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A short Review on Gridmetric Application Virtualization Explorer for App-V 5 | August 13, 2013


It’s not a secret that I am a super-fan of Gridmetric’s Application Virtualization Explorer (AVE) since it was released and replaced the old SFTExplorer. Therefor I’m really happy that Kalle Saunamäki told me about the release of AVE 3.0, the first and only 3rd party editor for App-V 5 packages. Here is why you should get your hands on it, too.

I was asking Kalle for about a year now about his plans to release some ‘AVE vNext’ that should be capable of dealing with App-V 5 packages. We all know that Microsoft’s Sequencer always had its limits when it comes to modifying existing App-V packages. A sometimes weird user interfaced, the requirements to re-enter a monitoring phase to adjust certain settings or the lack of ability to modify things at all are downside of the Sequencer software that didn’t change with the 5.0 release.

However, Kalle didn’t really commit to actively work on AVE vNext, and of course he never committed to a release date. The main reason for this is that his company, Gridmetric, focused on their library product, LIB-V. Not going into detail, LIB-V is supposed to be used by 3rd party packaging tools as an interface to create App-V (4 and 5) packages. So first Gridmetric had to learn about the new App-V 5 package specifications, then formalize it into LIB-V and after that build Application Virtualization Explorer as a graphical user interface, leveraging LIB-V.

So, a few weeks ago Kalle showed me a first prototype, handed me out a pre-release about two weeks ago… and now, also you can have it.. well, enough small talk for now, let’s dig into it.

Editions

AVE comes in several editions, nicely addressing customer requirements:

The Express Edition is basically a ready-only version of AVE. You can inspect App-V 5 packages and identify potential issues using a graphical user interface. You even can export files, folders or registry objects. However, packages can’t be modified or saved.

The ‘unnamed’ edition (just Application Virtualization Explorer) allows all operations on App-V 5 packages, including intuitive modifications, content replacements or even creation of new packages. This is the preferred choice if you only work with App-V 5 packages.

The Professional Edition contains both, AVE ‘classic’ to modify App-V 4 packages (read more about that here) and the new AVE version for editing App-V 5 packages. So if you are migrating from App-V 4 to 5 (and need to maintain ‘legacy’ packages for a while), this is the best option.

Gridmetric also offers a full-featured 21-day Trial version that you can get here. Packages modified with it are ‘watermarked’.

Main Features

While AVE 3 allows you to create entirely new App-V 5 packages from scratch (Do you have applications that are just shortcuts to executables on a file share or that consist just of a bunch of file? This is your tool) we’ll focus on package editing features here.

So yes, as the first step you load a package and you’ll see AVE’s tree view user interface. There are some things to note about that, because it doesn’t always follow common usage patterns.

One thing to learn is that here are almost no right-click options in the tree view available (expect for opening the branch in a new tab). Most actions are called from the main windows. If I did not knew Kalle I’d think Gridmetric implemented this to support tablet device users, but listening to Kalle talking about touch interfaces… there must be other reasons. While it takes some minutes to teach yourself to hold on a second before right-clicking like a monkey, the advantage of that UI concept is that you learn to look (and think) first before you click. So, look, think, then click.

A second point to remember is that in App-V 5 there are three general configuration entities that affect applications on the client. These are the package itself (or: content of the .appv file), the (package or machine specific) Deployment Configuration and the User Configuration (that can vary for different users on the same machine). AVE 3 doesn’t try to represent these potential configuration sources in an extensive tree view or a confusing tab or sub menu explosion. Instead, also selecting the configuration source is done on an item’s main window. Use the ‘Change configuration context’ action for this.

Keeping these two properties in mind, let’s see what we actually can do with Application Virtualization Explorer 3:

So, on the top level you basically can modify the package name or create and delete new deployment and user configurations (aka ‘configuration context’).

In the Advanced node (after selecting a deployment or user config) you can control the co-existence behavior. App-V integrated tools require to convert a v4 package to the v5 format in order to enable the migration mode behavior between v4 and v5 clients (essentially: tell a v4.6SP2 client not to claim-back shortcuts and FTAs of a package that is also available as a v5 package).

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With AVE you can not only specify which package actually should win, you also could specify a different v4 package GUID for the co-existence. So, you can create a new, clear App-v 5 package from scratch and use AVE’s GUI (and browse feature) to make it nicely fading out the old v4 package.

