Microsoft announces Application Virtualization 4.5

On the 12th of November Microsoft announced the Beta release of Application Virtualization 4.5 - the new name of Microsoft SoftGrid.

On the 12th of November Microsoft announced the Beta release of Application Virtualization 4.5 - the new name of Microsoft SoftGrid. Application Virtualization is part of Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack, one of the faster selling Microsoft solutions with 3+ million licenses sold so far. For Microsoft, Application Virtualization is a key component in delivering applications to a broad range computing models.  This article describes the functionalities and features of Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5.

So what's new in 4.5?

Dynamic Virtualization

Dynamic Suiting, enhanced virtual application interaction, is a new feature that will prove to be very useful in the near future. This will give secondary applications access to the Virtual Environment of the primary application. There is no communication restriction between two Virtual Environments. Dynamic Suiting is (easily) configured within the OSD file and the dependency is set with in the OSD file. Re-sequencing of applications is not necessary. Applications Sequenced with 4.2 can be used.

This feature is very useful for Middleware applications (JRE, Oracle, MDAC,..) or plug-ins like Microsoft Office plug-ins. The Microsoft Application Virtualization team worked closely with the Office team and tested 400+ plug-ins with the Dynamic Suiting functionality. Integration of two large applications like Microsoft Office and the Autodesk Suite is even possible (but is not yet a wise idea due to performance problems).

Extended scalability with flexible deployment models

With Application Virtualization 4.5 there are different deployment models. Some of these models are covered in this article, and the rest will be covered in an Application Virtualization architecture and Design article that I am writing and will publish soon.

Traditional 'SoftGrid' design
  • A SoftGrid Virtual Application Server for streaming package data to SoftGrid clients. With 4.5 this server is called the Heavyweight Streaming Server (HWS). SQL Server and AD are needed.
  • Content location, responsible for hosting SoftGrid packages for streaming.
  • SoftGrid Management Console for management.
  • SoftGrid Management web service responsible for read/write requests to the Data Store.
  • SoftGrid Data store, SQL Data store responsible for storing all information related to SoftGrid.
Lightweight Streaming Server (LWS)

In order to address the needs of companies who want to take advantage of the virtualization and streaming capability of SoftGrid but don't want a full HWS, Microsoft introduced LWS (LightWeight Streaming server). LWS is especially useful in branch office scenarios since it is only a streaming server. In fact, LWS does not even require AD, SQL, or the SoftGrid Management Console.

Branch office deployment without using ESD

Using LWS to deliver applications in a branch office scenario allows you to place the LWS servers at the branch offices and stream your application data locally rather than across the WAN. This means that the only traffic going over the WAN is publishing information, which is fairly small to begin with. The same OSD files can be used between the HQ and the branch offices by configuring a new option in Application Delivery 4.5 - the Application Source Root, or ASR.

The ASR is used to configure the SoftGrid client to stream SoftGrid package files from a location other than what's specified in the application's OSD file. This setting is configurable within the client registry. The key is HKLM\Software\Microsoft\SoftGrid\4.5\Configuration and there are two available options: URL and UNC path.

Stand alone or remote locations

In previous versions of SoftGrid it was not possible to have a virtual application running on a SoftGrid client without a SoftGrid Server having been available at some point. There where some "solutions," but these where really "workarounds". With this new scenario, the user has the ability to "install" a Virtual Application. Of course, this is not the traditional installation of an application -- in this case it means it is actually publishing the shortcuts from the package manifest and loading the .SFT file into cache. This all happens through the Windows Installer Service and the use of an .MSI file that is generated by the sequencer through a simple check box selection. The "require user authorization" option on the SoftGrid client must be deselected during the (unattended) client installation. Microsoft will be creating a Group Policy template .adm file to control all the client settings.

Extended scalability

  • Auto loading capacity using BITS; (pre) load applications as a background process.
  • Device targeting with ESD solution only.
  • SDK, Management object for SGserver with .NET language support and a WMI provider. The provider can be used to get Client status information such as which applications are cached, are they fully cached etc, cache size information, etc.


  • Globalization and localization, support for non-English client platforms.
  • Support apps and OS; Make sure that all the Microsoft and other large software vendors support their applications within a virtual application environment.
  • There are dedicated people within the Application Virtualization team who are primarily focused on this subject.

