Bring Your Own Application with Microsoft App-V

Once in a while you encounter a simple but brilliantly refreshing idea. This happened to me a couple of weeks ago.

Once in a while you encounter a simple but brilliantly refreshing idea. This happened to me a couple of weeks ago. My colleague Matthias Wessner was in the Amsterdam HQ for a visit, and dropped by my office. He asked if I had seen the movie he mailed me two weeks before. I shamefully admitted I completely missed it.

“Ok, I will show you” he said, and popped open his laptop. After the VM’s were up and running he started the demo. “See this GUI? Just select the MSI you want to install from that GUI, and wait for it…” One minute later the desktop shortcut appeared and he could start the application. 

Wait a sec… it is virtualized with App-V!

This was only one week after Briforum Chicago and one week before Citrix announced the RingCube acquisition. One of the hotter topics today is clearly User Installed Apps. Matthias just demoed User Installed Applications utilizing Microsoft App-V!  “Interesting!” I said, “This is very, very interesting, and that is an understatement… Do you realize how everyone in our industry tries to tackle this problem… and you just did with App-V… Wow!”.

So what did Matthias show me? 

The concept is not too complicated: Matthias created a tool called ‘Login BYOapp’. Within BYOapp you can select a MSI and it will prepare the MSI for a sequencer VM which is ready and waiting. Once the MSI is available to the sequence VM, automatically it starts in silent mode the sequencing of the MSI. Once this is finished, automatically the now virtualized app is added to the App-V cache of the desktop the user is working on. 

Although this implementation is in its most early form, we thought the concept is so cool we should share it with you. There are real benefits, and like any other solution in this world, there are limitations. 

Lets first discuss the benefits:

  • With Login BYOapp you can introduce User Installed Apps if you are using Microsoft App-V, without introduction of a new virtualization technologies and management tooling/infrastructure. 
  • These user installed applications are potentially reusable for other users! (This is not specifically implemented in this version, but we already have a user installed app store/catalog in the works.)
  • You can easily back-up and re-import the applications when the desktop VM is refreshed. (Also not implemented yet, but surely part of future versions.)
  • From an administration point of view, you can easily track and copy which applications users have added. (Again, this is planned for future versions…)
  • The application is fully virtualized, so there is no risk of any conflict or corruption of the OS and other personal or business applications. Off course, this is fundamental to using App-V.

The current version (and the concept in general) also have some limitations:

  • You need an MS App-V license. 
  • It does not work with RDS/XenApp/SBC/TS etc, it only works with (semi-) stateful VDI, PC’s and Laptops.
  • The automatic addition of the virtualized app to the local App-V cache is only working when App-V is not integrated in SCCM: we are currently investigating if this is possible.
  • This version of BYOapp only does silent installs. This can be an issue when for instance the default file type associations are not correct.  However, we are working on a solution where the interactive setup is remoted. As a result, the user can customize the installation to it’s own needs, including FTA. 
  • The current version only accepts MSI, but future versions will probably accept any format. 
  • This only works with apps, this is not a layering solution that also captures changes on an OS level.
  • Login BYOapp will never replace enterprise application packaging/sequencing.

Please remember, this is the first release of Login BYOapp. It is basic, but we thought the concept is interesting enough to share with you. 

We have many ideas where we want to go with BYOapp: an interactive install is absolutely critical to it usability in enterprise environment. But also, a ‘user installed app store’ and tracking/back-up/import functionality is high on our feature list. In addition, we are working on the fully automated management of the sequencer VM’s (reset after sequencing) and the possibility to have a pool of sequencer VM’s.  Lastly, we are also investigating the use of other application virtualization solutions.

I always assumed Microsoft would innovate much more with the Softgrid/App-V technologies than they are doing now. For instance, developing it as a replacement for MSI and using it as a technology to allow user installed apps. Matthias beat them to it...

You can download this first and free version of ‘Login BYOapp’ from our website (registration required).

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Its an interesting idea, but as soon as you get past Firefox I can see it rapidly breaking down. In fact, a default install of Firefox leaves the automatic updating enabled, not a good idea when sequencing, or even creating standard format packages. More apps than not have some kind of first run requirement which App-V has allowed us to remediate for a greatly improved user experience, this solution doesn't appear to have an answer for that and it would need one to be of any real use. The ultimate outcome of this seems to indicate an automated application packaging solution which, owing to the general nature of applications, would be unbearably complicated to code; and if it doesn't handle complex apps what's the point of it? Users would become rapidly disillusioned with a solution that couldn't handle the majority of what they needed packaging.


Also, how does it handle licence keys, and licensoing in general; it's an Asset Managers worst nightmare!


