Microsoft UE-V heralds a new era of user virtual…oh wait, we had this already. What's it all mean? - Gabe Knuth - BrianMadden.com
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Microsoft UE-V heralds a new era of user virtual…oh wait, we had this already. What's it all mean?

Written on Apr 06 2012 13,108 views, 5 comments


by Gabe Knuth

Microsoft has been busy, apparently. This week, they announced betas of both App-V 5 and something new--UE-V (presumably meaning User Environment Virtualization, but I'm no scholar). You've probably read most of the articles that were passed around twitter (there were four or five that everyone seemingly linked to), and the details from Microsoft were pretty limited. Still, between those articles and some from Helge Klein and Marius Sandbu, we can put together a decent picture of how this will be used. Then we can apply that to the industry and guess how things will shake down. If you already know how it works, you can skip the the "Breaking it down" section.

First, the vitals:

  • In beta now, no release date known
  • Will be part of MDOP (we'll get to that later)
  • Beta can be downloaded from http://www.microsoft.com/getuev
  • Supported OSes: Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 2008 R2 (no word on WOA yet)

UE-V can be looked at as a replacement to Windows profiles in its simplest form. Instead of saving off the entire user profile to a file share, UE-V works by reading application-specific files that specify the file and registry locations where settings and personalizations are saved. These files are called templates, and they are XML-based.


(I borrowed this from Marius Sandbu's blog post)

These template files only point to files and registry settings that pertain to personalization, not user data. Microsoft assumes you're using folder redirection for that (and you are, I hope), so you should be good to go in that area. Also, only settings that are stored in the profile (C:\Users\<UserName>) are saved. 

Without a template, the settings stay put, unlike roaming profiles which sync everything. To enable sync, you need to create a template. The idea is that you create a template for each application, which is then deployed with the application so that the user environment is bundled with the app. This is more of a figurative process, but the end result is that no matter what OS a user uses, or how the app is delivered (local, TS, VDI, App-V), they still get their applications-specific personalizations. Holy modularity!

Out of the box, there are a handful of built-in templates. The useful ones are for Office 2010, IE 8 & 9, and Windows themes. The less useful ones are for Notepad, Wordpad, and Calc, presumably since they knew we'd all demo with those three anyway. 

Of course, you can create your own templates, too. If you're the kind of guy who wears black t-shirts with nerdy code strings written on them, you'll probably just write the XML yourself after spending some quality time with ProcMon. But, if you're more into the easy, GUI approach, Microsoft created a tool that does the dirty work for you. 

The tool, called Generator, allows you simply point it to the executable and give it a location to save the XML file. It then launches the app, watches for reads and writes to the file system and registry, and writes that information to the XML file. Helge notes in his writeup that it is still necessary to edit the auto-created file in many situations. So, good for Microsoft for including this, but it sounds like it gets crapped up like HTML docs written in Word :)

One last thing to note about these templates is that they are loaded with the application, and updated when the app is closed (or, presumably, other triggers are fired). That means you don't have to wait for logoff for the settings to be saved, and it means that updates happen more often and are less prone to unfortunate overwrites in the event of multiple instances being open at the same time. Templates and app settings are stored in a file share, but I couldn't find how they are deployed (I'm assuming group policy object).

Breaking it down

So what does this mean for the rest of the world, like AppSense, RES, Immidio, triCerat, Scense, and all the others? Their tech is more advanced, but UE-V will work for many organizations that just need something a little better than roaming profiles. Is it a threat to AppSense, RES, and the others? Probably, but not as much as you might think. In fact, it will probably drive them to innovate and branch out of Windows a bit. This seems closest to Flex Profiles, so Immidio can feel the heat, but there's still a gap in functionality that they can take advantage of for the time being. 

Many third-party solutions are still aiming to help migrate from Windows XP, too. UE-V doesn't help with that, since XP isn't supported. Come to think of it, though, you don't need to migrate to the new profiles now, all you have to do is migrate to UE-V, so maybe that will cause a problem? UE-V also doesn't help migrate applications. The settings aren't portable between app versions, so there are still lots of use cases for other platforms. 

There's also the issue of MDOP. Since UE-V is included as part of MDOP, those that subscribe have a more cut and dry decision to make. Those that don't have to weigh in the cost of MDOP and SA (because MDOP is only available to SA subscribers) and decide whether or not it makes sense. Some look at UE-V as free, but let's call it free-i$h. Because of that, there will still be customers looking for third party solutions.

The bottom line is that I don't think many companies are going to go belly up because of this…at least not in the short term. According to an email from RES Software sent Thursday morning, this wasn't a surprise to them, and is the reason that they released a free version of Workspace Manager (Workspace Manager Express) last year. RES goes on to say that they are in a better place than other vendors and that their roadmap "remains unchanged."  I'd imagine that the big players can all say something to this effect. Also in the email is that RES has plans to build upon UE-V, which is pretty much what everyone will do, because why bother reinventing the wheel (well...again).

