVP’s for App-V, we both contribute to the Application Virtualization Smackdown Whitepaper and We both also have something else in common, we’re both fans of Spoon.net! Jurjen and I tweeted each other about Spoon’s Browser Studio and how impressive it is. The power of being able to spin up any Browser with all of your Runtimes and Extensions in under five minutes is pretty damn cool. The fact, I’ve now stopped sequencing my browsers with App-V for personal use is also pretty damn cool to me. It was just too much effort to keep up with Google and Mozillas ridiculous release schedules. I’ll be damned if I spin up a VM and go through that effort every few weeks, I’ll also be damned if I download and install the damn things. That’s why Browser Studio is now my primary source for my browsers of choice.

Jurjen actually turned me onto Spoon during a call we had over two years ago, discussing the different Application Virtualization technologies on the market, he insisted that I should check out Spoon. So I did and I was very impressed! After a few months I got a trial of Spoon Server and Spoon Studio and I was again, very impressed, I even wrote a blog post about it. Which you can find HERE The gang over at Spoon have been busy. They have multiple innovative new products. One of which is Browser Studio, the topic of this post.

Browser Studio is a sleek web based wizard which allows you to create virtual application container of browsers (Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer) customized to your liking. You can pick what runtimes to include e.g. Java and Flash Player, what extensions to include e.g. Adblocker, You can also give it a unique name as you may have multiple instances of the same Browser…Multiple instances you say? This bad boy allows you to build any version of these Browsers going back to version 2.0 for Firefox, the dreaded version 6.0 of IE and version 16.0 of Chrome (at the time of this posting). This product is the perfect solution for Web Developers who require a controlled pristine browser for testing purposes and multiple versions to boot! No need to spin up multiple virtual machines which is expensive and a pain in the ass to manage. The browsers you create with Browser Studio are virtual application containers. They are isolated and can operate side by side without conflicting. They can all be run from your own desktop. Sweeeeeet!

Why would you want to use Browser Studio?

I’ve already talked a little bit about why I personally use Browser Studio. Working in the virtualization space, I have been trying to get as many of my applications virtualized as possible. I have many apps sequenced with App-V but I struggle to find the time to keep on top of things. With Spoons great service Spoon.net I could instantly access many applications which I use every day like Skype, Evernote and Spotify to name a few.  These applications don’t need to be installed, they are virtual applications using Spoons container based technology. And those are great!

Of course with my browsers I need more, I need runtimes like Flash Player to play my YouTube Videos, Java for viewing some of my favorite sites, .Net, Adobe Reader etc. When using Chrome and Firefox there’s also multiple extensions\add-ins that I use like AdBlocker. In traditional packaging or virtualizing, I would need to either create separate packages for each and link them together before deploying or I could create one big virtual package with everything I want. This is a painful way of working, as each one of these components get’s updated quite regularly and in turn requires manual effort to ensure the update is rolled out. With Browser Studio, I get what I want in under five minutes.

But this isn’t just for people like me who use it for their day to day browsing. It also has the massive benefits for Web Developers that I already mentioned. As an anecdote, I personally would have found this very useful for a former client who had a social media marketing team who operated inside their own controlled virtual desktops for updating the various outlets, as well as testing any changes in multiple browsers.

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