As in the previous version, AVE 3 allows to edit files and registry objects of a virtual package. Well, you can do the same easily with the Sequencer. You just revert it to a clean state, open the package for modification with the Editing… erm, not the editing, but the upgrade or add application wizard, enter the monitoring phase, make your file modification, click through the remaining steps of the wizard and as easy as 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,… you modified your package. That’s not that complicated, right? You just spend one hour to replace a simple configuration file or to adjust more than two registry values. Well, with AVE 3 you can do it without reverting any VM, you can do it even without having the Sequencer software somewhere.

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Just browse through the file or registry tree and do whatever you want (including exporting branches of Registry or file system, importing stuff or just changing it). It’s noteworthy to mention that AVE resolves variables (like [{AppvCurrentUserSID}] or [{AppvPackageRoot}] to their current location if desired.

One of the most sophisticated sections is the Integration Subsystem node in the tree. You know that App-V 5 has about a million more supported OS integration points (or subsystem extensions) compared to just Shortcuts and File Type Associations in App-V 4. You even may have noticed that the Sequencer captures them nicely and populates them on the client… but did you ever try to add a protocol handler afterwards, telling the OS that your new virtual application is capable of (for instance) opening a Shoutcast Media stream or, more likely, just remove some of these extensions? Using MS native approach you’d have to go through some configuration XML files and adjust the integration points manually.

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Surely you know exactly what to do and where to do it, right? So, Application Virtualization Explorer provides a reliable interface to configure integration points, of course also allowing you to define the scope of such adjustments (package, deployment config, user config).

The way to configure script execution in AVE is, as expected, worth looking at, too.

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Again you could use the XML files, read some MS Technet articles to get the official information and some additional blog articles to actually understand where, when and how scripts can be launched around App-V 5 applications – or you just use AVE’s GUI to configure these runtime conditions using point and click.

Finally, of course you can configure the individual applications that belong to a package. You can modify the name command line parameters and others, the shortcut creation and configuration context for existing applications.

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You also can add new applications (either from inside the package or locally installed programs) to the list of applications.

Summary

OK, so I assume that you are as excited about Gridmetric Application Explorer as I am. Indeed you should download the Trial version right away. Then it’s time to think how to convince your manager to buy it for you and your colleagues. So, imagine you have to make a modification like updating an application configuration file of an App-V package. With MS native tools, you’d revert your Sequencer virtual machine (you can do this for your own, can’t you?), log on to it, perhaps wait until Windows Update finished its task. Then you open the package with the Sequencer software, selecting the appropriate wizard (which one to choose… read this article or skip it and get AVE in a shorter time…) You fire up the monitoring phase, replace the application configuration file, proceed with the wizard and finally safe the new package. Hopefully you did everything right, because otherwise you’d have to revert/logon/wait/monitor/proceed/save again.

With Application Virtualization Explorer, you just open the package from your (or ‘any’) machine, replace the file, save the package and you’re done. Lucky wise I’ve been working in environments where I personally can control the entire process, but still I’d estimate about 30 minutes to an hour of work for just replacing a single file. Then add time in organizations where you have to ask someone else to revert a VM for you. I don’t know your hourly rate, but I’d expect that AVE saves its price after about a handful of such operations.

Even more important is the fact that AVE prevents you from making mistakes, because you just can’t go wrong by trying to adjust a package, even for simple things like launching scripts or adjusting environment variables. Dealing with XML files, you could fail at several points: your scope might be wrong (accidentally trying to configure a machine configuration in a user config XML file), the location inside a file’s XML structure might be wrong or you just forget little things like closing brackets or quotes and thus break your XML. You and me know that such things always happen when changes are urgent and critical.

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So, again, from my perspective AVE is an essential tool for everybody that is responsible for creating and modifying App-V 5 packages – and it is so affordable that you potentially did cost more money while reading this article compared to an AVE license.
 
 
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Posted in App-V, Tools
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1 Comment »

  1. […] is Gridmetric’s Application Virtualization Explorer (I recently wrote a little bit about AVE here). It also supports to edit multiply configurations files (like UserConfig XML files) along a single […]

    Pingback by Deployment Models and Dynamic Configurations in App-V 5 | Kirx' Blog — September 9, 2013 @ 12:28


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