10 years after the Wow! (A look back at Softricity by an insider, 10 years after their founding)

Tim Mangan was at Softricity ten years ago, when application virtualization was in its infancy. In this article he looks back at the history and what's happening now.

Tim Mangan was at Softricity ten years ago, when application virtualization was in its infancy.  In this article he looks back at the history and what's happening now.

On February 26th this year, Softricity, the creators of what is now called App-V, turns 10 years old.  Well... sort of.  Softricity was a rename from the previous company name, "Software Wow." Actually we really did the rename in the previous November, but we kept it private for three months to get our new act together before going public with the name. February 26th, 2001 seems to be the first public record of the name Softricity that I can find, so I'll just go with that date -- ten years ago today.

The biggest hit of the English band "10 Years After" was probably the song "I'd Love To Change The World", a title that embodies what we thought we were going to do with Application Virtualization. We were a really hot and new startup company. We were going to turn applications into a utility, like water or electricity that you just turn on when you need them. David Greschler loved to tell potential customers that "this is the last install you'll ever have to do." Perhaps a bit of marketing hyperbole? Of course! But we did believe that we were going to forever change the way companies dealt with distributing software. ASPs (the forerunner of "Clouds") were the next big thing. 10 years later we can look back and ask, "did we do that?" Not so much as we thought at the time... But not that the company and ideas weren't a rousing success.

Back then, we were replacing "sneakernet." The vast majority of application installs in the enterprise ten years ago were manually performed with the technician going to the desktop with the installation media in hand. Automation was being used by some, but not many. Originally, SoftGrid could help on a majority of those applications, but there were still many that it didn't work for. For companies that have gone this route, some claim today to virtualize over  95% of their applications.  We will probably never get 100% coverage, but then we don't have to. The enterprise today has many choices to automate application deployment, and they will multiple methods to get to the 100%.   

Another sign of success, Microsoft bought the company (rumored to be about a $250M purchase) and App-V (the new name under Microsoft) today has tens of millions of licenses out there. Over the years the capabilities of SoftGrid have steadily, if slowly, evolved to cover many of the problems we knew needed to be addressed even early on. Like how different terminal services and desktops are. Handing temporary offline usage cases. Covering a wider array of applications, including those with services. A solution to the "bubble to bubble" issue, or at least part of a solution. And it seems that today everyone talking about the new greatest thing, virtual desktops, acknowledges that application virtualization must be used to layer apps in if you are doing VDI.

Another sign of success may be the others out there virtualizing applications. Citrix, VMware, Symantec, and a host of other companies have parallel capabilities in this space. Each has their own take on how to handle applications and each has strengths and weaknesses, depending on your needs.  New companies are also still entering this space, like App Zero.  And one could argue others are embracing the ideas in new ways; with ideas like MokaFive's application and user layers.

By many yardsticks application virtualization has been a winner. But we didn't solve everything. Fundamentally, massive deployment of applications is hard.  It doesn't matter how you try to do it, it will be hard. Each application has its own unique quirks.   Each enterprise also has its own unique needs; needs that often were not under consideration of the developer.  Heck, we keep these apps around through multiple generations of hardware and OS technology and that they work AT ALL should be considered a minor miracle. As much as we like to bash Microsoft (and who doesn't like to do that?) one thing that Microsoft has been pretty good at is providing a platform that tries to embrace the older applications as the platform evolves. Heck, you could still run those old 16-bit DOS apps from the early 80's on Vista.

The newest incarnation of App-V 4.6 SP1 is expected out sometime this quarter. From the previews at Tech-Ed Berlin, it is clear that Microsoft is squarely taking aim at making applications easier to deal with. And while the videos look cool and I'll be excited to work with the new version and will find it easier, virtualizing applications are still going to be hard. Because applications are hard.

So we didn't get it all right in the last 10 years, but I think that we got some of what we were dreaming of.  At times I feel like "if we just rewrote these old apps the problems would go away." But the reality would just be another version of the same problem a few years down the road.  We heard that story with Java. We heard it with web apps. We are hearing it again with Cloud apps. But we cannot write applications today that anticipate the changes of tomorrow, either in the surrounding technology or in what a business will need.  So dealing with apps will remain hard. This means we need good tools to help with the bulk, and smart people to deal with the rest.

