App-V and MSIX today: Don’t Panic!

I’m not at MMS nor build this week. Instead I find myself in Switzerland training enterprises on how to best prepare and deploy applications using a combination of Microsoft App-V and MSIX technologies as they exist today. Yet I find myself inundated with requests for comments by enterprise customers concerned over a series of tweets from attendees at the MMS conference over what they heard (or thought they heard) Microsoft employees say there.

I have asked for, and hope that you all get, clarification on the status of App-V long term support. Unlike Microsoft full products like Office, Sql Server, Operating System versions, and even the Windows 7 (MDOP based) version of App-V, components inside the OS don’t get written support statements enterprises want (often providing Enterprises a 5 year window of standard support from date of release).

The default assumption we have is that once something goes into the base OS, it generally stays there. And hopefully something isn’t removed unless there is a viable alternative to it available. An OS should never become static so we should expect a level of change. But I don’t think that Microsoft has hard rules on how and when to communicate these changes to customers outside of new OS features as an new OS is released.

As an example, we heard that mspaint was going to go away, to be replaced by Paint3d, but then we later heard that it is going to stay because Paint3d was not a compelling and complete enough replacement. I’m not sure if there ever was a written statement from Microsoft through any of that. Was it “defacto deprecated” or did we just misinterpret a comment made by someone?

We do know from previous statements that currently Microsoft is not investing development resources into App-V, only support and maintenance resources. And that’s OK. App-V remains as the best way to deploy a wide range of applications that enterprise use today. Importantly, it is the only way to deploy a subset of the applications (especially older ones) enterprises require, especially under RDS and VDI. We don’t need new features, but we do need it.

We also know that Microsoft would like MSIX to replace the need for App-V someday. I can state my personal opinion here that MSIX is not ready to replace App-V to deploy existing enterprise applications today. And I don’t think even Microsoft would ague with me over that. Microsoft employees working on MSIX are justified in being proud of their work, and like any other vendor we should expect to have to look behind the curtain of someone selling you the new shiney. MSIX is a work in progress that works well with some applications, just not enough of them (yet). If, and when, we see software vendors release in MSIX format those will be great. But the compatibility of repackaged existing installers into MSIX packages, tested to the level that an Enterprise expects, is in my estimation too low today. For repacked apps to be successful more work is needed in the MSIX Runtime core, and more work is needed in the ability to shim fixups to overcome issues with running in a restrictive container.

I believe MSIX, even with the further development planned, is unlikely to ever achieve the level of app-compat for repackaged apps that we have in App-V because that is not what MSIX is designed for (the design is to protect the OS from the app). It is, however, unclear whether or not MSIX will will eventually clear the app-compat bar of “close enough” to be considered a viable full replacement.

I further believe, based on the trainings we have done so far, that unless Microsoft’s third party tooling vendors do some rather amazing work to change the situation, it will require a higher skill set to repackage a large set of apps to MSIX than it does to repackage into App-V. Now once packaged it should be better to be under MSIX, but you have to work to get there. Even with the community tooling (and changes to the PSF itself) that I have been contributing, it still tooks harder to me.

So let’s wait a bit for Microsoft to clarify whatever was said/intended before you panic over tweets. Enterprises using App-V today should help by asking their Microsoft representative for Microsoft to provide a written statement regarding the support (and timelines) they can expect to get. You deserve that.

Stay tuned. I’ll always try to provide a full and accurate depiction of where I see these technologies, independent of vendor bias.

By Tim Mangan

Tim is a Microsoft MVP, and a Citrix CTP Fellow. He is an expert in App-V and MSIX.