So I got a chance to have a quick glimpse at APP-V 5.0. I no longer have my own test server available so I couldn't test the server component or full streaming. But I did give it a go setting up the Client and using the APP-V generated MSI to test my virtual applications. This is only a beta release but I find the timing a bit strange. 4.6SP2 was released into beta a couple weeks ago. Which brings up the first important note, you can't upgrade from 4.6 SP1 straight to 5.0, you will need to first install the SP2 beta. Also before you go ahead and setup a Proof of Concept for 5.0 you need to be aware that any applications you previously sequenced for the earlier version need to be converted with the APP-V Converter tool which is included in the beta, as well as the fact that this beta is limited to supporting 50 applications streamed from the server. I would like to think you wouldn't have more than 50 for a proof of concept anyway so it's most likely not an issue for you quite yet.
I guess before starting to ramble on here, I should highlight that the file formats have changed in this version. So if you sequenced applications in earlier versions you will need to use the Powershell cmdlets included in this release to convert the older formats into the new APP-V format, which we'll get into within this blog.
So anyway, here's my look and review of what I noticed in this beta release.
The first thing you will notice as illustrated by the first screens of the install for any of the components is the updated UI for the first screen. A very small thing really but it's the first sign that this is an overhaul. It IS a major version release in every sense. Whilst the fundamentals of APP-V and Softgrid remained the same through major releases previously for the most part, this release changes pretty much everything. The UI, the default settings, the compatible platforms etc. We'll get to that as we go. The UI for the sequencer pretty much remains the same, however some of the steps in the wizard itself have changed.
First glaringly obvious difference you'll notice during sequence is at the screen in the wizard in which you'd usually create your 8.3 or Primary Directory. You no longer get a text field pre populated with your virtual drive (Q:\Package Name) This is because one of the huge changes in this version is that there's no longer a virtual drive. That's right, no more Q:\ So no longer do you have to sequence applications to the virtual drive, test it and find out it will only work when sequenced to C:\ due to it being badly programmed. No more time lost. No longer do you have to deal with setting a drive and it turning out one of your business departments is already using that drive letter for a mapped drive. To people who haven't sequenced before, it makes it seem like it's more like a regular old install capture. Which is good, a lot of people are intimidated by Sequencing. With this you can just set a primary directory on the C drive and install the application there.
Next difference that the seasoned APP-V Sequencer will notice. You no longer deal with reboots by stopping the monitoring after the suppressed warning and the restarting to capture the differences. The Sequencer now will actually handle it properly for you by performing an actual reboot and capturing the changes itself. No more manual effort for each reboot.
The target OS screen has fewer options. Much more forward thinking with the inclusion of an RDS 2012 and Windows 8. There's no longer any option for a 32-bit server. There's also no more option for XP. Microsoft seem to be jumping the gun here a bit as XP still has about 21 months or so of life left. I guess they want to force the issue of migrating that bit more. APP-V 5.0 throws an error when you try to install it on XP also.
Comments has become Description and as you can see on top the tabs have changed. No more OSD tab and the Virtual Files and Files tab have been consolidated into one.
On the deployment tab you'll notice there's no longer fields to change the Protocol, server hostname and path. Also obviously the Operating Systems available are different as mentioned previously. This is because this release aims to standardize on one protocol. HTTP protocol with the old blocks streaming type replace with SMB. This is similar to how APP-V integrated with SCCM works today. So presumably if you've setup APP-V to stream in that manner you'll have less environment configurations to allow for the streaming. If you're currently streaming with the Full Infrastructure using RTSP/RTSPS then you may see some differences. If you are using the SFTMIME or MSI standalone methods then you should be in the same position because the streaming protocol get's ignored in favor of using the locally cached application anyway. You'll also notice there's no longer an option to Enforce Security Descriptors, Compress the application or generate an MSI. It seems to automatically generate an MSI and presumably there's no need to compress the application as I will go on to explain. The SFT file is no more, so this doesn't need to be compressed. APP-V applications will now be in an .appv file which seems to be a compressed file format.
In the above screen, in the To column. You can see there's no more CSIDL locations. APP-V is now using the system locations. Don't worry the applications will still be isolated and the applications are still virtual. The users should never see the files or registry.
And there you have it. Above is the output for our new APP-V package. You can see the report which was in the previous release, warning of any possible issues during sequencing e.g. The machine used was not a clean machine. Your MSI wrapper file used for installing the APP-V application in standalone mode. And the new .appv application which replaces the SFT and SPRJ. You can open the appv file if you need to make modifications, thus no need for an sprj. The appv file as I said is a compressed file which contains the contents of the APP-V package.
The User and Deployment config files are XML files which are kind of similar to the old OSD files with the UserConfig file giving you the ability to change user specific settings. The Deployment config is more of an application specific config file.
If you go to options you'll see a lot less options. Not sure if this will be how it is in the final release or not. The Exclusion items and Parse Items still do what they always did, only now the Exlcusion Items don't reference CSIDL locations as these are no longer valid.
So as you've probably noticed a whole lot has changed. In fairness I guess it had to, the virtualization space is getting quite competetive and it never seemed like Microsoft put their own stamp on this product. It seems like they are trying to come up with a solution which has less options for the users but not in a bad way. It standardizes and makes the product more consistent for all. As somebody who worked for a service provider I could have been working on 4 projects, all using different APP-V deployment settings. Now it seems like standalone or streaming using HTTP.
By getting away from sequencing to a virtual drive and leveraging the virtual drive on the client side they are eliminating the possibility of errors that occur due to this. By not introducing the need for the virtual drive any more it cuts down on the risk of deploying a virtual application which ends up throwing an error when a rarely used menu option which was missed during UAT for example throws an error because it can't use the Q:\
With the use of Templates and Accelerators in the current version. Sequencing was becoming more and more straight forward with very little input required. By standardizing the solution more there's even less variables and so there's even less input or template options to set. It also looks like the tool lends itself more to being used with Powershell and so automation looks like it's on the menu right now.
I've seen in the press releases that Microsoft are championing the line that APP-V will mean less regression testing in your environment. This is because the applications won't conflict and are isolated. Thus meaning they won't have a negative effect on the users machines or other applications. Any issue is confined to that application only, no knock on effects. I like that they are highlighting this and also highlighting idea that it's centrally managed and requires less overhead. I personally felt that a lot of the explanations for previous releases were a bit vague and not high level enough for somebody see the clear benefits of using APP-V. Keep up the good work Microsoft. Your recent products make my job all the more exciting.