In every desktop virtualization conversation at some point we cover application virtualization and it’s applicable use in a conventional physical or virtual desktop environment. In many cases the customers have already tried using something like ThinApp, XenApp, or App-V in the past and they almost all have the same experience…bad. They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating, meaning the truth of something can only be discovered by trying it. Well if I were to use customer adoption and their experience as a measure of the success of application virtualization it would be a lie to call the technology anything other than a failure.
I don’t want to say that application virtualization as it exists in solutions like those from VMware, Citrix, or Microsoft don’t have a place in an IT environment, I just think they are far too often oversold as the solution to application distribution and updating. If what you are looking to do is isolate incompatible applications from each other on the same operating system instance then I’ll happily promote these solutions.
In the last year I started using a Macbook Pro as my primary desktop and if there is one thing I really enjoy about it it’s the application install, uninstall and update process. On OSX applications are downloaded as a .dmg (iso image’ish). Once downloaded most applications “typically” only require me to copy the application “.app” to the applications folder and I’m done. When uninstalling this application I drag-and-drop that .app file, a preference file, and in some cases a cache folder into the trash and it’s gone. I use an application called Appcleaner on my Mac’s to automatically find these items and delete them. This model seems so simple to me compared to how things work on my Windows PC’s, there’s no complex installer, uninstaller…not to mention time wasted waiting for apps in install or uninstall, it’s just a file copy-and-launch.
If Windows apps installed, uninstalled, and updated applications the way they do on a Mac I imagine a virtual desktop world in which we could just mount vhd’s, images, dmg, iso (whatever it might be) to the virtual environment and let them run it…do something to redirect/persist the preference/cache files and bam…you’ve got portable on demand application installation without having to put it on the gold image.
It just seems that application installation issues today are a problem because of Windows and we’ve wrapped another technology and set of products around this problem which has created it’s own new set of problems. So in short I don’t promote application virtualization unless it’s solving a really painful issue such as incompatible versions of java on the same machine. I don’t think any of the application virtualization solutions from Citrix, Microsoft, or VMware solve the problem of instant application delivery thru streaming because they are don’t work 100% of the time, are time-consuming to repackage applications, and create a new set of issues that you must now deal with…it’s a wash on the value it provides, so why change.