SoftGrid app-virtualization: Another way to offer software as a service

Summary:Is streaming Office via SoftGrid Microsoft's answer for enterprise customers considering Google Docs & Spreadsheets? (With a hosted or at least ad-funded version of Microsoft Works being Microsoft's competitor to Google Docs & Spreadsheets for individuals and small businesses?)

MDOP, the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack, is the fastest-selling-ever Volume Licensing product from Microsoft, according to the company. Since Microsoft introduced MDOP six months ago, customers have bought 2 million licenses for MDOP.

MDOP consists of a number of different tools and technologies, all of which are developed being enhanced and maintained by Microsoft's System Center team: SoftGrid application virtualization, diagnostics and recovery toolset, advanced group-policy management, an inventory-asset service and desktop error-monitoring capabilities. (As reader Ryan McCarthy with SoftChoice Corp. correctly noted, Microsoft acquired, not built, these technologies: SoftGrid from Softricity; Asset Inventory from AssetMetrix; Advanced Group Policy from Desktop Standard; and Diagnostic Toolset from Winternals.)

If I were to guess which of these might be most enticing to customers, I'd say SoftGrid might be the biggest carrot. And if it's not yet the crown jewel of MDOP, I'd predict it will be by the time Microsoft issues its next MDOP refresh.

(Keep in mind that the only way customers currently can get MDOP and SoftGrid is to sign up for Software Assurance, Microsoft's annuity-maintenance licensing program. Based on early information on Microsoft's plans for Windows 7, it sounds like the Redmondians plan to continue to offer existing and forthcoming MDOP services as carrots/sticks to get more folks to sign up for Software Assurance.)

SoftGrid -- technology Microsoft acquired when it bought Softricity in early 2006 -- lets users run applications without actually installing them on a local machine. This allows companies who want to make available a single image of Office or even a custom line-of-business application to multiple users to push it out to them without having to touch each desktop. It also will aid companies in deploying application patches, as only the changed/updated bits will be streamed to users' desktops (rather than all of the bits, including those which haven't changed), she said.

"SoftGrid just pull (the bits) that are needed," said Gavriella Schuster, Senior Director of Product Management of the Desktop Optimization Pack team."IT doesn't have to do all the regression testing it normally does. It doesn't need to check in advance for potential application conflicts and crashes. It's especially good for users with lots of custom business applications."

SoftGrid also allows users to work offline, since the bits that are installed on a user's desktop remain there, Schuster noted, even when the machine is disconnected from the corporate network.

SoftGrid application virtualization "version 1" (which is part of the current MDOP) allows users to stream applications to any desktop inside their firewall, Schuster explained. But the next version will allow users to stream any application that can be virtualized to their desktops or the Web, she said.

(Applications that cannot be virtualized are anything with a boot-time install, like virus-scan software, Schuster said.)

Is this the way Microsoft will offer medium- to large-size businesses Office as a "service"? Instead of fielding a Web-based version of Office, why not just convince users to stream it using SoftGrid?

Schuster wasn't willing or able to talk about Microsoft's competitive positioning plans.

"MDOP turns a desktop into a set of dynamically delivered services," is as far as Schuster would go.

Where do you think Microsoft is going with SoftGrid? Is streaming Office via SoftGrid Microsoft's answer for enterprise customers considering Google Docs & Spreadsheets? (With a hosted or at least ad-funded version of Microsoft Works being Microsoft's competitor to Google Docs & Spreadsheets for individuals and small businesses?)

Topics: Microsoft, Cloud, Hardware

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.