Updates on Microsoft App-V

This is an updated post. Microsoft happened to make additional announcements today, after I posted!

This is an updated post.  Microsoft happened to make additional announcements today, after I posted!

There is a variety of news regarding App-V to share.  None of it might be earth-shattering individually, but collectively it adds up.

1.       App-V 4.5 SP2 Upgrade Released

2.       Microsoft Releasing “Pkg” format specification

3.       TMurgent releases free tool to read “Pkg” files

4.       TMurgent releases White Paper and Video on App-V 4.6 DSC and Transparency

5.     Attachmate "first ISV" to release in SFT format.

6.     Microsoft hosted "recipe" site launched.

Each are described below…

App-V 4.5 SP2 Upgrade Released

Microsoft released an “upgrade” release for App-V 4.5 called SP2. The release is described in KB980847 - Description of Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5 Service Pack 2, and may be downloaded from Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5 Service Pack 2,  This release was also made available through Microsoft Updates, which is a very scary thing to me!  When I train people in our training classes, I warn them that when installing App-V components, to select the choice to not enable the component to be upgraded via Microsoft Updates.  While the upgrade is fine, there usually needs to be a coordination for the order of these upgrades (client, server, sequencer), so automation is a really bad idea in my book!

Microsoft released 4.6 in February, and the client portions of this release play catch-up with some of the new support in 4.6 (such as for Office 2010 support) but not others (such as x64 support).  But even 4.6 customers might want to check this out if they use the full App-V infrastructure because 4.6 uses the 4.5 App-V Management Server and Streaming Server, and that is also updated with some important hot-fixes.

The features listed in the documentation http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff699129.aspx , but to summarize:

  • Support for Office 2010 as a Virtual Application.  Microsoft made client improvements in 4.6 to better support Office 2010 (and 2010 includes changes to better support App-V).  These changes were retrofitted to the client in 4.5 SP2.
  • Support for Database Mirroring.  This has long been a huge bone of contention for App-V Customers.  Just ask Shawn Bass about this.  Multisite customers have long wanted to deploy with a mirrored database at major remote sites.
  • Two important fixes, previously released as hotfixes:

                   -  Improved client support for PCs with certain “full disk encryption” products.

              -  Fix for management server cores that fail under certain circumstances

It isn’t clear to me if the disk encryption hotfix for the client is available on 4.6 or maybe already included in 4.6, but that is the only documented change that might not be available to 4.6 clients if they implement the server side of this service pack.

Microsoft Releasing “Pkg” format specification

When users run App-V virtual applications, any file and registry changes that the virtual application tries to make are captured and shuttled off to a file with an extension of “.PKG”.  The format of this file has never been documented.  Last year, Microsoft posted the format specification for the “.SFT” file, but now Microsoft is finally documenting the Pkg.  This has been a request for a long time.  While the SFT format was reasonably understandable, both Kalle Sumanaki and I had tools that could understand the format, until recently (see below) the Pkg has been impenetrable.  Microsoft finally documented the format.  Why?

The SFT format was documented to aid third party vendors of packaging tools so they could produce SFTs in addition to MSIs.  We believe the PKG has now been documented to aid the anti-virus vendors so they can now treat this file as more than a black blob.  Not a bad idea.

TMurgent releases free tool to read “Pkg” files

For four years I have been working on a tool to read the Pkg file.  It is, hands down, the most obtuse file format I have ever seen.  The reason I want to read Pkg files is two-fold. 

First, we need to understand (and verify) what is getting written to which Pkg file.  There are actually a minimum of three Pkg files when a user runs an application, one of which roams with the user and the others stay behind.

Second, sometimes users do funny things.  When they do it to a virtual application, the funny things end up in a Pkg.  If it breaks the app, we have always needed to “reset the users pkg”, which essentially puts them back as if they were using the app for the first time.  While it solved the problem, it left the user to re-establish all of their customizations that they make (things like what toolbars to show or what options to set).  With a tool that can look into the Pkg we can potentially find the bad file or registry setting and remove it.

A couple of weeks ago I released a free tool (Download page for PkgView at TMurgent) ) that allows you to look into a Pkg file and dump the contents of files.  You can’t edit with this tool, but once you find the culprit you can remove by using the /EXE option in the package.

Kalle has also released an update to his Application Virtualization Explorer  tool (not free, but worth it).  This tool allows for modification of SFTs, and viewing of PKGs.

TMurgent releases white paper and video on App-V 4.6 DSC and Transparency

When Microsoft released the Dynamic Suite Composition (DSC) feature with the 4.5 release, they indicated that it was for “simple” dynamic application integrations only.  They did not define what they meant by “simple”, nor did they fully describe the way that the implementation works.  In experience, we see customers doing simple integrations of things like plug-ins to web browsers, but more complex things like Office and plugins to Office have caused customers a lot of problems.

Recently I did some research to determine how DSC layers file and registry information from the multiple sources (the client host information, SFTs from multiple packages, and saved changes from the PKG files associated with those packages.  The White Paper (at TMurgent.com) describes the testing, using purpose built apps, and test results.  The Video (Episode 10 of Sequencing with Tim Mangan)   walks you through the test results and proposes some “better practices” for working with DSC.

 

Attachmate "first" ISV to release in App-V SFT format

Microsoft announces today that Attachmate is the "first" ISV to release in App-V SFT format.  Details at Attachmate here, however I know that I have released tools in the past in that format and, if memory serves me, Kalle has also. This is something we "expected" to happen way back in 2001 when we released SoftGrid, but it never materialized.

 

Microsoft launches App-V Recipe Site

 

Microsoft announced today a Recipe site for collecting information on how to sequence applications. This is something we have really wanted for a long time. It is a colaborative site that all may add to.

 

I’ll look forward to seeing many of you at Briforum next week, or at my training class in Boston the following week.  Be sure to say “hi”.


 



Author: Tim Mangan is a Microsoft MVP for App-V and holds the position of Kahuna at TMurgent Technologies. He has spoken at every BriForum and other venues. Read more at his home blog or website.

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