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Guide to application delivery options

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Application virtualization comparison: XenApp vs. ThinApp vs. App-V

App streaming and virtualization tools differ when it comes to portability, offline capabilities and more. Get to know application presentation tools from Citrix, VMware and Microsoft.

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Guide to application delivery options

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When it comes to virtual desktop infrastructure, administrators have a lot of choices. You may have wondered about the differences between VDI software options, remote display protocols or all the licenses out there. In this series, we tackle some of the biggest head-scratchers facing VDI admins to help you get things straight.

There are so many application virtualization and streaming tools out there, you need to know how to tell them apart.

Application virtualization separates the app from the OS, allowing IT to deliver applications in the most efficient way possible. These are just a few of the other benefits: You don't have to install apps. They are easier to patch and upgrade. And you can run multiple versions on the same OS. Plus, in the age of bring your own device, application streaming allows IT to deliver apps to many kinds of endpoints.

Some of the major application delivery tools are VMware ThinApp, Citrix XenApp and Microsoft App-V. Of course, each product integrates best with its own vendor's offerings, so if you run VMware Horizon View, for instance, ThinApp might be your top choice.

In this application virtualization comparison, we break down the different features, capabilities and support these tools offer. Plus, get to know some other application presentation and delivery options from vendors aside from the big three. Let's get this straight:

Citrix XenApp

ThinApp and App-V only provide app virtualization, but XenApp is an overall application delivery system. In May 2013, Citrix killed its App Streaming feature because the changes in Windows Server 12 and Windows 8 were so widespread that it would have had to rewrite XenApp in order to keep the streaming feature. 

However, the company also combined XenApp and XenDesktop and simplified the management consoles to provide a more streamlined management system for both VDI and application presentation. It also provides a bulk app publishing feature to simplify app delivery to large numbers of similar users. 

Series: Let's get this straight

Clearing up Microsoft VDI licensing: SA vs. VDA vs. CDL

How cloud-hosted desktops differ: Comparing VDI, DaaS

Comparing remote display protocols

XenApp is useful for IT shops that have a wide variety of applications -- old and new -- and want to virtualize apps that ThinApp and App-V don't support. It also offers offline capabilities that make it easy to access apps from devices anywhere, anytime. It is pretty much confined to its own environment, making it difficult to port around, however. Still, Citrix added support for Microsoft application virtualization -- App-V -- in XenApp 6.0.

What's new in Citrix XenApp?
Citrix XenApp 6.5 reduced application launch times through the Instant App Access feature. Improvements to the HDX protocol also allow apps to be run in higher-latency environments. Plus, XenApp 6.5 includes a Mobility Pack that improves application delivery to mobile devices. In the latest XenApp 7.6, the company added user logon technology that presents apps in a more local feel, improved graphics performance, and increased security with FIPS compliance and its name on the Common Criteria evaluation list.

What you need to know about upgrading XenApp
Support for XenApp 4.5 ended in March 2013, and support for version 6.0 ended on July 15th, 2013, only three months later -- giving IT shops very little time to migrate. With the latest version, Citrix provides guidance for upgrading to XenApp 7.6. Since XenApp is based on Remote Desktop Session Host, admins also need to be aware of Windows Server end-of-life dates. Not all applications are compatible with all Windows Server versions, either.

These caveats make things especially difficult when licensing and running XenApp compared to other application delivery tools. Some administrators also note the XenApp has a lot of management overhead, even with the simplified consoles. 

VMware ThinApp

VMware ThinApp offers a few capabilities that XenApp and App-V do not. For instance, it's the most portable of the application virtualization tools. You can run ThinApp applications from almost anywhere because users don't need to install software or device drivers. Plus, they don't need admin rights to access applications from remote locations, such as an airport lounge.

Still, some administrators say VMware ThinApp is more cumbersome to deploy. It's also trickier to manage applications because it doesn't come with a centralized management platform. If you're experimenting with the cloud and mobility, you should also know that ThinApp 4.7 integrates with VMware's Horizon Application Manager.

