Microsoft Office: A flagship product suite ubiquitous within the enterprise. The average enterprise IT environment runs multiple versions of Office not only as a suite of applications for the average information worker, but also as a platform for custom and mission critical LOB applications and workflows. As Office continues to grow or evolve, the question of whether or not to virtualize all or parts of one or more versions of Office are revisited on a regular basis.
Reasons to Use App-V with Office
There are many significant reasons why you would want to deploy office through App-V. Some of the more common are:
- Legacy Add-in Version Isolation through Virtualization: Office is also constantly evolving. As a new version is released, applications that work with or interact with an Office application may not work on a new version of an Office application. For example, you may have a legacy Add-in that works on Excel 2007, but does not work on Excel 2013. For that reason you create an App-V package that contains Excel 2007 along with that legacy add-in (or linked through connection groups.) This allows the application add-in/plug-in to continue to be used alongside of the newer deployment.
- Temporary Coexistence: Multiple versions of most Office applications can run side-by-side with a few caveats smoother with App-V than with native deployments. While App-V can be used with many applications to run multiple versions of the same applications, Office has some additional guidance [which will be discussed in a later blog in much greater depth.]
- Package Modernization Strategy Alignment: App-V allows for Office to be delivered via streaming in a flexible, portable format and take advantage of features of App-V such as the Shared Content Store.
In many cases, the version of Office you choose to virtualize will align with the reasoning. For example, you may be involved with a deployment of Windows 8.1 with Office 2013, and to ease transition, deliver an App-V package of Office 2010 applications for temporary use. You could also deploy Office 2013 via App-V to an existing Windows 7 base running Office 2010 due to a change in packaging strategy.
A Little History
A common question asked revolves around which versions of Office can be virtualized and what specific limitations will be encountered. To answer this – even at a 50,000 foot level – involves a historical discussion to better understand how the process and guidelines evolved with customer desires. As a result, the history affects version capabilities when running under App-V.
Back in the day, when App-V was called Softgrid, prescriptive guidance documents were published on how to sequence Office 2003 and Office 2007 with Softgrid. It was a complicated process, but the isolation allowed for the resolution of some compatibility issues. There were a few caveats:
- Applications could not self-heal.
- Integration was limited without disabling some virtual subsystems.
- Volume-licensed installation media was required.
There were other limitations involving client-server capabilities as well. When App-V 4.x and 5.x were released, no additional integration was developed due to the age of these products. Still generally, in most cases, these versions of Office are virtualized primarily for legacy add-in scenarios where only specific Office applications are packaged with App-V (Excel, Access, etc.) and they can still be done with success.
With Office 2010 came a few changes that would affect how Office would be deployed with App-V. First, Office moved over to the software protection platform that previously only used for operating system product activation. As with previous versions of Office, only volume-licensed media was supported for sequencing. In addition, a special component needed to be laid down natively in order to allow the activation of Office through either MAK (Multiple Activation Keys) keys or through a KMS (Key Management Server) Server. Hosts activated via a KMS have to report back to that key server once every 180 days. Like with the native Office format, you could also verify activation status with the OSPP.VBS script.
In addition to the software protection platform, the native component (which would become known as the ODK – Office Deployment Kit) included special virtualization handlers (or proxies) that would allow for better Office integration than we had before (MAPI, Search, SharePoint, OneNote) with previous versions of Office with App-V. This special integration allowed for the base applications to remain isolated but have better native integration with enterprise components. This would become a fine line to walk. Isolation is the opposite of integration. It is impossible to fully have both. The ODK would become the best solution.
2010 – App-V was not Click-2-Run
Beginning with Office 2010, a new format that was based on App-V technology was introduced for only Microsoft Office Home and Student 2010, Microsoft Office Home and Business 2010, and Microsoft Office Starter 2010. This was a portable streaming solution called Click-2-Run or Click-to-Run. Click-to-Run was not available in the Enterprise initially and was not to be confused with the enterprise deployment of Office using App-V. Click-to-Run behaved like a native Office installation to the introduction of dynamic virtualization technologies thus, in essence, it was simply an alternative installation format that allowed for speedy quick deployment and/or upgrades to Office 2010 for consumer users.
2013 – App-V IS Click-2-Run
Well, kind of. It comes from Click-2-Run. With the success of Office 2010 Click-to-Run, the birth of Office 365 and subscription-based deployments, and the desire for better virtual integration within the Windows shell on top of the existing integration components brought forth the solution for Office 2013 – flattened Click-to-Run.
Instead of having to manually sequence the Office package, you will use the ODT (Office Deployment Toolkit) to download and create (flatten) the APPV package. The Click-to-Run download from Microsoft will serve as the APPV package once it has been flattened. The packaging process with flattening involves converted the STREAM.DAT file into the AppV package format alongside of generating the registries and manifests. Finally an INTEGRATOR.EXE component is embedded into the package and configure to deploy automatically via a package script when the APPV package is deployed. This integrator is the next generation of the virtualization handlers that were introduced with App-V 4 and Office 2010 integration.
The Office Deployment Toolkit is periodically updated and is also the primary tool for updating the App-V package. The flattener component puts in a permanent package GUID that simplifies updating and allows for updating with the Office 365 update cycle which is in line with patch Tuesday. The Office Deployment Toolkit is also the mechanism for determining which Office applications are part of your overall Office package.
While the Office 2013 AppV package originates with Click-to-Run from the Office365 CDN, starting with Service Pack 2 of App-V 5, the App-V package can also be activated via Volume Licensing as well as Office 365 subscription licensing. This means that the Office AppV package is now the most flexible option for licensing as it is the only package format that can be activated through either subscription or volume licensing. Bear in mind the activation method will be embedded into the package upon flattening.
The Office 2013 APPV package was also the first introduction to JITV (Just-in-Time Virtualization) or what is known as “dynamic virtualization.” This allowed for better shell integration and enhanced the behavior of the virtualization handler components through tighter integrated extension points. This would be available for other AppV applications beginning with App-V 5 Service Pack 2.
In Essence, the newer the version of Office is, the tighter the integration options are. This allows for Office to be incorporated into your overall App-V application factory where the new Office can be leveraged for primary use under App-V while legacy versions can be leveraged (and) isolated for special circumstances.