UX Series – Improve the WVD application landscape experience

UX Series – Improve the WVD application landscape experience

Welcome to part 2 of my UX Series around Azure / Windows 10 / Windows Virtual Desktop and FSLogix.

In part 1 of the series I covered the long asked question, how to setup the startmenu and taskbar correctly for my Session Hosts or WVD deployments, and today I will show you, what you can do to improve your application landscape experience for your end-users and administrators!

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 – Application Landscape Experience (ALE) – explained
Chapter 2 – Application data – Understand, where the application stores data
Chapter 3 – Application Delivery Models for WVD
Chapter 4 – FSLogix App Masking
Chapter 5 – Application not compatible? What is Microsoft Desktop App Assure

Chapter 1 – Application Landscape Experience (ALE) – explained

What sounds like a beer and a general short form is actually a declaration I like to use while describing the applications a customer requires in his business. While talking about the ALE, I include the following types of applications into consideration, while analyzing the customer environment:

  • Microsoft Store Apps
    E.g. Microsoft ToDo or any other application available from the MS Store
  • Win32 Applications
    E.g. FileZilla – Win32 is Microsoft´s declaration for the programming interface of 32-bit versions of Windows applications. Technically this means, that the applications access data blocks in 32 binary digits
  • Web Applications
    Built on HTML5 or any other web programming language. Can also rely on middleware for accounting software. E.g. LuxTrust
    Provisioning can occur via a shortcut, Favorite in a web browser or any third-party software
  • Middlewares
    Software component that lies between the OS and the actual application running on it. Enables the end-user to use e.g. smartcards for the login to the accounting portal. There are different kind of usage scenarios for middleware, please find the declaration from Microsoft site here
  • Legacy Applications
    Applications, that were used in the previous environment, but are not compatible with the deployment/migration project. Can be any kind of application, which is not supported on Windows 10 devices/machines or services. An example, which I still see very often is Office 2010, before starting a migration to Exchange Online. Like this, the legacy applications must be upgraded before using the latest services.

There are several options available on the market to analyze the current application landscape and create a picture/structure for your migration project. The following tools have been developed to help you to inventory and assess the current application landscape on end-users devices/VMs

If you just want to quickly lookup, which applications are installed on an existing Golden Image you can run the following command in an elevated Powershell on the Image Machine itself:

wmic
/node:localhost product get name, version, vendor

You can also replace “localhost” with the hostname of another client in your network, except WMI operations aren´t allowed in your network! I recommend you to use this method just for quick lookups on the local machine.

With this insight, you can structure your migration projects. Keep in mind, that some applications require database connections and/or specified modifications on the end-users machine – but this will not be the topic in today´s post! Additionally, and that’s actually the most important thing is to ensure, that the applications to consider for a WVD migration must meet the compatibility requirements of Windows 10, but I will go more in detail in the last chapter of this article.

If you want to know more about my analyzing approach, just reach out to me!

Chapter 2 – Application Data – Understand, where the application stores data

As you might know, there are already a lot of applications where you must ensure that they´re installed in the right mode, to not flood the user´s profile and consume too much storage space, or to simply work inefficiently. Good examples are the installation methods of One Drive and Teams. One of the intentions behind storing applications in the user profile could be the roaming behavior and to provide that application for the specific user who needs to have access to it, but as it blows up the profile and increases the logon duration and hardware utilization per machine I don´t recommend to go for that way, except there is no workaround.

Please find a picture showing a FSLogix user profile, while installing Microsoft Teams in per-user mode:

User Profile per-user: 4,38 GB

And here you can find the same profile, while installing Teams per-machine:

User Profile per-machine: 292MB

The difference is obvious and doesn´t require any comments.

In VDI environments it´s definetly recommended to install the applications (if possible) in a per-machine mode. This mode prevents, that the application stores its installation data in each user´s AppData folder.

