I’m Chris Green, Program Manager on the App-V team. I first joined Microsoft in June, 2009 and I was immediately assigned to the beginnings of a project that I would see right through to its release. That project was to make improvements to a component of the App-V system called the Sequencer. This tool came from humble beginnings. In fact, its genesis was as a developer tools that was used internally by Softricity employees. Eventually it was made into an end-user tool and provided to customers, but only after two days of on-site training.
Microsoft acquired Softricity in 2006, and over the next few releases, made the Sequencer experience much better. While we were developing App-V 4.6, we conducted usability tests and incorporated some of the findings into a revised user interface to make sequencing even easier. We also published a Sequencing Guide that outlined many best practices and troubleshooting techniques. However, there was still a learning curve to sequencing, with some steps seemingly “hidden” unless users had taken time to review documentation beforehand.
The App-V product team soon realized that the Sequencer poised a barrier to deployment for many MDOP subscribers and other App-V customers. It decided to invest in a special out-of-band release that would focus on lowering the learning curve and making sequencing a more predictable process. This project, codenamed “Beagle” (after Charles Darwin’s ship, not the dog), was structured around four pillars: ease of use, diagnostics, predictability, and automation.
Ease of use
We heard from customers that they wanted to be able to delegate sequencing to IT Generalists – people who “own” applications in an organization but who are not necessarily packaging experts. This first pillar aimed at lowering the sequencing learning curve and incorporating the knowledge and best practices that used to be “hidden” in documentation. We specifically targeted IT Generalists who work with App-V as only one of their many tasks and responsibilities. This segment cannot afford to invest hours to develop deep expertise in packaging, so we wanted the user interface to guide the user through each step to ensure that they could create a functioning App-V package the first time. In the new 4.6 SP1 Sequencer, you will see a new landing page and a sequencing wizard, as well as integrated best practices so that members of your team who are unfamiliar with App-V can quickly begin sequencing applications.
Another piece of customer feedback was that they wanted visibility into issues that could prevent packages from functioning correctly once they were deployed. By creating a pillar for Diagnostics, the Beagle team created a feature, informally called “detectoids” that detect specific issues while an application install is being monitored, and will provide actionable information in an installation report.
When sequencing complex applications, many times you’ll follow long and detailed “recipes” of steps that include modifying files and registry settings after the application has been installed. Missing one or two steps may result in a final package that doesn’t work. Or, maybe a recipe might not exist for an application you are trying to package, and you’ll spend time trying to get your own recipe “just right.” We formed our third pillar around predictable sequencing, and developed what I think is the most innovative and valuable feature of this release: Package Accelerators. Using a Package Accelerator, you can simply convert an application into an App-V package without any monitoring or recipe steps. Think of Package Accelerators as application packages without the application binaries; simply point the Sequencer to the application’s installation media (or locally installed location) and voila the Sequencer will generate a fully functional package. All of the hard work has been done for you.
The fourth and final pillar of this release focuses on making sequencing a repeatable and automatable task. The Sequencer has always had a command-line interface (which is thoroughly used by our own Test team) but in this release we’ve improved its capability to be able to sequence applications solely through scripting.
I am extremely excited and proud to release the App-V 4.6 SP1 Sequencer. It is the result of a lot of hard work by a very talented team. Over the next few posts, the development team will write additional articles about many of the features I mention here. Stay tuned for a lot of valuable information that will help you become fast and efficient App-V Sequencers!
Chris Green | App-V Program Manager
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