Most IT departments are still tasked with supporting dozens -- possibly hundreds -- of Windows applications, but virtualization and self-service systems can often be too complex for efficient app management.
I often write about how the goal of desktop virtualization is really about managing desktops and applications, and that there is no one-size-fits-all solution that works across all organizations. Every use is different, and that's no more evident than when looking at the number and type of applications we have to support.
If Windows doesn't see it, it doesn't exist and doesn't need a license.
You can deal with the inherent problems of having so many apps by using application virtualization. Many organizations have virtualized apps because of issues with application compatibility, and while that use case is still around, eventually IT has come to appreciate the manageability of the technology more than the isolation. To use application virtualization, though, requires a certain amount of expertise to package apps, and no technology works with everything.
Many people have also tried automated delivery systems and self-service applications, which have their benefits, but nothing seems perfect.
A different look at app management
FSLogix arrived on the scene with a new take on application management. Rather than packaging apps or automating installs, its approach is to simply install all the applications onto a machine.
The company's product, FSLogix Apps, then uses file system filter drivers to hide and unhide applications from Windows and the users. Each time a user logs in, Apps processes a list of applications the user is permitted to use, and only shows them those apps. Instead of using virtualization (which would carry hardware requirements), it uses the file system filter driver to intercept and redirect requests for files and registry entries. This works in both directions, so when apps are hidden, they're hidden from both the user and from Windows.
When you deploy FSLogix Apps, you start with a blank machine (or one with your base image applied). Then, you choose which apps FSLogix will manage. After that, you create a rule set, called a "visibility rule," that is simply a config file. If there is a config file for a specific application, that app is then visible to Windows and the end user. Visibility rules also let you govern things like file type associations or where to place shortcuts. An auto-generation tool included with the software lets you create and edit them on your own.
Deploying visibility rules to your users amounts to copying the config files to a desktop, which you can do through a logon script or just about any other way you'd transfer a file to a user's machine. Once that's done, the FSLogix agent (which is just a file system filter driver and something that reads config files) reads those files and gives the user access to only the apps that they are entitled to. It does this per user, so it even works on Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) servers. The agent runs as a service, so apps can be provisioned or de-provisioned on the fly.
FSLogix imaging and licensing
Your concerns at this point are probably related to image size and licensing, both of which are (relatively) easily assuaged.
More on Windows app management
With fewer Windows apps, nonpersistent VDI makes sense
How does Windows as a Service work?
Benefits of delivering desktops with Windows To Go
When used on physical PCs, the local hard drives are rarely, if ever, used to capacity. These days, it's pretty hard to get hard drives under one terabyte, so who cares how big the image is, really? Even if your image is 500 GB, it means you can have a single image for all your machines. For persistent or nonpersistent virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), you can take advantage of storage deduplication to alleviate image size concerns. Windows might not see the apps, but the storage system does.
The licensing has actually been signed off on by Microsoft and the application vendors. Basically speaking, if Windows doesn't see it, it doesn't exist and doesn't need a license. That also means that an IT department has more visibility into the applications that people are using and can more accurately report on their license usage. It's actually helpful for licensing!
FSLogix Apps is a simple way to manage applications. If you can get past the image size, it can be applicable in many organizations, especially when you consider how it works with all form factors -- physical desktops, VDI and RDSH. Plus, if Windows apps are really on the way out, who needs a big, bloated management system to manage a dwindling number of apps when you can have a tool like this? It still has centralized management; it's just that the deployment process is much simpler.
This was first published in October 2013