Microsoft Security Standards

  • Secured by default, example Kerberos authentication, PKI infrastructure for using RTSPS (RTSPS over TLS).
  • Secure communication, no OpenSSL as in previous versions, but secure communication is possible and setup as default, with a regular Microsoft PKI infrastructure.
  • Secure computing lifecycle and trustworthy computing; the development of 4.5 is secure by design. Testing of the solution is also focused on security.

Sequencer 4.5

Several new features:

  • Capture security information of files. You can use the Access Control List on files within the Virtual Environment. This only applies to files, though - not registry entries.
  • Faster deployment of upgraded applications. When an application was upgraded with the 'Package Upgrade' scenario the FB1 was completely restreamed to the client. With 4.5 only the updates within FB1 are streamed. This leads to faster application upgrades and deployments.
  • MUA, Microsoft Update Agent integration within the sequence process.
  • Sequencer saves as MSI, Deploy a SoftGrid application within a MSI file. Benefit is example integration in 'Add or Remove Programs'. This integration is useful for meeting and auditing license usage.
  • MSI generation, needed for a standalone usecase.
  • Command line sequencing is upgraded.

Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5 will be released in summer 2008, features and functionalities are subject of change. There is a beta available here. There is no official Microsoft support for this beta, however the Microsoft newsgroups can be used to ask support questions. Also, the community forums of and can be used for installation, design, issues or configuration questions.

 If you have questions or remarks please let me know

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So when this baby dies, do all the apps still die? What about x64, is that still missing and will one have to resequence everything again on x64? Can a single sequenced app work on x32 and x64? Can one use Softgrid with other ESD systems? Can I sequence Adobe distiller yet? I think knowing the answers to these questions, will help many of us assess how MS are doing vs emerging alternatives.
I thought that the upcoming MS/Citrix Office Box - as a black box appliance - would cover server services for small offices or branch offices. Especially when thinking of prepositioning files and data as well as providing print services. When the Apps Virt. concept requires a local server to avoid WAN traffic that would require still a local server which actually should be repalced by the MS/Citrix Office Box. I can't really see how this should work together? When I do need a local server anyway for streaming apps one could only use sensefully the sw version of Microsoft/Citrix Office Box, which the still leave all manging efforts for decentralised servers on the deck. :-(
From my personal point of view I didn't hear anything that Microsoft Application Virtualization would be included in the joined Citrix/Microsoft Branch office solution.
What do you mean with "When this baby dies"?. For Microsoft as a company Application Virtualization is a key component in application delivery...
x64 isn't available in 4.5, it is on the roadmap. All Questions about x64.. don't know yet because SoftGrid Client on x64 isn't available.
exactly it doesn;t work on x64, sleeping in Redmond and Boston. I will need to repackage my x32 apps for x64 again.Argghh!!! Why bother....... might as well wait until you get the product right or somebody just build a better one.
Is x64 so important for you?..
I know the benefits and disadvantages of x64... I don't see customers asking for a "x64 ready" application virtualization solution for there 200+ apps running on Terminal Server in the near future.
I know the benefits but i don't see the major backdraw in not having this feature in general.
There are some customers who are running there big app on x64 TS while the other 198+ apps are running on x86..
Whats up with the versioning matching the current Citrix product versions? Cooincidence, or is Microsoft up to something? ;)
Well I am not you customer then. MS knows this requirements from many customers, and they also know that they way the Softgrid works makes this hard. OMG, is the Q: stupid file mapping ever going away. The fundamental technology is questionable, and hence a rewrite was needed to support undocumented Kernel features, hence why we see such little feature progress. MS allowed Thinstall to catch up and exceed.
Where did it go?
This would be really useful and seems to have been pulled from the product offering. It may also differentiate it from competitors !
In my opinion, locking Softgrid and the other D/Top optimisation stuff up exclusive for SA customers is a mistake. Especially when people are deserting SA in droves.
yet another server out in the branches..... Centralisation with a decentralised model. Hmmm I guess people really, really need to understand the benefits it will bring as opposed to managing the infrastructure these technologies introduce. I think it's a closer call than many may realise.
Thanks for previewing the beta. I just started playing with the Sequencer today & I'm documenting the issues I've come across. Keep up the great work.
I am a desktop architect with a large (30,000 seat) company, and we keep looking at application virtualization simply as a way to smooth our transition to Windows Vista. Our plan is to use only Vista64, and x64 application virtualization is on the critical path. Slow down one and you slow down the other. Our attitude is that if we are going to visit all our applications for Vista64 testing, we may as well re-package / re-sequence them and test the packaged / sequenced versions. We would use standalone / MSI packaging without the streaming. We have a large (100+ server) BMC (Marimba) distribution network that we would use to stage / deploy the MSIs.