More on application virtualization

Q&A: Application streaming and remote delivery

Application virtualization guide

Pros and cons of application virtualization technology

Everything you need to know about VMware ThinApp
VMware ThinApp 4.6 integrates with View 4.5 and above, but not all administrators need to deliver virtualized applications to virtual desktops. There's a lot to know about how to license, manage and deploy ThinApps -- particularly if you're using them in a View environment.

ThinApp Factory mass-produces virtualized apps
A new endeavor by VMware, ThinApp Factory automates the application packaging process. This virtual appliance, which plugs into vCenter or VMware Workstation, takes the encoding and distribution out of administrators' hands.

What's new in ThinApp
ThinApp 5.0 added support for 64-bit applications, plus the ability to support Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer. Version 5.1 offers enhanced package management, making it easier for admins to reconfigure packages dynamically as apps are running. This version also added group policy management templates to allow tinkering with group policy settings in ThinApp applications -- plus support for the latest Internet Explorer and Windows 8.1. 

Microsoft App-V

Like, XenApp-XenDesktop, Microsoft App-V provides centralized management, so admins can limit users' access to certain apps. Microsoft application virtualization is popular in shops moving to Windows 8 because it lets users interact with virtualized Windows apps such as Office. The latest version, App-V 5.0, reduces disk requirements by allowing IT to turn off local application storage. Plus, it has enhanced application diagnostics and monitoring.

VMware user votes for App-V
Although admins like ThinApp's ability to install without an agent, there are some upsides to using an agent-based approach. App-V has an agent component that pushes applications to the user without Active Directory settings, using Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager. This application virtualization tool also allows you to break down application suites (such as Office) and deliver the apps without losing any integration functionality.

What's new in Microsoft App-V 5.0
The latest version of App-V provides a more native application experience to users. IT can also deploy and track apps through Microsoft Silverlight, which means they can access their admin console on the Internet. For mobile workers, App-V 5.0 allows applications to stream over a WAN using Direct Access, and it also integrates with Windows To Go.

Choosing an application virtualization tool

Once you've reviewed the options, you're ready to pick an application virtualization tool. Just remember, the major vendors aren't the only choices.

Alternatives to the major vendors
ThinApp, XenApp and App-V aren't the only options; there are other applications virtualization tools out there. For instance, Spoon Studio is easy to use and integrates with the company's cloud offering. InstallFree is another choice, but it doesn't offer offline functionality. Numecent and Novell ZENworks also offer application delivery options. 

Liquidware Labs' FlexApp for ProfileUnity is another application presentation tool that can be used alongside VMware or Microsoft application virtualization. This app layering tool lets users install their own apps, which can then be managed by IT. Shops can use Liquidware's Department-Installed Applications feature to extend ThinApp or App-V's capabilities to more types of apps. 

Next Steps

More options for application virtualization

Comparing VDI options

The official application virtualization smackdown

This was last published in January 2013

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Which application virtualization tool do you (or would you like to) use?
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Novell ZENworks Application Virtualization
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SWS
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lkj
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Symantec Workspace Streaming
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I like the majority of the Citrix products
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Love Citrix!!
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XenApp is really more of a PRESENTATION virtualization solution, not an APP virtualization tool. I'm still looking for a Tool -- much better than gotcha-prone ThinApp -- for *truly* virtualizing any Application I want (as in, package it, put it on a flash drive, plug that drive into any machine, run your Apps right off the flash drive... Or... Package it and then stream it to target devices)...
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App=V
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VMware ThinApp
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VMWare
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Numecent Application Jukebox.
Its tho only one that can deliver most of our apps
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Its important that people are aware of the limitations of these solutions.
App-v (4&5) has some fairly major limitations, Have a look at the appv packaging guide and look up "limitations". Of note: It cant deliver Drives such as PDF printer drivers (acrobat pro, PDF creator, Inspiration etc) Cant integrate with any Local apps so plugins for locally installed apps (word toolbars/ IE Plugins etc) Need the original app to be launched from within the package. This becomes a real problem when you want to use 2 or more plugins. App-v (as far as I know) still cant package SQL express (Thats Nvivo for a start). We found that although we could package the simple apps (Firefox Acrobat reader etc) we hit a wall where 70% of our apps were never going to work. We even asked MS for help.