A very detailed documentation on how to install Teams, for example, correctly in your WVD deployment can be found here in my “Complete Guide: Microsoft Teams on WVD”.

Chapter 3 – Application Delivery Models in WVD

In this chapter, we´re going to dive into something practical! We´re discovering the methods of deploying applications in Windows Virtual Desktop. But before we´re able to deploy applications, we need to ensure that your virtual machine, which will be your future Golden Image, is ready for the installation of applications!

Due to the fact, that WVD is an Azure service, we have multiple deployment methods, let me cover the most popular options:

  • Native installation on the OS
  • Deployment of Apps via MS Endpoint Manager / Intune
  • Very Hot: MSIX App Attach

I assume that the most people already know, how native installations look like when you´re about to install a new application on Windows 10, but as the most people request it, I will give you a very quick introduction in how to get started with my third option (MSIX app attach).

MSIX classically is a modern Windows app packaging format, which allows you to dynamically (per-user session) attach an application to Windows 10. Available in public preview since the release of Windows 10 2004 MSIX packages/containers can be attached to either a VDI session or native/local installation of Windows 10, when working with, or in an enterprise environment. The process of attaching MSIX packages is called “App Attach”. You can enable your end-users to use applications via App Attach while adding the required software components via Logon scripts to the required session on any specific session hosts, that has the Windows 10 version 2004 or newer. For older builds, you need to go for the Preview version of Windows 10, which I don´t recommend for production workloads.

During the past months, several people reacted to my article, where I´ve packaged Microsoft Teams to make it available as an MSIX package. Actually that worked pretty well, but as I mentioned there, it was just a test!

But which applications should I consider for being converted into the MSIX format?

Basically any Windows application can be used for the conversion into MSIX, except those which requires special drivers, or registry keys for their operation

I saw already certain blog posts of how to convert my MSIX package and create scripts for the attachments, isn´t there an easier way?

The creation of an MSIX package can be done with a tool from Microsoft available on the Microsoft Store called: MSIX Packaging Tool.

For the complete steps, how to create a first MSIX package and install the tool, please follow my article provisioned a few weeks ago: https://wvdlogix.net/msix-app-attach-convert-microsoft-teams-to-a-msix-package-for-wvd

But is there a tool available, which helps us to maintain all of our existing MSIX packages?
YES! There is actually a great one I recently saw and it´s available for free: MSIX HERO.

With MSIX Hero you can easily manage your MSIX packages, modify them, add the certificates to the package for the deployment and provision the application to your users! It´s definetly a try worth, please check the documentation here: https://msixhero.net/documentation/

I´m really impressed by how this tool simplifies the modifications and management of MSIX packages and helps us get started with App Attach.

As I´m sure, this program will help many organizations getting started with MSIX and App Attach, I will record a video by the end of the week and will present it to you via social media and here!

Chapter 4 – FSLogix App Masking

Now that we have covered the possibilities in deploying applications to our end-users we shouldn’t forget one of the key features provided by FSLogix, the possibility of hiding applications, based on rule sets via App Masking.

App Masking helps to provide or to deny access to specific programs, directories, or other installed components on the client/session host. This feature is available once you install the FSLogix Rule Editor, follow the next steps, and see how it can help you to simplify the access management to applications for your end-users.

To get started with FSLogix, you can download the installation files from here: https://aka.ms/fslogix_download

After a successfull installation, startup the Rule Editor and create a new rule by clicking on the icon, or click on File > New.

On the next screen, you need to define a file name for your new rule to be created. We´re going to plan to hide the GitHub Desktop application, so let´s call our new rule “Contoso_1”.

We click on “Enter file name” or hit the enter key to confirm our new rule creation. From the next window, we can start with a new, blank Rule Set, or we choose one of the locally installed programs to hide it from the users, who probably don´t need it. We select “GitHub Desktop” as our desired application and click “Scan”. What the rule editor does, is to analyze the application dependencies like Startmenu entries, Registry Keys, Launchers to add them as a new “Hide Rule” to the editor.

