New and improved Virtual Application Studio
- By John K. Waters, Special to GCN
- Feb 03, 2009
Xenocode, the Seattle-based maker of virtualization tools, today released the latest version of its Virtual Application Studio, a developer-focused authoring environment for virtualizing existing Windows-based applications.
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.
Virtualization made its initial splash by allowing server consolidation, and it is still largely thought of in that context. But Xenocode CEO and Founder Kenji Obata sees app virtualization as an even more powerful use of the technology. "Obviously, server consolidation is practical and interesting," Obata said. "But I think we'll look back in five years or so and say, 'Wow, using these kinds of lightweight VM technologies to simplify deployment and management of actual software was really where the biggest productivity gains were realized.'"
Xenocode's virtualization technology is designed to allow applications to run directly from the Web, but also from intranets, USB drives and existing desktop management systems such as Active Directory, Microsoft SMS, Novell ZENworks, LANDesk Management Suite and BMC Configuration Management, Obata said. "We allow entire software installations, including application components, runtimes and databases, to be packaged in a ready-to-run virtual machine," he said.
Obata characterized this release of Virtual Application Studio as a major update. Along with the usual engine upgrades, compatibility updates and support for the latest version of .NET, it comes with key new capabilities, among them a new Windows shell integration tool.
"We got a lot of feedback about this," Obata said. "We made it very easy [in earlier versions] to drop an executable onto a user's desktop, where they could run it, and that was fine. But many apps depend on file associations, and our customers wanted an easy way to integrate these shell actions with the virtual application. So we added a tool that basically allows you, with command, to take one of our virtual apps and register it on a desktop. Registering that app causes all of the shell extensions, desktop shortcuts -- all of those pieces -- to be wired into the virtual app. So you get the full seamless desktop-like experience with all the benefits of virtualization."
This version also comes with a one-click MSI import feature. MSI is Microsoft technology for installing, repairing, updating and uninstalling applications. This feature allows for the instant virtualization of existing MSI setup packages.
Obata also pointed to enhancements to the tool's sandbox management capabilities. This version supports the dynamic management of what Obata called virtual "bubbles," which allows for fine-grained control over app linking and communication. And a new sandbox auto-reset feature "blows away" all changes to an application's settings when the app is closed. "You can run the app, play with it and when you close it, it's as if nothing ever happened," he said. Obata expects this feature to be popular for software demos.
Also look for "dozens" of new application templates.
Obata said to expect an upcoming version of the Virtual Application Studio environment to include a new Web integration capability, which will allow developers to take VMs built using the Studio product and deploy them on Web servers.
"This is still relatively new technology," Obata allowed. "But what we're beginning to see is that application-level virtualization is where you can do the really interesting things."
Xenocode Virtual Application Studio 2009 is available for download at www.xenocode.com.
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley.