Microsoft Releases Beta of App-V 4.6

Microsoft has released a beta version of its App-V 4.6 application virtualization technology. Although it's not the major upgrade seen in version 4.5, with which Microsoft deeply integrated its System Center configuration management products, this release adds another key piece to Redmond's evolving app-virt picture: 64-bit support.

According to a recent Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) Product Management Team blog post, version 4.6 will be the first release to support both x64 and x86 Windows platforms. The aim, according to Microsoft, is to provide a version that can take advantage of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

Virtualization in the app layer is about isolating applications from the hardware and operating systems running them, explained Neil Macehiter, former research director at industry analyst firm Macehiter Ward-Dutton. The process encapsulates applications as independent, moveable objects that can be relocated without disturbing other systems, he said, minimizing the need for app-related alterations to the OS and mitigating compatibility challenges with other programs.

Perhaps just as important, according to Gartner senior analyst Terry Cosgrove, is the technology's ability to separate the apps from each other. "The primary reason that companies are using this technology is to avoid application conflicts, which has been the bane of system administrators for many years," Cosgrove said. "It's a big pain point of desktop management today."

App-V 4.6 also comes with improvements in the sequencer, Cosgrove pointed out, including simplified workflow for creating virtual applications and a new ability to sequence true 64-bit applications.

"This is what I'd call a table-stakes release," he commented. "The 64-bit support, which will help them support Window 7, and the Windows Server support are things that were needed. I've seen companies that are using competitive solutions because App-V lacked 64-bit support, so it matters. And clearly, it makes the technology useable for a broader set of applications. But it's an evolutionary step, not a release that moves the market."

Version 4.5 of App-V, released last October, was the first Microsoft-branded version of the SoftGrid application virtualization platform acquired with the company's 2006 purchase of Softricity.

"That integration with the System Center products was a major improvement," Cosgrove said. "It's their core desktop management suite, which we believe accounts for more than half of the installed based in the market. There are lots and lots of organizations out there with System Center in their environments. This integration allows them to manage App-V packages with System Center so they don't have these two redundant infrastructures in their environment."

The slow evolution of App-V, though often criticized, is unlikely to mitigate its impact on the application virtualization market, Cosgrove commented, thanks to Microsoft's eternal ace in the hole: a massive installed user base.

"Microsoft's acquisition of Softricity back in 2006 was really a visionary move," he commented. "But then we didn't start seeing the benefits of that acquisition until the middle of last year. In that time, other vendors developed and matured competitive solutions, and it's still a competitive market. That said, Microsoft has the luxury of being able to come late to a market and still be very successful."

The beta version of Microsoft App-V 4.6 is available here for download by registered users of Microsoft Connect.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].

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