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Is This the End of Conflict Testing?

Softricity on Monday announced SoftGrid 3.0, an intriguing technology said to reduce most headaches associated with software installation, configuration, conflict testing, and distribution.

SoftGrid is a new way of installing software, which actually calls for Windows software to be downloaded, used, and kept on a local PC – but never installed.

The software operates as if it is installed, but since it never writes to the registry or installs DLLs, it doesn’t change or complicate the base configuration of the local machine.

The magic is in a technique called application virtualization, which wraps the application in a layer that allows it to fully use local desktop resources, but without an actual installation. That way, it can’t modify a darn thing on the target PC. Instead of writing to the registry, the virtualization layer contains all the necessary registry entries, and sits between the program and operating system.

The founders of Softricity got the idea when working for the Boston Computer Museum back in 1996. Digital Equipment Corp. donated 16 or so PCs to the museum, and museum officials wanted to run game software from CDs, but house all the game software on a single server. The software they developed to efficiently download and run the game software, which can wreak havoc with system configurations, ultimately morphed into SoftGrid.

Once SoftGrid is installed on a Windows server, the applications are virtualized. While packaged apps are easy to process, large programs and custom software takes a bit more tweaking, said David Greschler, co-founder and VP of Marketing for Softricity. IT can define who can access what applications based on need, and licenses. Once a user has access to a library of software, he can download it from the virtual server. Only the code necessary to run the app comes down initially. As the app is stressed, more of its code ends up downloaded to the user’s PC, where it remains. Application code is stored in a cache on the local PC. Apps that need to communicate with one another, should be virtualized as a group.

The technology is supposed to cut administrative costs, conflict testing and troubleshooting; offers on-demand application use; and can enforce licenses.

In fact, IDC interviewed a large SoftGrid user which was looking to dramatically cut IT costs, and move from a distributed IT organization to a single facility with global reach. Rolling out applications worldwide was a huge, complex and costly undertaking. So far the customer has experienced no compatibility problems, and can deliver applications many times quicker that under the previous approach, according the report written by IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky.

The new version of SoftGrid supports laptop computers, and is integrated with Active Directory, allowing IT to set permissions and define libraries based on AD user information. Laptop support is really just a matter of caching all of the application code upon download, allowing the disconnected user to operate the full application.

SoftGrid is licensed on a per user basis, and installations generally begin around $15,000.

So what software can’t SoftGrid handle? Programs that tie directly to the OS, such as patches, and Internet Explorer, which is really now a part of Windows. It also can’t distribute anti-virus software, and print drivers. Print drivers must be installed locally on the machine. Once in place, the virtualized apps can print using the driver.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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