On Tuesday, AppSense announced StrataApps from their AppSense Labs group. AppSense Labs, as you may have heard, is a new group with AppSense that releases technology that is viable, but doesn't necessarily fit into the typical AppSense product lines. Their first release was DataLocker, which encrypts specific files in Dropbox, allowing them to be securely stored in the cloud.
StrataApps, formerly called "Strata," is a free user installed applications solution from AppSense that was first announced in 2011. The idea behind StrataApps is that you can give users the ability to manage their own, personal applications in locked down environments. Harry Labana wrote a blog post previewing the Strata technology in October, and promised a release in Q1 2012. With a few days to spare and a name change, they've made it just in time!
What sets StrataApps apart from the traditional UIA vendors (if there is such a thing) is that it runs in "user land" as an application, and isn't reliant on layering solutions like Mokafive, UniDesk, Wanova, and Citrix Personal vDisk (formerly RingCube). It does, however, have a few competitors in Liquidware Labs FlexApp and Ceedo.
StrataApps aims to leverage the fact that organizations are inclined to continue business as usual when it comes to desktop and application management. That means that they build as many apps into the base image, then install one-off applications as needed using either direct installs or some sort of application virtualization. The problem with this is that if the user want to install other apps, IT has to get involved to install them, or IT has to give them admin rights. One costs money, and, well, so does the other (eventually). Of course, IT can always just deny the user that ability, which makes for unhappy and unproductive users.
StrataApps works as an agent-based solution, and when new application installs are started, they are automatically redirected to a storage area that is dedicated to StrataApps. That could be a USB drive, network share, or local hard drive. When running, the apps are no longer isolated, and they appear as part of Windows with full access to everything on the base OS (so no personal disk or virtual locations exposed to the user). In most cases, user installed apps work alongside the apps that are installed in the base. Since Windows is unaware that something is in the middle, it is possible that a user could upgrade an application, with the upgraded files living in the StrataApps storage area. If that causes problems, turning off the agent turns off the redirection and turns off the user installed apps, leaving them with only the base image (and un-upgraded apps).
(I wonder what happens if a user uninstalls an application that they've upgraded. Does it mess with the base image at all? I'd hope not, but it could be that not ALL the files were upgrade, so not ALL the files were in the StrataApps storage area. I wonder if those original, base image files are removed, too?)
Because it runs in user land, there are some things that StrataApps can't do, like kernel drivers. That means that installing iTunes would leave you without the ability to burn CD's. Thankfully, not many applications require kernel drivers, so it shouldn't be a big deal. (iTunes is the only example I've heard of a consumer app, although I'm sure there are others. There also could be in-house apps that use them, but you have bigger problems if that's the case)
Is it too late for user installed applications?
Kevin Goodman and I gave a session on them at last year's BriForum, and when we asked the room if anyone used user installed apps, nobody raised their hand. I had a similar experience during a show I did in January, and only a few people expressed curiosity. That leads me to wonder if user installed apps solves a problem that not many people are having. Solutions that involve layering are complex, though, so maybe StrataApps (and other solutions like Ceedo and Liquidware Labs' FlexApp) is the kind of simple solution that companies are looking for to finally be able to remove admin rights from their desktops (both physical and virtual).
That said, the functionality isn't the same, so maybe we're back to square one: lots of good technology without an equivalent number of use cases. Of course, maybe it's just easier to give users admin rights and call it a day [shivering].