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Sneak Preview on Gridmetric’s Application Virtualization Explorer v2 | March 31, 2010


If you are looking for a tool that can modify App-V packages (Sequences) without the Sequencer Software – and that even can do more: Have a look at Application Virtualization Explorer by GridMetric…

Update (2010-05-11):
A few days ago, Kalle released the Application Virtualization Explorer. Read more and get you copy at http://www.gridmetric.com/products/ave.html.Hurry to get the full version at a discounted  price…

Upon request, Kalle was so kind to grant me access to a pre release version of his new “Application Virtualization Explorer v2” – and to make it short:

If you liked his “SFT Explorer”, you will get addicted to “AVE”.

I personally can’t stand living without AVE after I used the Beta.

The successor of SFT Explorer is not “just a new version”. Kalle added some really cool features to App-V Explorer that I never thought would be possible.

You may ask: which one? Well, modifying SFT files without having a Sequencer is probably the one most astonishing one. Seeing what a certain application running for a certain user on a Client is the most desired one by me.

Key Features of AVE (from my perspective) are:

Open and manipulate (*) App-V Package Files SPRJ and SFT files.

  • View (Metadata, Files and Registry)
  • Modify (Metadata, Files and Registry)
  • Add (Files and Registry)
  • Export (Files and Registry)

Open App-V User Settings (and System settings): PKG files.

  • View
  • Export

Inspect Virtualized System View: Determine, how a Virtual Application does “see” the whole environment including

  • Virtual and physical (local) Resource view
  • Dynamic Suite Composition (DCS) support
  • User Settings and System Settings applied to the Virtual Environment

Let’s have a look onto some of its Key Feature. While preparing this post, I took some tens of screenshots. They would fill a stand-alone document: way too much for a blog. So: I really had to restrict myself.

Basic Features

After loading an Application Virtualization Package (SPRJ) file, you can access some of its general settings. Technically this are the settings stored in the SPRJ:

Package Info

Starting from here, you may explore the “Published Applications”, FTAs, MSI settings and others.

Modifying Individual Application Publications might give you an impression of these features:

Application Configuration

After that, let’s look at the cool stuff:  In the Files and Folder tab, you can Open, Export or Delete Elements. You even can (*) update the content of existing files, Import new files and directories or modify the object’s mappings. For files, you also can easily “Publish” them.

Virtual Files and Folders

File and Folder actions

Also for the Virtual Registry you can Export the whole VRG or only parts of it. And you can access and manipulate (*) all the Keys and Values incl. their Virtualization Levels:

Virtual Registry

Virtual Registry Actions

Virtual Services can be accessed as well:

Virtual Services

One of the most questions for troubleshooting is: How does the whole system look like from the Virtual Application’s perspective. In the past, you PRE LAUNCHed a CMD prompt to get access to the Virtual Environment, or you were using 3rd Party tools or dirty tricks. With Application Virtualization Explorer v2 you have the “Virtualized System View”. It shows the application’s actual impression of the (merged) environment – for both, File and Registry objects. No, you don’t need a Sequencer nor OSD modification skills for that. You don’t even need an App-V/SoftGrid Client. AVE does all the decoding and merging for you.

Virtualized System View (Package)

The source and level of Virtualization is indicated by Icons

[For those of you App-V “youngsters”: The Blue Star is Kalle’s homage to the logo SoftGrid had back in the old days]

Advanced Features

All right, now you got an insight into one package. But what about Dynamic Suite Composition (DSC) (sometimes referred to as “inter bubble communication”. How does AVE handle that?

Basically, when you “Suite in” an additional SFT (it may be more than one) you are asked whether to use “Normal DSC” or to “Fully Merge” the packages. The following illustrations demonstrate the difference. “Normal” shows esp. the Virtual File System as you would see in when using a File Browser from within a DSCed Application. In the Q-Drive, all asset folders (8.3 folders) are listed separately. The “Merged” mode shows all packages, well: merged. This gives you a much better impression what File or Registry Value really does influence the Virtual Environment. Imagine 3 package all having a “settings.ini” in the Windows folder and you know you dilemma. Additionally, “Merged” mode allows you to join several packages back into one single package. This might be usefull when you have separate packages that you almost always combine with DSC – just “compile” them together.

Dynamic Suite Composition (DSC) Merge Methods

Of course (?!) ;-) also the Virtual Registry and the Virtual System View do support access to Dynamically Suited packages.

User Settings and System Settings

As you know you know that the SFT/SPRJ – even using DCS – only reflects a static, initial view of a Virtual Application. Every time an application is launched, it potentially gets a modified Virtual Environment. App-V stores these settings on a User or System basis within .PGK files (Read Kalle’s post at http://www.virtualisointi.fi/en/archives/193 for further details).

Application Virtualization Explorer is – from what I know – the first and only application (besides the App-V Client) that can read and understand these settings. There is no 3rd-Party tool that can do this – not even Microsoft’s Resource Kit Tools nor the Sequencer itself is capable of doing that. I was asking Kalle for such a feature shortly after he released SFT Explorer – and I am really, really excited about having that now available. I assume it cost Kalle nights, therefore Years of his Live to develop this. The specifications of the PKG files are not published anywhere and seem to differ significantly from the SFT files itself (Actually I am not sure if MS internally has a detailed documentation on that ;-) )

So, here we go: Open a PGK file, first “Stand alone”:

Content of a PKG file

As expected, AVE shows the File and Registry Objects that are (in that case) User Specific.

When you already have the “Base Package” open, you also can apply a PKG file on top of that. So you can inspect the Local System + Virtual Application + User Settings view onto the System. No more ProcMon’ing anymore (well, almost) to see the Virtual Application’s Reality…

Here we go: The (lilac) User Settings combined with Package settings and “some” rest from the local system:

Virtualized System View: Static Package and User Settings applied

Beyond that:

I already mentioned that you also may modify (*) some of the settings and that you can add (*) objects to the Packages. This Post was far too long already, so I won’t explain these sophisticated features by now. Also I know that there is about a million small features that you surely will use.

Summary:

Kalle Saunamäki’s Application Virtualization Explorer 2 is a Must Have tool for everybody that does more than “just using” Virtual Applications. I feel that AVE may become the most frequently used application to inspect App-V Applications including DSC and User Settings. Personally, I think it’s your own fault if you don’t even give it a try.

Watch out for Kalle’s announcement at www.gridmetric.com about the Final Version. It should be availale in April.

Right now Kalle did not disclose too many information about AVE’s business model. The tests above have been performed using a Pre Release of the Professional edition. Watch www.gridmetric.com for further information about different editions.

And no, I am NOT paid by Kalle. You may recognize that we at Login Consultants do provide certain tools for App-V for our own. I am almost sure that I have to pay a significant amount of beer to my bosses if they come across this article (well: I commit to that if that will be Irish, Czeck or German Beer. No chance I shout a drink with Heineken or Grolsch ;.) )

Remember:

Application Virtualization Explorer v2 was reviewed in a PRE RELEASE version. Features and/or graphical representations may change for the final release.

(*) Note:

Modifications to SFT Files (like adding objects, modifying objects or – with less risk – deleting objects) have to be made carefully. The GUI reflects that by not allowing for direct “saving” items. You have to “save a copy”.

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