Those who have followed me on InfoWorld and elsewhere know that I’m a big fan of application virtualization. The idea of bottling-up all of the messy deposits from a typical Windows application installation into an easy-to-deploy, self-contained package has always seemed like a good idea to me. And during my extensive testing of various “appvirt” solutions, I’ve developed some strong opinions about which approaches work best for various deployment scenarios.
For example, in a tightly-managed, generally homogenous Windows environment – with Active Directory at the core of every network – Microsoft’s own App-V solution has often seemed like the best option. However, in less locked-down environments, where portability and flexibility are the primary concerns, stand-alone (i.e. no client agent required) solutions, like VMware ThinApp or XenoCode, have always been at the top of my recommendation list.
I summarized my findings in a white paper that I published through the exo.blog in early 2009. This report, the development of which was funded by VMware, shows how tricky it can be to determine which virtualization platforms provide the best performance across a range of use cases. You can grab a copy of the white paper here.
Now, with the release of App-V 4.6, Microsoft has raised the bar a bit for its competitors. For starters, the new version allows you to sequence (i.e. capture the output from and virtualize the installation of) 64-bit Windows applications. This is significant in that Microsoft’s upcoming Office 2010 will be available in a 64-bit format, and App-V using shops will no doubt want to be able to virtualize it as they do the 32-bit version of Office 2007 now. However, the more important new feature is the capability to deploy virtualized applications to clients running the 64-bit versions of Vista and Windows 7.
Previous versions of App-V were incompatible with 64-bit Windows due to their lack of an x64-compatible kernel mode agent. This is one of the reasons why I’ve traditionally recommended VMware ThinApp for customers with a significant installed base of 64-bit clients. However, while ThinApp-encoded applications will indeed run on 64-bit windows, the virtualization engine itself is 32-bit only. You can’t encode a 64-bit application with ThinApp, and 32-bit encoded applications are treated like any other Win32 application running atop the WOW (Win32 on Win64) compatibility layer.
With both native 64-bit application support and the capability to be deployed on 64-bit Windows editions, App-V has pulled ahead of the competition and established Microsoft as the technology leader for this category. I’ll be revisiting my original test results in the coming days as I see what, if any, improvements Microsoft has made in the performance and overall runtime footprint of their solution. Stay tuned.
Figure 1 - The Latest WCPI Index Values