When considering x64 demand, look outside of the Terminal Server world.
Hi, What your reasons and benefits for using WIndows Vista 64 and x64 application virtualization?
Some of the virtualization vendors (CTX/Thinstall) right now support x64 client but none support x64 applications. There aren't many x64 apps nowadays...
I don't see the benefits running x64 on Vista.. maybe it's more from a design point of view that this could be interesting?
Hi Kevin.. My team is in the same boat.. we hae a similarly sized organization with over 2200 active applications managed by either wininstall or msi. -If we're going to touch em' all. We want it to last.
Ruben, thanks for the great write up for the new pieces and concepts of 4.5. Also, the ongoing debate is great, because this means that this technology is very relevant with so many people getting excited both ways. I agree that it would be great if Microsoft could solve every possible scenario for all customers in only one version, but I am fine with them addressing the biggest headaches for my customers and adding functionality around greater scalability and supportability.
I think you are making the point as to why they are doing this. 1. Microsoft created or acquired 5 technologies as part of MDOP (SoftGrid, AGPM, DEM, DaRT, and AIS) then packaged them together for only 10 dollars per client per year, when SoftGrid alone used to be 200 dollars per client. 2. They made it only available to SA (desktop) customers. I think this is MS making the SA a worthwhile investment, don't you.
Actually it depends where you are in your SA renewel cycle. For us, no, it's not a worthwhile investment.

SA wasn't a worthwhile investment for us........therefor is NOT just another $10.00. And offering it for $10.00 doesn't make SA any more attractive.
We would only be renewing SA for DOP so:
1. $10 + SA and you have the price for Softgrid (other products in DOP don't particularly interest us). = Quite expensive huh ?

What I'm saying is that if Softgrid was available outside SA we'd have other options available and potentially look at it. When you link it to SA you start lively discussions regarding release cycles and actually gaining some benefit from your SA investment..... this is an argument for another day though ;-)

Pragmatically, SA is like Insurance. I guess everyone questions the benefit when there is no claim, but when there is a claim everyone is glad they had it !!!

Winni Verhoef, Senior Product Manager, Windows Vista MDOP, makes a key announcement about Microsoft Application Virtualization. Formerly known as SoftGrid, this includes new capabilities designed to help IT support large-scale virtualization implementations; globalization; Dynamic Suite Composition and Trustworthy Computing


64-bit is a big topic for the terminal server customers I talk with. The ones with SoftGrid are unhappy there is no roadmap because their terminal servers are now consolidated to a virtual farm and a non-virtual farm but the virtual farm's servers run out of memory before CPU on a two socket dual core system. They want the addressable ram to scale more users per box.


Discontinued after MS took over. Though it worked well for a smaller environment, not so well in larger ones. Microsoft will release this Self service capability in System Center Service Manager. My last client still uses the Zerotouch peice. Custom Web jobs could be created to support the same functionality.



FINALLY... regional server support is back, with no SQL issues and no Blackrock utility for keeping servers in synch. For the previous 'complaining guest', all I have to say is that regional server support is fantastic for large sites over slow connections. You don't need to install one at every location!

Furthermore, I'm curious to know why some people choose to come here and MS-bash instead of sharing ideas constructively? We all have our qualms about MS I'm sure, but let's keep this constructive.  It's a good tool, getting better and better for large enterprise as time goes on. Let's point out the flaws, and discuss potential ways to address them. 



Can anyone point me to a deployment architecture guidelines or diagram which can tell us various deployment touch points for softgrid sequencing.