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Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5 Nears Release

The former SoftGrid software streams an application from a server in an organization's data center to a local PC as pieces of the application are needed.
So far, Fairfax County School District (FCSD) has only deployed SoftGrid to two schools, including Virginia's largest public school. However, this will scale to 10,000 seats by this fall and potentially all 90,000 seats in the school system sometime later, though FCSD hasn't yet committed to the latter figure.

"This changes the way we think about application delivery," Chris Lewis, manager of FCSD's desktop management team, said in an interview. "Either you do a standard push where you walk up to it and it's installed locally or it's a virtual image." Deployment becomes much quicker.

After seeing SoftGrid for the first time a few years ago, he and his team were impressed that unlike Citrix Presentation Server, SoftGrid didn't rely as heavily on the network and server, instead balancing its implementation by using the PC's hardware. "With computers as powerful as they are today, why would anyone even do presentation virtualization," Lewis said. He is also impressed with the fact that applications running under SoftGrid appear to the end user just like any other application on their machine, though Citrix had that feature.

Lewis ran through a few benefits he thinks companies will see from application virtualization. Since apps run virtually and in a sandbox, they'll be more reliable and stable, and rather than switching from one version of software to another immediately, old versions can stay behind too while people are getting trained on the new version.

Additionally, end users no longer have to be in a particular classroom or on a particular PC to get the apps they need since they'll be delivered centrally, which means that students don't always have to go to a specific computer lab to do certain work and teachers can hold classes in any room, rather than just one.

FCSD is in the early adopter testing program for Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5 and likes the new caching options. The new version of Microsoft's application virtualization software also includes improved security, support for multiple languages, works better with Microsoft's System Center management tools and adds more diagnostics, and better support for third party plug-ins like customizations to Microsoft Excel. Available in a release candidate now, Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5 will be released later this summer as part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack, which itself is an option only for Software Assurance customers.