Now you should be able to see our recently created rule and the dependencies, the scanner has found on our machine.

Within this so called “Rule Set” you can find the exact rules being applied to the system, once this rule is actively assigned. If you want to do a test drive, just click on File > Apply Rules to System to see the effect.

Finally, we just need to ensure that the right group of users can see the applications, where others aren´t able to see them. To do this, simply click on the “User” symbol in the menu bar and assign your desired group and define if they can see or can´t see the GitHub Desktop app.

In our case, only a group of software developers should see the app, where others can´t.

By default, when we click on the users icon, we see one assignment, which belongs to Everyone, which is always disabled. You can see that, when the “Applies” value is set to No, this must be changed because we´re going to hide it from everyone, except our developers.

Let´s click on “Everyone” and select in the lower area of the window: “Rule Set does apply to user/group” and click apply. You will immediately see the change beneath the “Applies” value.

To add our group of developers or individuals (like you want to have it), just click on the Add button and type in the name of users, for who this rule should apply. You can finalize this setup by clicking on OK and coming back to the Rule Editor.

To make changes available immediately, go to File > Apply Rules to System

ATTENTION: Currently this is a very manual process to do, you need to copy all rule set files to all Session Hosts in WVD, to get this going. As a workaround I recommend to store your rule files in a Central Place (Fileserver / Sysvol etc..) and copy the files via Group Policy to the Session Hosts. Like this you ensure that the rules are present, when they´re needed.

IN CASE OF UPDATES: These can be done centrally, but must be provisioned to this central location and applied on each Session Host manually currently. I hope Microsoft works on a more intuitive solution currently. 🙂

Chapter 5 – Application not compatible? What is Microsoft Desktop App Assure

Congratulations, you´ve reached the end of this article and it´s actually a very important one, because I´m covering that fact, that applications aren´t compatible with your current Windows 10 version and what to do in case of incompatibility?

First of all, I want to mention, that there are really great tools out there, that can help you scan the environment for apps, which aren´t compatible with Windows 10, if you´re about to plan a migration! A perfect example of an intuitive software is represented by LoginVSI.
For me, this has helped so many times to identify issues before I would have recognized them! Please find a video below, describing how LoginVSI could help you (Note: this video and product has been chosen from my opinion and has not been sponsored in any way!)

But if you´re operating and planning at a larger scale, Microsoft introduced a special program for it´s Fast Track services called:
Microsoft Desktop App Assure.

Liturally Microsoft is saying: “…if an app works on a previous version of Windows and, when you update to the latest version of Windows 10, it stops working, we’ll fix it for free.” – Chris Jackson (Microsoft)

So, what can we expect from that program?

Microsoft promises you guidance and support to remediate:

  • In-house developed Line-Of-Business apps
  • Engage with third-party software manufacturers to resolve issues
  • Fix issues with Microsoft products (Office products AND Edge extensions)

Okay sounds too good, where do we reach the end of the scope?

Microsoft will not provide any kind of assistance for the inventory of applications, testings if applications are working or not, researching for alternatives to third-party applications, app packaging services.

If you want to know more in detail, what Microsoft can do for you if you´re stuck with your Windows 10 deployment, please find this great video, describing the service in detail:

Conclusion

Well, it has been yet another busy week around Windows Virtual Desktop. In this article you´ve learned, what kind of app assessment and deployment models are available for WVD or your VDI environment and how to use FSLogix App Masking to keep your Golden Image consolidated, while hosting all business apps, but presenting the user with only required apps, which definitely increases the user experience. Finally you saw, how Microsoft can help you if you´re using FastTrack to remediate issues with application incompatibilities.

Next week I´m going to show you how you can easily improve the logon time for your end-user experience in WVD! Stay tuned and as always I would be happy for any comment, critics and feedback to improve the quality of my articles from the COMMUNITY, for the COMMUNITY!

Cheers,

Patrick

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