A First look at SoftGrid 4.2
On June 1, Microsoft made a Technology Preview of SoftGrid 4.2 available via Microsoft Connect. If you are not familiar with Microsoft connect, it is the site Microsoft uses to manage all pre-release software. You have to apply and be accepted to the specific beta you want, but it currently seems that with the SoftGrid Tech Preview you are instantly and automatically accepted by the program. Microsoft Connect can be found at this link: http://connect.microsoft.com Once accepted you can download a single file, which is a self extracting zip file. The zip contains 4 files:
Softgrid-sequencer-setup.exe and msi
Softgrid-wd-setup.exe and msi
As you can see, this is the components for the Sequencer and Client for Windows Desktops. Presumably the final release might include the Terminal Services Client - although that is not certain. We have not (yet) publicly seen the anticipated 4.1 SP1 release. 4.1 SP1 was supposed to include SideXSide support (more on that later) and an unspecified set of bug-fixes. 4.2 is intended to address changes to better support Windows Vista, but would include the 4.2 SP1 changes. So the meaning of the lack of a Terminal Services Client isn't quite clear. On the other hand, it is quite clear that Microsoft does not seem to be planning to release anything for the Virtual Application Servers, Management Servers, or Client MMC Snap-ins.
The Tech Preview program notes indicate that you have to have a 4.1 server. It isn't clear to me why a 4.0 wouldn't do, but that is what is says. The notes also state that this is for test only and that production use is only allowed with the final 4.2 (currently expected in July 2007). In fact, if you read the license agreement closely when you install, you will see that the license agreement itself expires on July 15 (or earlier if the final release occurs before then).
Since I (like many of you) am far more interested in the SideXSide support, I chose to take a look at that instead of Vista. So let me explain what SideXSide is about. When it comes to Virtualizing Applications, there are a few categories of Apps that SoftGrid doesn't handle, or doesn't handle well. Once clear category is anything with a driver. The other is any App needed SideXSide Assemblies. Most people know this as the ".NET 2.0 problem".
Installing the .NET 2.0 Framework installs a lot of SideXSide assemblies. These are placed in the Windows Root folder in a folder called "WinSxS". But .NET 2.0 isn't the only thing with SideXSide Assemblies, just the most famous. Hundreds of applications depend upon this framework. The most notable in those would be Office 2007! But these assemblies don't work with SoftGrid 4.1, you get a permissions error that the assembly can't be found. That is because a component of the OS that is outside of the virtual application needs access to the assembly, which isn't allowed (after all, it is "virtual"). Folks currently work around this by installing the Framework natively on the sequencer (before sequencing) and on ALL of their client systems. This release is supposed to resolve this.
I start with the Sequencer:
You can't really upgrade an existing sequencer, and even if you could it wouldn't be a good idea. Hopefully you saved a snapshot on your VM before you installed the previous release of the sequencer. If not, when it comes to the final version you should probably just re-install the OS and start from scratch. But for working with this preview it is probably OK to uninstall the old sequencer and install the new (which is exactly what I did in this test).
The package and installer provide no information regarding changes since 4.1. Not even a read-me! Well, that's a preview for you.
For a quick and early test, I decided to attempt what I find to be the most important change - support for SideXSide assemblies. So I set up my new sequencer and sequenced a typical application that requires .NET 2.0.
For this test I chose an application from a company called Interfathom (www.interfathom.com). TaskMerlin is a program that allows you to manage a slew of "Tasks". It has a nice GUI, uses a database, and supports multiple users. The professional version allows multiple users to share the same database. I chose this software because it requires that you first install the .NET 2.0 Framework and it has a nice 30 day free evaluation trial.
I start up the sequencer, and inside my monitoring session I install the .NET 2.0 Framework. I then installed TaskMerlin. The package contains an access database, and of course the .NET framework adds two services. I really didn't notice anything during the sequencing that was any different than I would have seen for the 4.1 sequencer. The sequencing went smoothly, with one exception.
I have never worked with TaskMerlin before, so at the time I didn't know if this was a SoftGrid Tech Preview problem or that of the Interfathom installer. But I could not run the application from the desktop icons it installed. Open up a windows explorer and locate the program and it ran fine, just not from the shortcut. Again, remember, this was on the sequencing station. To be sure, I edited the shortcuts in the sequencer and re-pointed to the exe using the browse button. [NOTE: Later I discovered that this is a problem with the TaskMerlin installer - apparently the developer doesn't know how to make shortcuts properly! NOTE TO SELF: Always install a new app natively once. It isn't just something you tell others to do.]
I popped the app onto my 4.1 server and imported it. Import worked fine. On a lark, I decided to try launching the sequenced app on a desktop with the 4.1 Client. To my surprise, it seemed to work?! ?
To be sure, I went back and sequenced it using the 4.1 Sequencer. When I tried to launch this version the launch fails with the familiar file access error on the SideXSide assembly. This was a surprise to me, as I expected the client would have needed modification also to make this work. I am awaiting confirmation from Microsoft on this.
I skip the desktop:
Since I could play with SideXSide, apparently without updating the client, I decided to skip the client test for now.
I am going to focus on some other SideXSide applications and maybe I'll try the Vista Desktop. If I find anything striking or Microsoft confirms if we need the updated client I will update this blog.