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A Preview on App-V 4.6 SP 1 | November 24, 2010


During TechEd EMEA 2011 and – a few days later – at the German App-V User Group Meeting, Microsoft showed some features of the upcoming Service Pack 1 for Microsoft App-V 4.6, which is announced for the quarter of 2011.

You can watch the TechEd Videos. Ment van der Plas has collected them at http://www.softgridblog.com/?p=168.  Also, Jurjen van Leeuwen collected some of the highlights at appvirtguru.com.

While Service Pack 1 for App-V 4.6 will significantly affect the Sequencer, there are also some changes to the App-V Client.

App-V Client 4.6 SP1 changes

Hotfix Inclusion and Product Build consolidation

As usual for Service Packs, SP1 will include Hotfixes that have been developed since the initial release of the 4.6 version.

More important, SP1 will rejoin the two “Product Build Paths” 4.6.0.1532 “RTM” and 4.6.0.20200 “All Languages” back into a single path. Until then, both paths receive different hotfixes (see http://www.kirx.org/app-v/use/ms-official-software-en.html#a1020).

Support of Read Only Cache Feature for Remote Desktop Services

With App-V 4.6, Microsoft introduced the concept of the “Shared Cache” or “Read Only Cache File / Read Only FSD” that allows several App-V Clients to launch applications from one and the same “local” App-V Cache. This feature was intent to reduce the amount of Storage (SAN) needed for Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) deployments (see https://kirxblog.wordpress.com/2010/07/26/microsoft-application-virtualization-4-6-read-only-cache-for-vdi-environments-1/). While it works, this Shared Cache currently is not supported for Remote Desktop Session Host (Terminal Server) environment. With App-V 4.6 SP1, also RDS/TS servers are supported for usage with ReadOnlyFSD.

Additional Enhancements

Referring to Microsoft personnel, there are other enhancements planned for SP1 of the 4.6 client. However, these enhancements are not finalized yet and it is not clear if and how they will be available with SP1.

App-V Sequencer 4.6 SP1 Changes

ServicePack 1 for App-V 4.6 will bring some significant changes for the Sequencer

Streamlined Package Creation by using “App-V Package Accelerators”

It is a common sence to name Sequencing an “Art” that can’t be learned easily and that there are no “guaranteed guidelines” that engineers can follow to Sequence a completely new applications.

In order to be able to reproduce successful Sequencing in other organisations or for slightly modified requirements, so-called “App-V Recipes” have been created in the past by Softricity, Microsoft and lots of community members. However, as the name indicates, these “Recipes” are “only” descriptions of steps that have to be followed to create a working App-V Package. These Recipes often included Sequencer Settings that had to me modified, customization advises for the monitored installation itself as well as wrap-up activities like modifying the Registry or deleting files afterwards.

App-V Package Accelerators now (well: then) allow to sequence an application without the need to follow a Registry. You can imagine these Package Accelerators as an “automated script” that performs all the steps to “transform” an application installer into a ready-made App-V package. Package Accelerators automatically extracts all the files from the Application Installer source media, deletes files, modifies settings and the Registry without monitoring the installation process the “classical App-V way”.

As a result, creating of App-V packages might become faster, because the Sequencing Engineer does not need to install and customize the installer and adjust settings afterwards. Also, the result is much more a “product” then an “artwork”, because using Package Accelerators do not incorporate “Sequencing Blurs” like forgetting steps from a Recipe, installing different components then mentioned in a Recipe and so on.

It can be assumed that Microsoft itself, 3rd Party Software Vendors, Consulting Companies and of course the Community will provide Package Accelerators that can be transformed into reliably App-V Packages.

Also, the new Sequencer will be the tool to create new Package Accelerators – so you “old school” Sequencing guys will have the chance to prepare Accelerators with the piece of Software you know quite well.

New User Interface

The new Sequencer comes with a new User Interface, that heavily focuses on a wizard-driven approach. After selecting a task like “Creation” or “Modification” of a package, a workflow based wizard guides you through all the steps to create a package. These individual wizards contain steps that are different depending on the chosen task.

