Microsoft App-V 5.0 takes virtualization to the next level

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The Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) is a suite of tools available to Microsoft Software Assurance customers that enables IT admins to manage Microsoft environments more effectively. App-V—one of the tools included in MDOP—has been updated with significant enhancements IT admins and users will appreciate.

What is App-V

Let’s start with a little background on App-V, which is short for application virtualization. Rather than having you install separate copies of software on individual PCs, App-V enables organizations to host the application and deliver it virtually to users. From the user’s perspective, the software looks and acts as if it’s installed locally, but from the IT admin’s point of view it is much easier to manage and maintain a single instance of the application.

App-V software is never installed locally, so there are no conflicts or compatibility issues to worry about. The software is streamed from the App-V server and can be cached and executed locally so it’s still available even if the system isn’t online. App-V can permit organizations to continue using legacy applications that can’t be installed locally on newer versions of Windows, or to run newer software on older versions of Windows.

One of the benefits of virtualizing applications for a business or IT admin is that it is much easier to maintain. When a new version of the software comes out, there is only one system to install it on. When security patches or software updates are released, only one instance of the application needs to be updated. IT admins manage the configuration of the application(s) so its easier to ensure that all users have a consistent experience.

New and Improved

Previous incarnations of App-V have left something to be desired. Microsoft has listened to customer feedback, though, and continues to evolve the product to provide a smoother, more consistent experience.

A recent post on Microsoft’s Springboard Series Blog details one of the primary stumbling blocks with previous versions of App-V. In a nutshell, applications hosted in App-V have been too isolated. There are good reasons for maintaining each application in its own silo, but some applications need to work together in order to be used effectively, and to enable users to take advantage of all the software is capable of.

Microsoft Office is a good example. Organizations can host Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Visio, and other Microsoft software centrally with App-V, but because the applications are walled off from each other common tasks like embedding a table of data from Excel into a Word document couldn’t be accomplished.

Microsoft solves that problem in App-V 5.0 with a new feature called Virtual Application Connection Group. An IT admin can group applications together in a Virtual Application Connection Group to enable them to communicate and work together. This new feature makes it easier for organizations to rely on App-V to deploy software and provide users with an environment that works just as they’d expect with locally installed software.

With App-V 5.0, Microsoft also addressed another problem behavior of virtualized apps. Past versions of App-V registered specific file types rather than broad capabilities. So, an “MP3” file might be registered to open in an App-V hosted Media Player, or certain file types might be linked to an App-V hosted email client, but media files or email content that didn’t match the specific file types would be handled locally in Windows.

Virtual Application Extension in App-V 5.0 allows the App-V virtualized apps to register in Windows just as locally installed software does, so the App-V software can become the default application for Windows in general rather than just for specific registered file types.

App-V 5.0 also has some new tricks for IT admins. A management interface built on Silverlight enables IT admins to monitor and maintain App-V from just about anywhere via the Web. A Web-based management framework gives IT admins more freedom than being tied to a specific console.

Platform agnostic

App-V is developed with Windows PCs in mind, but App-V can also deliver Windows desktop applications to virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environments. There are no alternate platforms officially supported by Microsoft, but using a third-party VDI platform like Citrix, organizations may be able to deliver Windows software to Mac OS X or Linux, or possibly even to mobile platforms like iOS and Android.

App-V is just one tool in the MDOP arsenal, but it’s a powerful one. App-V 5.0 includes many significant improvements that simplify application virtualization, and make it even easier for organizations to deliver a familiar consistent experience for users from a virtualized App-V environment.

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