Not that the software vendor community can't help. I really don't think that the ISVs really understand how the enterprise modifies their products to make them work the way the enterprise needs them to work.  Better information on what the applications touch is sorely needed across the board. Support for enterprise customizations -- things as simple as allowing IT to easily disable the update menu -- should be standard across the board.

So while application virtualization may have made great strides in the last 10 years, the adage "garbage in, garbage out" remains true. We will continue to want to evolve our environments, embracing new technologies and new concepts. Unfortunately, as the next evolution occurs we will need to bring much of the garbage along, hopefully cleaning up some of it from time to time, but only when we have to. As the song said:

I'd love to change the world
But I don't know what to do
So I'll leave it up to you

Virtual Desktops, The Cloud , and User Mobility, let's face it: we all want to change the world. In the next ten years we will make great strides, but you can bet that the world won't look like we think it will today anyway. Grand visions are great, but at the end of the month you need to improve your operations today. We need to be thinking at both levels.

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A couple fun things to add to this:

First, I did a podcasat about Microsoft buying Softricity back when it happened in 2006. Check it out here: www.brianmadden.com/.../a-conversation-about-microsoft-buying-softricity-what-it-means-now-and-for-the-future.aspx It included interviews with Tim, Ron Oglesby, and others.

Second, Tim actually wore a Software WOW! shirt when he presented at the very first BriForum back in 2005.. Here's a shot of that shirt. www.flickr.com/.../set-1788352 (Sorry Tim that it's not the most flattering angle of you, but it's a clear shot of the logo. :)


Nice practical look at the world Tim. A good read. Thanks!

MS recommending virtualized office as the way to deliver the product would be a key milestone for MS to drive broader acceptance.  IE still remains a huge sore point and the ThinApp 4.6 release notes are a in the face we don't care about your support statement of legal action that you will never take or enforce on customers who will cut your heads off.  

Of course there is also this MDOP and locking one into SA. This holds back adoption. It needs to be part of the operating system if MS really wants developers and 3rd parties to truly embrace it. A great way to slap ThinApp into non existence as well. However I don't think MS will ever do this until they find something else that they can put into MDOP to make it appealing.


Cool to read. Softricity has been one of the coolest technologies I have seen enter our marketspace in the last 10 years or so. One thing that was interesting to see is that back then it used to cost tens of thousands of dollars for a couple of Terminal Servers and yet people would still buy it. That says something. And as long as we are not bashing Microsoft, :-) , they made it part of the TSCAL now. I bet you that would have never happened if David did not sell to MS but to that other that is expecting cloudy weather :-).


Thanks Tim, great read!

I don’t know what you’re at liberty to say but it would be really great if you could divulge some more about the early forming years of Software Wow/Softricity.

I think it would be of great interest to hear of some of the idea, the decision factors and obstacles, the why and why so.  


I'm a big Softricity fan... But what surprised me the most is the Microsoft decision to shut down the "Zero Touch" solution that Softricity had (web interface with fallback from client to terminal server mode)... Something that is still missing in today's world.


@Kata - The story on Zero Touch was that it was essentially hacked up in one weekend by a tallented SE.  I suspect that means when Microsoft looked at it, they found borrowed and modified parts from works that others had done and posted in places.  Without clear attribution of ownership, Microsoft would rid themselves of this.  

That would go to explain killing it, but it does not explain why it never came back.  Perhaps they expect a community partner to step in to fill the void?   Sounds like a natural for an Immudio, Quest, etc...We thought for a while that Microsoft might do so with the Service Manager as they made noises about similar functionality for fully installed apps, but (as far as I know) it doesn't do App-V.. Microsoft doesn't signal their intent to the ISV community on things like this very well so perhaps fear of building something and having Microsoft step all over it kept the third party folks away.  


