The next couple of weeks should see a major new version of AppSense’s flagship product, DesktopNow, become available for download.
AppSense has long been one of the leaders in the user state virtualization (USV) arena, alongside the likes of RES Software. Besides profile and user environment management, its products cover such things as application personalization, user rights management, application management, licensing control, performance management, and profile migration. The software integrates well with technologies such as Group Policy and SCCM to allow enterprises to deploy some or all product features in order to produce a solution suitable for different environments. Both terminal services and virtual desktop environments can get a lot of benefit from USV suites such as those provided by AppSense and RES; the USV suites are also quite useful when deployed to physical endpoints.
Powered by filter drivers, AppSense has a lot of formidable features that allow admins to lock down their environments in wonderfully granular ways. However, it’s also long been plagued by niggly issues that have made the software a slightly less than compelling experience, often necessitating the use of custom scripts to provide specific functionality. With the imminent release of three major updates—Environment Manager 8 FR 5, Application Manager 8 FR 8, and Management Center 8 FR 6—it seems that AppSense has taken on a lot of these issues and done its best to address them. The result is an update that may seem quite radical to hardened AppSense administrators; however, in the wider scope of things, the update should improve the experience provided by the software to users as well as to those administering it.
The bulk of the operational changes that admins will notice is on the Personalization Server end. This technology replaces standard user profiles with an SQL-based solution, allowing management of user settings without any of the issues normally associated with them.
AppSense has become fairly radical here and split the personalization solution in two, giving us Application Personalization and Windows Personalization. Windows Personalization now replaces the desktop settings and session data that AppSense admins will remember, removing the confusion that was caused by grouping Windows 7 and Windows 2008 R2 settings (for example) into the same section. Each Windows Personalization settings group now can take advantage of the full set of conditions available in Environment Manager policy, finally allowing you to customize the settings saved for the user’s session environment to your heart’s content. You can also synchronize this data at other trigger points, removing the reliance on user logoff to copy the settings up to the SQL database.
DPI settings can now also be personalized correctly, thanks to some changes behind the scenes, which removes another bugbear that many AppSense administrators have pointed out.
Environment Manager Policy
The policy side of Environment Manager also gets quite an overhaul. New triggers are present, allowing admins to apply settings before, during, and after the Explorer shell starts, rather than simply at a generic “logon” point. There is also a “network available” trigger for the machine based around NLA, finally removing the need for scripts to identify when an endpoint is connected to the network for the purpose of file copies and the like.
It doesn’t stop there—there are new conditions for identifying laptops and VDI sessions and a new session variable to identify the user’s SID. This again puts an end to the scripted workarounds used primarily for dumping local profiles at logoff time. There are some new actions as well—Fast Logoff and Logon/Logoff Message—and the Find dialog has been tidied up, a part of the interface that often had me screaming in frustration. Further, descriptions and indicators in the policy interface have been made much more intuitive, which should prove very useful for those new to the software.
More behind the scenes, the Management Center—the part of the AppSense suite that deals with deployment, monitoring, and reporting—has also had some big changes.
The web servers that Management Server and Personalization Server run on now support multiple instances (seventeen, to be precise: the default plus sixteen extra). This should cut down on the amount of infrastructure required when enterprises deploy multiple AppSense databases.
The PowerShell integration has also improved somewhat; this is another area that should be expanded even more.
Finally, there is now an option to put in a custom configuration file location without using mklink or subst, which was the common workaround in PVS environments and the like. Again, this is a good example of AppSense responding to customer feedback.
Application Manager is the user rights management/application management/device control part of DesktopNow, and it has always had some very powerful, underrated features. Version 8 FR 8 introduces a rather cool Change Request feature, which allows users to directly request changes to their operational privileges. This seems like a first step down the service management road that rival RES Software has already traveled with its IT Store product; it should be very interesting to see how far AppSense proceeds with this kind of functionality.
This isn’t by any means an exhaustive list of the changes and improvements in this release—there are a large number of them, and this article simply covers some of the more visible ones.
All in all, the implementation of many of these changes is well overdue. Having said that, it’s probably better that these changes were rolled into a single release rather than drip fed through four or five incremental versions.
AppSense has a lot of power tied up in DesktopNow; environments can be customized down to a level at which you can selectively disable just about any part of the user interface. Many of these changes will bring the software up to a level of maturity it hasn’t reached previously, allowing administrators new to the suite to deploy it without hitting a lot of the issues that have plagued others over the past couple of years.
What would be useful now would be to see a more solid roadmap from AppSense that indicates the direction its software releases will be taking in the future. This would help those out there with an investment in the suite to plan ahead more effectively.