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Microsoft Rolls Out 'User Experience' and App-V 5.0 Virtualization Betas

Microsoft today released "user experience virtualization" and application virtualization beta tools that will be part of its Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) suite for IT pros.

User Experience Virtualization (UE-V) for Windows 7 or Windows 8 will be a new addition to MDOP. This tool is designed for IT pros to facilitate support for users who access multiple devices by delivering the same experience and the same application settings across those devices, according to Karri Alexion-Tiernan, director of product management for desktop virtualization. It's also designed to quickly deliver the same desktop experience to users who must switch to another machine after their main device gets lost or goes down. IT pros don't have to reconfigure settings for specific devices, and UE-V works with both rich desktops and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) desktops.

"We developed UE-V because we recognize that most of our users have more than one device that they work from," Alexion-Tiernan said in a phone briefing. "With more devices being used, we heard that there's an increased need for IT to provide a consistent experience across multiple devices, application types (whether physical or virtual) and desktops delivered through VDI."

The second beta available today is Application Virtualization 5.0 (App-V 5.0), which works with both Windows 7 and Windows 8. The App-V tool has been available from Microsoft for about two years, following Microsoft's acquisition of Softricity in 2006. The new 5.0 version works with various Windows 7 and Windows 8 features, including DirectAccess and AppLocker. For Windows 8, the App-V 5.0 beta works with Windows To Go, which is a portable form of the OS that fits on a memory stick or USB drive.

Both betas are available for testing via Microsoft's Connect portal (signup required). The UE-V beta can be accessed here, while the App-V 5.0 beta is accessible via this page.

AIS No More
Microsoft plans to phase out its Asset Inventory Service (AIS) from the MDOP suite on April 3, 2013. AIS is a service that lists software and hardware in a computing environment, and it also can be used to support licensing and legal compliance. It's being dropped from MDOP because of feedback from customers who wanted better integration with management systems, according to Alexion-Tiernan.

"As we continue to move into the cloud, there wasn't a need for overlapping functionality," she said. She added that if Microsoft's customers are doing management on premises, they can use System Center Configuration Manager or Windows Intune to get that inventory support.

VDI Categories
Alexion-Tiernan identified three categories of virtualization associated with VDI. It's supported via rich desktops or hosted desktops.

UE-V is part of the "user state virtualization" category. It works by separating user data from a particular device and personalizes the Windows experience. Next, "application virtualization," as represented by App-V 5.0, separates the app from the operating system, and makes the app available offline or online without having to install the application. "We create isolation and never change the footprint associated with the base OS," she explained about App-V. Finally, there's "operating system virtualization," which is delivered from a datacenter or locally to the device, which enables flexible access to Windows from various connected devices. Operating system virtualization can add security by housing user data in a datacenter.

VDI and Centralized Management
Microsoft sees its System Center management tools playing a strong role in these VDI scenarios. One benefit is centralized management through System Center, for both traditionally installed applications and virtualized infrastructure, which Alexion-Tiernan claims "reduces complexity and drives down costs."

"The first thing that IT will find is that UE-V is really easy to deploy," she said. "It does have an agent associated with it and that agent can be deployed via System Center Configuration Manager or any third-party management tool. There's very little infrastructure that's needed for UE-V. All the user experience information that roams is stored on a file share, so IT can take advantage of any existing file server that they have in their environment, without a need to set up additional servers."

UE-V integrates with Microsoft's other VDI products too, she added, and things will "just work." UE-V is managed through Group Policy. It uses templates that show a path to registry settings. So, as users make changes to their preferences, those changes are captured and put it into a centralized space, she explained. UE-V can be combined with Windows folder redirection and offline files, which allows the user experience to roam as well as user data. It works offline and will sync as the user comes online.

A video on Alexion-Tiernan's blog post illustrates UE-V at work. It shows how a preference change made to an installed application will show up in that same app running in a virtual machine.

As for App-V, System Center Configuration Manager can be used for the delivery of the virtualized apps. A server in a datacenter stores all of the applications. When a user accesses an app, it's streamed to the desktop.

"With App-V, we only deliver the most important parts of an app so that a user can be up and running in a minute," Alexion-Tiernan explained. App-V provides isolation, allowing different app versions to run on the same desktop.

Microsoft also added a few integration improvements to the App-V 5.0 beta.

"We've improved the diagnostic messages to provide meaningful feedback so that users can do self-help and resolve problems on their own," Alexion-Tiernan said. "In addition, we no longer require a dedicated queue drive." She explained that many drive letters are already mapped to existing line-of-business apps, so Microsoft removed the queue-drive dependency so that IT pros don't have to juggle drive letters. Another improvement in App-V 5.0 is that the administrative console now can be accessed via a Web-based management app.

Microsoft also now lets App-V 5.0 users stream apps without writing to disk. Alexion-Tiernan explained that Microsoft recognizes that storage can be a blocker to VDI deployments, especially because expensive SAN storage needs to be bought and installed on the back end. IT can now choose which apps they want to stream onto the desktop and which apps they want to deploy locally, she said.

MDOP 2012?
Microsoft isn't disclosing when the final MDOP suite will be released, nor what it will be called (it's presently known as "MDOP 2011"). It's possible to get MDOP in three ways: through Software Assurance or Virtual Desktop Access licensing, or through a Windows Intune subscription. In all three cases, it's an extra cost, priced at $10 per device. The suite apparently is selling well.

"Thus far, we've sold 39.7 million licenses of MDOP," Alexion-Tiernan said. She noted that even though Microsoft is adding to the suite, the price isn't going up.

Microsoft is seeing its MDOP customers widely adopting application virtualization in particular, Alexion-Tiernan said. Users are also taking advantage of Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V) in the suite for Windows XP to Windows 7 migrations. As for Advanced Group Policy Management (AGPM) in MDOP, users are looking for a more consistent process for rolling out Group Policy, she commented.

In late March, Microsoft released a beta of its Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset 8 (DaRT 8) beta, which is another component of the MDOP suite. The DaRT 8 beta adds support for Windows 8 and includes ease-of-use improvements and PowerShell scripting capabilities. DaRT works by allowing a PC user to boot into it and hand over system control to a technician. It can boot from a USB, CD or DVD drive. IT pros also can deploy it via a "preboot execution environment" (PXE) or it can be deployed to the PC's local hard drive. System Center Configuration Manager can also be used to deploy DaRT.

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