I think this will ultimately be good for everyone, customers and ISV's. The customers get a much needed feature built into the core of the OS (more or less), and the ISV's get a fire lit under them to branch out and devote resources to other, more cutting edge solutions like solutions that take personalization beyond Windows and into the cloud (many have already started to do that).

Last, but not least: Where can Microsoft go with this? If Windows on ARM isn't supported, that may be the next logical step, but I have to wonder about the use case. The more I think about it, the less I think that will happen soon. Since the apps are different, and the interface is Metro by default, maybe there's no point. The next step may, in fact, be to make application settings portable to the cloud. Imagine having your Office settings on your desktop work with Office 365. It's not hard to picture them going in that direction.

That's what I like about this. It frees up companies to shift more focus towards new technologies rather than on trying to fix a problem Microsoft should have addressed ten years ago. That will ultimately be good for both customers and ISVs. 

 
 




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Comments

Rich Brumpton wrote re: Microsoft UE-V heralds a new era of user virtual…oh wait, we had this already. What's it all mean?
on Fri, Apr 6 2012 4:52 PM Link To This Comment

I'm a little disappointed in this, it's very basic, requires manual configuration of apps, and really does not bring much else to the profile game than being "less lame than Roaming Profiles." (customer quote)

If this was truely free technology that third parties could rely on being available with the platform it would be a bit more interesting, but since it's in MDOP they cannot assume that any given environment will have (or even be WILLING to acquire) UE-V available for use.

For a tool in MDOP, this is remarkably limited in functionality as well, we generally expect more feature-complete tools to be included in that package. Compare this to App-V, Med-V, Winternals, or any of the other tools in MDOP and UE-V fails the "one of these is not like the others" test.

Generally I think we are going to see a continuation of using roaming profiles, Citrix Profile Manager (in CTX solutions), or other 3rd party tools for the Win7/8 generation of this tool.

MS has checked the feature box like they did with VDI on their first pass, 2 more versions and AppSense might have reason to be scared, but not in the near future.

Simon Bramfitt wrote re: Microsoft UE-V heralds a new era of user virtual…oh wait, we had this already. What's it all mean?
on Fri, Apr 6 2012 9:04 PM Link To This Comment

What a sad and sorry excuse for a product.

Helge was fantastically kind in limiting his assessment to provide a description of what it is and how it works. Clearly he doesn't believe in kicking a man when he's down.

I spent most of Thursday exploring it, and will publish my assessment next week. actually no, forget that, I've already done, it it's my first sentence above.

@Rich "less lame than Roaming Profiles"  Was that you, or a real customer? Either way, this the best thing I've heard about the EU-V so far. It looks like Microsoft has found its new marketing team.

Rich Brumpton wrote re: Microsoft UE-V heralds a new era of user virtual…oh wait, we had this already. What's it all mean?
on Wed, Apr 11 2012 5:41 PM Link To This Comment

@Simon

That was a quote that originally applied to CPM right after the Sapago deal. He was explaining to me how it was "doing the minimum" to which I answered, "so just not as lame?" And then he put it all together and it stuck.

So I pull it out an use it when someone somewhere has obviously decided that they need to "check a box" on a feature matrix somewhere, but only do a minimum instead of delivering a useful feature.

Right now I don't see much use outside of ensuring settings for a few critical apps are persisted properly. but it would have to be a scenario where you just don't care about ANYTHING except a very few applications.

Of course, this is MS, so by version 3 it could be useful if given the right attention. Sometimes version 1 is like a tech demo, and this qualifies on that front.

appdetective wrote re: Microsoft UE-V heralds a new era of user virtual…oh wait, we had this already. What's it all mean?
on Fri, Apr 13 2012 11:03 AM Link To This Comment

I'm less negative on in. It gives a good kick in the butt for the existing players to move faster. MS has done a little, not killed them and effectively sent a good message to the market, this space is important. Citrix has been asleep in this space for so long, and even MS get's it faster than them :-0

Nick Holmquist wrote re: Microsoft UE-V heralds a new era of user virtual…oh wait, we had this already. What's it all mean?
on Tue, Apr 17 2012 7:56 AM Link To This Comment

I wish Microsoft would stop wasting time on this junk and actually spend time improving the underlying profile design. This is simply a bandaid for an outdated architecture.

First step would be to get rid of the bloated registry and crazy profile folder structure. Windows 7 made an attempt at consolidating things but it is still crap. I had hoped Windows 8 would have made a few leaps forward considering they want your 'settings' in the cloud. Unfortunately it too is a side step of the bigger problem.  

At times I wonder if Microsoft intentionally makes parts of their OS junk, just to keep an 'ecosystem' of third party products going strong.

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