While I assume that this new wizard will allow “Sequencing Newbies” to create new packages more efficiently by hiding the “unnecessary” dialogues,  experienced Sequencing Engineers will have to get used to the new UI and perhaps they initially ill miss some “habitual” tasks (calm down – they still can be performed ;-) ).

Compared to that new Wizard driven UI, another change might be considered as “small”: The Sequencer (again) allows to be minimized!

Some 4.x versions of the Sequencer did not allow to minimize the Sequencer windows (on some Operating systems) to be minimized. Thus it sometimes happened that application installation or application configuration dialogue boxes appeared behind the Sequencer window and thus could not be accessed. In SP1, the Sequencer Window(s) can be minimized again (strange enough not to the taskbar but to a very small windows on top of the task bar – at least for some pre-release versions).

Dynamic Suite Composition (DSC) Component Package Extraction

One of the disadvantages of the current DSC implementations is the fact how to sequence an application that relies on a sequenced middleware. If – for example – you want a Java-based application to access Java by means of a DSC component, you’d probably have to open the Sequencer, install Java (the same way as you installed it for the java App-V Package), then launch the Sequencer Software and Sequence the application itself. This is not realy funny if you want to create a ton of applications that rely on Java (remember: you always revert the Sequencer!)

With SP1, you can “open and extract” such a middleware package on the Sequencer before you start the actual Secuencing. This method of “extraction” makes sure that the target application installer can access exactly the same environment as if it would see on the client later on – and its way faster the manually installing the middleware each time.

 8+3 Naming Convention for Package Root disappears

Until now, it is one of THE unalterable rule to create a folder on the Q-Drive that follows the (DOS) 8+3 naming convention and to tell the Sequencer that it should use this directory as its “Primary/Package/Asset Root Directory”.

In SP1, you could enter (almost) any folder name when asked for the Package Root directory – in fact the Sequencer uses the “Package Name” value (that can be longer) as the default value for this. However, internally the Sequencer creates a random “Short Name” for that folder – so 8+3 is not really gone, but well-hidden and not more important to think about (well… maybe). Quick tests indicate that it really is a “randomization” and not only some XOR-ing or fixed bit-shifting – at least two identical Package Names caused significantly different 8+3 short names.

I am not sure if every software will be able to deal with that transformation, but the future will prove it.

Sequencer Preparation Best Practices applied

Some Sequencer Best Practices (like stopping several services, creating dummy ODBC-connections or creating a Q-Drive on the Sequencing Workstation) will be applied by the Sequencer Software Installation routine.

The Q-Drive won’t be a “physical” drive/partition anymore that you have to create manually. Instead, it seems to be something like a Symbolic Link to  C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Application Virtualization Sequencer\Package Root.

Sequencing PreCheck and Potential Issue Report

The new Sequencer will check and warn about certain circumstances before Sequencing. So it will remind you to revert the machine to a clean state if you did not do so and it will “ask” you close all programs before Sequencing.

After monitoring, the Sequencer will report about potential issues like Files that have been excluded from tha Package, Drivers that have been installed Side-bySide (SxS) issues and others. Also, these reports are available as an XML file.

Summary

The upcoming Service Pack 1 for App-V 4.6 will bring some improvements. On the Client side, re-joining the hotfix branches and support of the Read Only Cache for RDS servers are most significant.

The main changes apply to the Sequencer, that comes with a new User Interface, easier creation of DSC target applications and the introduction of Package Accelerators.

Application Virtualization 4.6 Service Pack 1 is expected to be release in the first quarter of 2011.

Product Compatibility Remark

For the pre-release version, packages that have been created with the SP1 version of the App-V Sequencer were intent to be run with 4.6.0 versions of the App-V client. This is noteworthy, because in the past it was not supported (and it was a bad idea) to have a Sequencer that is newer than the Client. It might happen that MS will require you to update the Client to SP1 as well, once it has been released.

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