I've had enough people ask about ThinApp that I'm throwing together this blog entry. Here is a semi organized opinion piece/rant on ThinApp.
We started looking at application virtualization for our instructional labs. The idea was to get the applications off our image. We also had a number of older applications which required admin access to run. We looked at ThinApp and Microsoft's App-V (or Softgrid, or whatever they called it at the time), and ThinApp seemed simpler to manage, and could handle poorly behaved apps which needed admin access (and App-V could not).
We ran ThinApp through a bunch of testing and threw about half of our apps at it, and decided to make the purchase.
Our plan was to stream applications off a CIFS share. Unfortunately, the project has not gone as well as we would have liked.
When ThinApp works, it works really well. We used it to package a number of old, weird applications for specific markets used in our courses. I'd list the names, but it's nothing anyone reading this has ever heard of. Once the app is packaged, we drop it on a file share. The Start menus on our PCs are mapped to a network drive, so we can instantly make an app available on hundreds of machines without doing much work. It's great.
Streaming applications off file shares works as long as the app is relatively small. Large apps don't stream well. I got a lot of unpredictable behavior once the size got over about a gig. You don't get any feedback that an app is loading when it is large, so it is confusing for users and looks like nothing is happening.
What doesn't work? Most of the major applications. I can't get the Adobe CS5 suite to work. The CS4 suite worked, but performed poorly. This goes against what you would expect since the small poorly designed apps work fine, and big well known stuff fails.
What major apps do not work?
- Adobe CS5 Suite (licensing manager doesn't work, so it fails)
- ArcGIS - 9.3 appeared to work initially, but many functions perform poorly such as a 30 second task taking 15 minutes
- AcrGIS 10 - fails to launch
- SAS - I can't get SAS to work, period. VMware tech support tells me apps with chained installers don't work well
Since these apps are our biggest, our hope to keep them off our image to speed up the imaging process failed.
When apps don't work, we have to deploy them the old fashioned way.
VMware tech support was initially very unhelpful but they ramped up support considerably in the last year or so. Support still isn't adequate because it is so slow. Usually by the time there is an answer, my deadline has passed and I have had no choice but to deploy the app the old fashioned way. At this point it would be a poor use of my time to pull the app and push out a ThinApp version, so we just give up.
We had this problem with the following:
- Stata - support found a bug that still hasn't been fixed (reported in August)
- Mathematica - they discovered weeks later that it doesn't build properly due to long paths and think they found a solution. Since I had already pushed out the app I never tested it (no time)
VMware does not test applications (even common ones like Photoshop). These problems shouldn't be handled by support, but should be handled by the developers. At minimum, the Adobe products should work. I believe each release of ThinApp needs to be tested against a large number of common applications, but they do not do this. They also do not keep track of problems people have, so if many call in with Adobe CS5 problems, this isn't shared. They also don't test against scientific or statistical applications.
I can't imagine imagining instructional labs without ThinApp, but I spend an awful lot of time mad at the product. I may have unrealistic expectations for App virtualization. It isn't an easy thing to do, but I'd love it if ThinApp worked better.