On the road to the virtual desktop
Windows application virtualization and streaming solutions from Microsoft, Symantec, and Thinstall are laying the groundwork for a subscription-based, click 'n' run future. Imagining the possibilities, we put them through a simple SaaS performance test
But despite having the right general plumbing, none of these first-generation solutions is designed specifically with a subscription-based computing model in mind. Microsoft SoftGrid and Thinstall Virtualization Suite are still aimed at internal enterprise deployment, whereas Symantec SVS Pro -- by virtue of its integration with a streaming server component from partner AppStream -- is closer to the goal of a true click ‘n’ run format. All Symantec needs to do is work out the optimization kinks.
It’s worth noting that, although the focus of SoftGrid is still internal, the 800-pound gorilla in Redmond has everything it needs to deliver a future Office suite via the Web. The future of software distribution is subscription-based click ‘n’ run; the question is no longer if, but when. The three platforms reviewed here are helping pioneer the transition.
A simple test of speedy delivery
To better understand the behavior of each application virtualization solution, I constructed a rudimentary test bed featuring Microsoft Office 2003. Using the packaging tools from each solution, I created a virtualized Office image and then used each solution’s distribution mechanism to deploy the image to a Windows XP-based client session.
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Note: All testing was conducted under Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 (SP1). In the case of SoftGrid, a Windows Server 2003-based Active Directory environment was created to support the SoftGrid server components. For Symantec SVS Pro, I used a non-Active Directory Windows Server 2003 instance. Thinstall didn’t require any server components; however, I did use the SoftGrid server to host a cached share point containing Thinstall-packaged executables.
Microsoft SoftGrid 4.2
When I first reviewed SoftGrid in July 2006 ("SoftGrid opens a stream toward application manageability") I found a product with tremendous promise saddled with an overly complex sequencing process and myriad runtime limitations. It’s now a year later and virtually nothing has changed. Version 4.2 is still plagued by UI quirks and omissions, the failure to automatically share the Content folder during the server installation process being the most glaring (unforgivable, really). There has been no real improvement in application compatibility; for example, SoftGrid still can’t handle applications that employ headless services (such as systems management agents). In fact, other than support for Windows Vista as a client OS, SoftGrid is effectively unchanged from its previous incarnation.