Microsoft updated its App-V tool on Wednesday with better integration for a native application experience, along with new IT controls to reduce storage requirements and flexible management options.
Version 5.0 of the application virtualization tool is now in beta. It packages applications to separate them from the OS for delivery to any device, online or offline, and is part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP).
With App-V 5.0, "Microsoft is breaking down some of the inhibitors to application virtualization," said Brett Waldman, an analyst with IDC, Corp. "It makes your applications work as if they are installed natively.
"When you see it, compared to previous versions of App-V, that's when you get the wow factor," he added.
What's new in App-V 5.0?
One of the most significant features in App-V 5.0 Beta is the ability to turn off local application storage, reducing disk requirements for virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) without changing the application provisioning and update process.
More on Microsoft App-V:
Microsoft adds App-V support to WSUS
Using Med-V 2.0 with App-V to ease Windows 7 upgrades
"From a virtual desktop point of view, it keeps the desktop footprint to a minimum. as well as saving disk IOPs," said Dan Bolton, systems architect for Kingston University in the U.K., who uses Microsoft App-V.
IT can now choose which apps they want to stream and which apps they want to install locally to reduce storage demands.
Being able to turn off local application storage should prove extremely useful for VDI, "especially for large companies with a lot of applications, who would otherwise need a lot of storage to keep a copy of their application on the local cache," said Ralph Jansen, an application virtualization consultant with Login Consultants in the Netherlands. "This reduces the storage costs dramatically."
A new management option in App-V 5.0 lets companies deploy, track and serve App-V apps using Microsoft Silverlight, so IT pros can access their admin console using the Internet.
The application diagnostic information is also easier to understand in App-V 5.0, according to Microsoft.
Microsoft eliminated the Q drive, because in many companies, that drive is already taken. Now, the App-V agent is installed like a typical agent.
App-V 5.0 Beta supports Windows 7 and Windows 8, including support for features that seamlessly stream applications and their updates over Direct Access.
"To stream packages over WAN links using Direct Access is a nice feature for mobile workers who would otherwise need an unsecure or VPN connection or a removable device to receive their packages," Jansen said.
App-V 5.0 also integrates with the new Windows To Go feature for mobility and with AppLocker, so IT pros can protect against unauthorized applications.
Most applications can be virtualized, but App-V and other application virtualization tools cannot virtualize device drivers or printer drivers because they are device specific. Microsoft forbids virtualization of native OS components such as Internet Explorer.
IT pros also complain that App-V still needs a client to start virtual applications.
"A version without a client -- like [VMware's] ThinApp -- would be nice, so it would be a 100% mobile app," Jansen said.
Microsoft did not offer a timeline on when the final version of App-V 5.0 will be available in MDOP. Pricing for that suite is not expected to change, despite the addition of a new virtualization tool called User Experience Virtualization (UE-V). UE-V is a profile management tool similar to Microsoft roaming user profiles, but it offers more functionality for desktop virtualization.
In other MDOP news, Microsoft announced the Asset Inventory Services (AIS) feature will be discontinued as of April 3, 2013. The alternatives are Systems Center Configuration Manager or Windows Intune.
"Customers want to simplify their environment -- the less management tools the better -- and Systems Center Configuration Manager offers a similar functionality to AIS," said Karri Alexion-Tiernan, director of product management for Microsoft desktop virtualization.
Microsoft claims that it has sold 39.7 million MDOP licenses, and that many of those customers use MDOP virtualization tools -- including App-V and Med-V -- to do their Windows 7 upgrades.