Thin app had the same kind of issues where you could not communicate between packaged application (CS6 components & Autodesk Suites etc ) and the lack of management was a real problem for licence enforcement.

XenApp being a remote presentation server requires a heavy duty back end and a constant connection. Not great for remote users of CPU/GPU intensive apps.

Often these solutions are very tied (locked?) in to the vendors VDI solutions and so not great for universal flexible desktop delivery solution.

Numecents Application Jukebox & Symantecs SVS (that was what it was called last time I looked at it) will integrate with local apps, Enforce licences, and deliver to any (windows) host type, Physical, VM, Vdi etc, you care to throw at them. Online, Offline, Licence enforcement, Delivered by Wan, Lan, usb, CD, Dropbox. Upgrades, Menu intergration and practicably zero user training.

Why oh why does the industry insist on ONLY looking at App-v, XenApp & Thinapp?
There are much better solutions out there.

And no I dont work for Numecent or Symantec.
I did use Softgrid/App-v for several Years and when we hit the solid wall of what could be packaged we went looking for something better.

We had 70 applications delivered via App-v in 3 years usage. We had 250 delivered with jukebox within a year.

You cant get a better recommendation than that.
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Citrix XenApp by far the leader in Desktop & App virtualization.
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Evalaze
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I think this article could have included performance comparisons also. I agree that the author could have been more up to date on the ThinApp option.
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Symantec Workspace Virtualization
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faster & reliable
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best virtualization solution
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Streaming Applications using Citrix is a good solution if you are already using Citrix to publish applications.
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XenApp is the leader in application virtualization for aceessing your Windows, Web, SaaS or any Mobile Apps form any device , anywwhere and at anytime.
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We use Citrix ZenApp. We tried App-V4.6, did not have alot of success, support not very good. We also tried ThinApp which had plenty of shortcomings, in particular with Office 2010.
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I know
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XenApp is best solution!
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You should have included Liquidware's FlexApp in this conversation
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XA
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I just want to learn about Citrix XenApp.
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I receive good references for my provider to Vmware...
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We are working on this.
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Oracle VDI and Secure Global Desktop
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PowerVM
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App-V no 1
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We have been using Citrix Xen server and its been very easy to deploy and manage.
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i only used xenapp
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Good product for Virtulization
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We currently use ThinApp, are expanding to include App-V and will incorporate XenApp in the relatively near future.
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Better Tools
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simple to deploy and manage.
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a
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MS App-V is good once it comes to migration the OS to WIN7
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GCCA gCloudGate
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ThinApp is the best application virtualization tool
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XenApp is the best solution for application virtualization
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Citrix XenApp
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how is the performance of XenApp VDI for photoshop application. Can we implement servers with graphics controller as xenApp server for extending VDI for Photoshop
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can anyone suggest the server landscape for Citrix XenApp implementation
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Thin App
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better virtual apps soln ,, then any other
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Citrix XenApp is best solution of application virtualization.
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Best flexible solution
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vmware will over come xenapp eventually
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citrix xenapp is good product for application visualization
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Microsoft App-V
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Works with any platform - not just Windows!
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Ease of use, works well.
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We use Application Jukebox.
Does application Deployment, AD integrated,
Offline usage , Licence enforcement, upgrades and we have around 300 apps from 7zip to Adobe CS6 & Acrobat Pro. Autocad / Solidworks / Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suite....
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i am trying to use
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Xenapp is awesome and simple !!!
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citrix XenApp HDX is the best
VMware is worst
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HDX rocks
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Post 419455

"I did use Softgrid/App-v for several Years and when we hit the solid wall of what could be packaged we went looking for something better.

We had 70 applications delivered via App-v in 3 years usage."

This is the worst crap I have ever read. Ever. I just had to reply. Work for a company that exclusively does packaging projects. We do hundreds if not thousands of applications a year in AppV. Yes there are limitations, but you exaggerate them beyond the limits of space-time itself. Completely biased nonsense and technical ignorance. Good day.
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Thinapp 5.0 will offer 64-bits support. VMWorld 2013 announce!
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If you want an "it just works" technology, then Application Jukebox by Numecent is the only one I could recommend, the rest are legacy solutions, even the more mainstream solutions from Microsoft and VMware.
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