Tim, a great read! I remember working with Softricity 8 or 9 years ago and even thinking then "this is definitely a product to keep an eye on... it's going to change things a LOT!" OK, maybe it didn't change the world... but was revolutionary at the time, and is STILL the forerunner technology in this field (IMHO).


Hello everyone!  I'd thought I'd jump in here to clarify some of the comments here. I was Sr. Director, Product Strategy with Softricity from January 2001 until its acquisition by Microsoft in 2006.  I then oversaw Microsoft's App-V launch (and eventually DaRT as well) for two years as a Sr. Product Manager for MDOP.  

It has been a pretty amazing ten years as Tim has pointed out.  I still remember debating with Tim in a meeting room in 2001 over the viability of using what would become known as SoftGrid (it wasn’t even named then) on Terminal Services.  Tim kept asking me “why would anyone ever use it ON Terminal Services, since SoftGrid was going to REPLACE Terminal Services?!”  Eventually Tim got it and has been a tremendous advocate for the technology ever since.  A big “thank you” isn’t nearly enough.

The ride was incredible and I am humbled by the response that the technology has received.  Who knew that we would get to a point where it has approximately 30M licenses sold!  It still blows my mind.

Anyway, like I said, I wanted to clarify some of the comments here on ZeroTouch.  Tim can be forgiven not knowing these details since he left Softricity in early 2002 and all of these events happened past his tenure.

@Kata, I came up with the pre-cursor to ZeroTouch around 2003 originally as a demo to show the dynamic capabilities of App Virtualization.    I wrote it over a few weeks and it was indeed hacked together (says a lot for my development skills!), but was all my own code.  Over time the code and capabilities evolved, but from a demo perspective only. However, we found an interesting response when we showed it to potential customers; they loved the concept and kept asking if they could buy the demo.  We obviously said no (although I had a couple moments of pause there!) as it was supportable at the time.  However, this gave us great Product Management fuel to build a spec around it.  

I convinced Stuart Schaefer (CTO and rockstar) to work on direct development and Bill Corrigan (VP PM and rockstar) to look at making it a real product.  Stuart and I wrote the spec and started building the system as part of a development group called the “Companion Products” group, since main line dev was maxed out around the development of the main SoftGrid product.   Eventually this same group would build the first SMS Connector.  We worked with an outsourced group in India to augment the development and when we were ready, worked with David Greschler to wrap a marketing campaign around the newly branded ZeroTouch.  We sold it for an MSRP of $50 per user on top of the SoftGrid license and the response was tremendous.  We officially launched the product late in 2005 and by the time the Microsoft acquisition rolled around, we had 50,000 seats in just a few months.  Of course that is a pittance compared to 30 million seats today, but for us at the time, it was huge!

When we were brought into Microsoft, ZeroTouch was seen as a very interesting idea, but was in conflict with Microsoft’s broader picture for user management in an in-flight project at the time called Microsoft System Center Service Manager.  The decision was made to eventually roll the self-service capabilities into Service Manager.  Over time, some of the other ZeroTouch concepts (although the code was re-written) such as the virtual presentation capabilities were moved into the TS group as part of RDS publishing.  It was the right decision at the time for Microsoft as the current code was good for Softricity, but not good enough for Microsoft standards with all of the added security and common engineering criteria requirements, etc. The main SoftGrid product had to go through a tremendous amount of work to meet those standards as well, but it didn’t make sense for ZeroTouch since there was a redundant product line.

It’s been amazing to see the continued interest in ZeroTouch.  There have been some other products around the concept such as Citrix Dazzle (imitation is the highest form of flattery) and I believe I saw another Cloud based version somewhere.  In any case, I think ZeroTouch sparked the interest and helped fuel the movement that users and business units could take control of their own IT to some degree.  I think that plays into the larger Cloud self-provisioning trends that are going on today as well.   It will be interesting to watch to be sure and I am again humbled to think that we have played some role in that tremendous story.


Chad Jones


Duh!  Immudio does have a ZeroTouch product.  How could I forget?  Sorry guys!


And don't forget the very last line of the song:

"And good luck to you."



Thanks for the inside scoop!