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We've had what we call "user installed apps" working in our XenApp environment for over a year now.  Our system admin, Matt Diglio, developed and demonstrated this functionality quite a long time ago.  Works with .msi and .exe files.  Automatically virtualizes the application and then publishes it to the end-user and notifies the system admin.  We have not made this available to all our end-users yet, but it is working well.  I often demo it.


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@Carl


I totally agree, that this current solution has its limits and in any state it will have limits but as Jeroen wrote we are working on an interactive solution, where users can really run the setup routine. I can also understand your worries about licensing etc. but we see customers, especially in very large enterprises, that have problems to manage all their over 10.000+ applications. With this tool you can give some users the possibility to make applications available without hurting your underlying system. As Gabe wrote in another article a couple of vendors created some tools around it but I thought if you already have a virtualization layer why to introduce a new one. I demoed this tool last week on our roadshow and first some people thought that I might have come crazy but then after discussing the scenarious a litte bit their faces changed and they startet to think about prossible scenarios in their environment.


@Dustin - cool - sad is that Matt Diglio did not publish it. I also had this idea already for a while. and while working on the App-V analyzer with Falko together I was in coding and scripting mood so I also started then finally this project. I am very curious about feedback guys. Enjoy trying it out!


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This is cool, nice work! I hope this  will be a feature in future APP-V. Why not integrate APP-V client into the windows installer, and the sequencer into Visual studio?


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Great work! I'm excited to see someone take an interest in this and start developing a product.


You mentioned trying this method using other app virtualization solutions. I have a UIA program that uses the Citrix Streaming Profiler SDK. This will virtualize the app, instantly publish the application in the citrix farm to all users or to only the user who wanted the app, and then send an email to an admin for licensing review purposes.


I'd be happy to discuss the results of using this in our environment or give you the different pieces of code used to make it work. The hard part is already done for us in the Profiler SDK.


You can watch a video of it here (if GoView is working...sometimes takes a minute to load the video)


blog.scottsdalecc.edu/diglio


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@Jeroen, @Matthias


Very interesting concept; but IMHO running on-demand sequencing using VM and Microsoft's Sequencer is quite heavy-handed process especially if running it on local VM. Have you guys thought about parsing MSI directly (would not help with complex MSIs with licensing things built-in/custom actions etc., but success rate for those using automated Sequencer process is about the same, like Carl mentioned) and outputting App-V package directly?


As you may or may not know, we do have App-V SDK (Lib-V) available which would handle the technicality of the second part, first part can be done e.g. with DTF which is part of WiX.


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@Kalle


I assume you mean creating an App-V package without a sequencer? This would not work with more complex Setups, which is crucial for success of the concept from our view. Right now we have the idea of managing a sequencer pool in the back end. WiX from my point of view only supports MSI and we need to support also other setup routines. We dont want to dig toooooo deep into App-V to easily support new versions that hopefully support the same Command Line Options.


To be honest I dont know the Lib-V too much bzut because this is not official Microsoft I fear a little bit to use it. What happens if a new version off App-V is released. Then we would be stuck to wait until someone updates Lib-V.


Thanks a lot for this idea. We keep in in mind for further development if it can solve some upcoming problems.


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@Matthias,


I understand your point about complex applications, but it is still the same problem when trying to drive Sequencer automatically = complex MSIs might not install silently (which is, if I understood correctly, you idea here) or even if they do, resulting [virtual] application that you capture might not be in correct state when some critical configuration parameter was skipped during setup. Granted, you can use also EXE based installer which is of course a plus vs. doing it locally using dedicated engine. And yes, WiX (or DTF subset specifically in context of this discussion) is MSI only technology.


Regarding use of non-MS originated products: would you not have that same issue with any other technology or toolkit under the sun if looking it like that? Would not that same argument hold true for users using your product(s), be it free or paid-for?


btw, are you coming into European App-V UG day in November (I guess you are, since Login is the organizing party), maybe we can continue the discussion over there about fine points of automatic conversions :-)


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I like that on-demand sequencing idea. It is an option when you're willing to allow users to install their own software and want to shelter their OS from clutter and possible damage.


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This type of technology was something I was really wishing to see from Microsoft in the next version of Windows for a couple years now. I envisioned it being hooked into the UAC, that would automatically trigger a sequence when a software install was detected...sadly from what they've shown at BUILD, they seem to be ditching the App-V technology and pushing the new App-X technology down our stovepipe.  Somehow I envision this move to be a failure since it requires the developers to redevelop the application in a App-X environment/model and good luck with that.... look at how successful they were on getting all developers to release their applications as an MSI installable executable.


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This is just my interpretation. Microsoft seems to be looking into a successor to App-V


www.zdnet.com/.../11009


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