The Network Manager at Westminster School presents solutions to sticky problems...

Friday, 20 February 2009

Getting App-v to work with a Publishing Server

The way Microsoft is heading with App-v, we will all be dealing with it in a few years time. One day, it will be the way all applications are delivered to your PC. An application living as a distinct entity, yet interacting with the resources of the host PC. It is like discovering pot plants after years trying to weed a garden. If you knew you could isolate each plant, yet share the sunlight, rain and shade of the garden, you would never plant another in the ground ever again unless absolutely necessary. Later versions will allow you to plant two pots side by side so that you can share the same resources between them...

The latest offering, version 4.5 already expands Softgrid's approach by offering extra flavours. Not only can you stream an application from the Publishing Server or from a Terminal Server, you can now create an MSI file that loads the Application directly into the app-v cache and run the application without the need of a Publishing Server. Integration is also possible with System Centre Configuraion Manager.

But there are downsides to this expansion of the possible ways to use app-v: They become incompatible with each other. You cannot have either MSI approaches with a publishing server. There are registry keys that mess with the Publishing Server approach. One is:


This needs to be set to 1 if the Publishing Server is to work as expected. User targeting or the application may not run for some users, though it appears in the start menu or desktop.

Microsoft recomend that you deply the client application first and then apply the registry settings to make the application tick. I would suggest using SCCM for this. Use of the Setup.exe is almost essential as there is a prerequisite application buried in the Setup file. Don't even bother trying to extract it. You might see then name of the prerequisite during setup; don't bother going to look for it. Though you may install Visual C++ 2005 Redist, it still wants to run it's own version. Attempting to deploying the MSI alone through AD results in miserable failure.

Now to deploying the registry settings. If you are in an AD environment, you may not want to spend the effort writing a host (or PowerShell) script to deal with this. After all, Microsoft gives you the Group Policy Preferences. This is a great idea that saves time. However, Beware! The key registry setting that will cause the Publishing Server to silently fail to deploy its applicatons is:


Why? When you place the %appdata% variable into Group Policy Preferences, the machine expands the key when applying the preference. The result is an entry that refers to the appdata for the system account. This is unreachable for normal user accounts. The app-v client appears to refresh, but no applications appear. If you check the list of applications, they will be listed, but will not show any icons.
Solutions: resort to a startup script that writes that particular key or, better still, do not add that key to the preferences at all. The default registry setting on installation is %appdata%...

Finally, it may be worth remembering that App-v is currently only 32-bit. The 64-bit version is apparantly due in 2010...

Finding that out after two days of pulling my hair out does not do wonders for your health. Hopefully, this tip will help you avoid the same pain.

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