App-V 5.0 – Why Upgrade?

If you’re running a previous version of App-V, why should you upgrade to App-V 5.0?

Microsoft Application Virtualisation (App-V), formally SoftGrid by Softricity, was purchased by Microsoft in 2006 and as such it inherited the way it was designed and developed.  While they were able to make great improvements along the way, there were several limitations that could not be worked around due to the fundamental design.  With App-V 5.0, Microsoft have redesigned and rewritten the product from the ground up, utilising the knowledge and experience they have obtained along the way, together with Operating System enhancements, to remove some of the barriers.  This will provide a clear pathway for future enhancements to really make Application Virtualization mainstream in the way that server and desktop virtualisation has done.

Ten Reasons to Upgrade

1.    User and Computer-Based Targeting
Using an App-V Full Infrastructure now offers the targeting of App-V packages to both users and devices, which previously required Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager to achieve the same result.  This is a huge benefit, most importantly to session-based computing, such as Microsoft RDS or Citrix XenApp.

2.    New File Format
Microsoft have created a new package format (.APPV instead of .SFT) that removes the previous 4GB size limit; there is no limit to the size of a package.  This is based on standard compression technologies, making the contents much easier to interrogate outside of the Sequencer.

3.    Package Content
The local App-V client package cache is no longer stored in a single, flat file and as a result, all package content (i.e. individual files, such as .exe and .ini files) can be seen natively through Windows Explorer.  This has several benefits, mainly:

  • Simpler troubleshooting and management;
  • The application executable is called directly rather than sfttray.exe with a launch parameter.

4.    Shared Content Store for VDI and Session-Based Desktops
The new Shared Content Store allows an application to be streamed directly from a content source without having to cache the application to the local device first or using the read-only cache option, the latter proving hard to manage and update due to the content being stored in a single flat file.  Due to the new file system, NTFS pointers are used to access content held on the content share requiring only one copy of the data and no management of a cache file.

5.    No Q: drive
A separate drive letter is no longer required; applications are either stored in full or use NTFS pointers and launched from the location on a local drive specified for the App-V client cache.

6.    Upgrade Path – Coexistence for the Migration
Due to the new file system, existing packages cannot run in App-V 5.0 in their current format.  Microsoft have thought about the transition process and to make it as non-disruptive as possible, they provide two helpful benefits for clients with existing packages:

  • Package upgrade – the App-V 5.0 Sequencer has a method to convert existing packages to the new format, saving the potential headache of re-packaging applications from scratch;
  • Client coexistence – App-V client versions 4.6 SP2 and 5.0 can be installed at the same time, allowing a phased migration between versions with old and new packages functioning side-by-side.

7.    Improved Sequencing
Application reboots are now handled properly, whereby the sequencer actually reboots and then picks up where it left off, increasing the chances of successful sequencing of application installations that require it.  Again due to the new file format, the limitation of 8.3 root folder names (where Microsoft were able to mask the problem in App-V 4.6 SP1) has now truly gone.  The sequencing process should not prove to be a large learning curve as the wizard used when sequencing has largely gone unchanged, helping clients get started with sequencing for the new format sooner.

8.    Virtual Application Extensions – Context Menu, COM and URL Protocol Integration
Deeper integration into the Operating System provides some of the biggest changes, expanding on previous versions of App-V where integration would primarily be limited to file type associations.  Applications have more of their capabilities captured during sequencing just like local applications do when installed and that functionality is offered natively in the Operating System, even when the package is not in use.  This offers just some of the following benefits:

  • Right-click context menus can now incorporate and integrate with those items provided by virtualised applications, such as right-clicking a file on the Desktop and choosing Send to, followed by Mail attachment, to start a new email from the virtualised email client application with the file attached;
  • Users setting protocols as well as file type associations to have a virtual application as the default application, with virtual applications being listed as available for selection, is now all possible, providing users with a more consistent experience that they are used to with locally installed applications.

9.    RunVirtual
No more having to create separate shortcuts to integrate locally installed apps with virtual ones, such as Internet Explorer and Adobe Flash Player.  Using RunVirtual in this example, no matter how Internet Explorer is launched, the virtual package of Adobe Flash Player will be available and launched whenever Internet Explorer is.

10.    Virtual Application Connection Groups
Building on the idea of Dynamic Suite Composition (DSC) in previous versions of App-V, App-V 5.0 offers Connection Groups.  The concept is broadly the same and provides largely the same capabilities, except now it is managed in the App-V Management Server web interface and can be created just for the users who require them for different combinations of applications, rather than editing and manipulating OSD files.

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