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Will Modern Desktop Drive Application Packaging & MSIX Adoption?

Windows 11, Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD), and Microsoft Intune are new technologies changing the landscape for every application packaging team, placing application management and modernization at the top of their modern workplace agenda.

Designed to better support hybrid work, the needs of today's commercial organizations, and end-users, these modern technologies can significantly impact how you manage your applications. For organizations transitioning to a modern workplace, the move requires packaging teams to successfully manage and modernize a complex application estate by assessing existing resources, budget, and processes while converting or repackaging supported applications to work efficiently with new deployment mechanisms and operating systems.

It's a big ask and poses the question of what tools and processes will help with application modernization to reduce complexity and keep pace with change while future-proofing the application modernization investment.

The Modern Desktop, A Catalyst For MSIX

Connecting anywhere using any device is the utopia scenario accelerating virtualization and the modern desktop.With just the need for a browser and internet connection to be able to access end-user software and files, it’s no wonder many organizations are looking to adopt and migrate to AVD, (Azure Virtual Desktop, formerly WVD or Windows Virtual Desktop).

AVD is similar to traditional VDIs (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) such as Microsoft Hyper-V, VMWare ESX, and Citrix but leverages Desktop as a Service (DaaS) in your Azure private cloud versus having to host infrastructure in your own data center. As a result, it gives many advantages over on-premise VDI solutions: low barrier to entry, minimal setup time, and infinite scaling.

However, there is a catch. To leverage the latest desktop technologies - such as AVD and application virtualization - packaging teams need to repackage, test, and deploy their applications into Microsoft’s latest packaging format: MSIX. MSIX is the modern packaging format of choice being touted as the future direction for all packaging teams in 2022.

Here we see the complexity that arises around application modernization. With App-V, AppX, and ultimately MSI packaging formats all being deprecated in favor of MSIX, application estates that are not converted to MSIX risks becoming technical debt that needs addressing in the future. Today, most organizations will have their applications packaged in legacy formats such as MSI and App-V. For most, this means that packaging teams will require appropriate modern packaging tools to identify and covert these legacy MSI and App-V applications to MSIX.

Desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) will see the highest growth in 2021 of 67.7% as CIOs face continued pressures to scale infrastructure that supports moving complex workloads to the cloud and the demands of a hybrid workforce. - Gartner Forecasts Worldwide Public Cloud End-User Spending to Grow 23% in 2021

This cost and complexity explain in part the slow adoption to date of this new packaging format. Still, with growth on the horizon predicted for the modern desktop, both modern packaging and MSIX can no longer be ignored.

MSIX: The Modern Packaging Technology

MSIX is Microsoft’s newest application package format that provides a trusted and reliable deployment of applications for both Developers and IT Professionals. This feature-packed modern packaging format launched just over two years ago is designed to be more secure and reliable than previous delivery platforms and replace legacy package formats such as AppX, App-V, and MSI.

This new packaging format can provide many advantages over older package formats. For example, applications are isolated in containers at runtime, reducing compatibility issues with the OS and other applications, application installs and uninstalls have a much higher success rate, and updates can be released without repackaging. MSIX is also ready for deployment via Intune, AVD, or the Microsoft Store and will work natively on Windows 10 and Windows 11, but can also be deployed on earlier versions of windows using MSIX Core.  

With so many advantages, why is it that organizations haven’t fully bought into it yet? There are many reasons. You need skilled application packaging resources to identify good application candidates for a virtual package. The lack of vendors adopting MSIX as their standard format for distribution means the more repackaging that you might want to undertake. Also, using a .intunewin wrapper on existing packages when moving to Microsoft Intune rather than repackaging is less complex, quicker and provides a near guaranteed rate of success. 

Read More: The Rise & Rise of Microsoft Intune Driving Modern Workspace

To complicate things further, although MSIX will ultimately replace MSI, at the moment, it doesn’t have all the same functionality. Therefore, not all applications can be repackaged as MSIX today, and it’s hard to determine which can and which cannot. This ultimately makes an already challenging application landscape even harder to manage, especially when it’s likely that new packaging formats, releases, and updates will arise down the line.

Automation Will Be Key

Every organization will be at a different point of their migration journey to the modern desktop, be that Windows 11, AVD, Intune, or a combination of technologies. However, a plan to modernize the complex application estate is mandatory, whichever strategy prevails. Utilizing automation in the modern desktop strategy will ensure that the process is robust and efficient and that the end-user is productive, secure, and future-proofed.Juriba’s Modern Workplace Automation Platform provides the tools and processes to quickly test, package, deploy, and guarantee compatibility against any format or environment. Here’s how. MSIX packages are created automatically for each application in the entire end-user estate as a zero-touch process. Package compatibility for MSIX conversion is reported before testing the new package format across Windows 10 or Windows 11 build prior to deployment. 

Unlike other suppliers who will convert from an existing packaging format to MSIX using Microsoft’s free tool, Juriba’s automated AppM platform covers the entire process, taking an application source and creating MSI, App-V, .intunewin, and MSIX packages as standard. In addition, this approach has the advantage that an MSIX package can be made from a vendor MSI or unpackaged application, allowing custom configuration into the MSIX package.

Watch Now: How To Create MSIX Packages With Windows 11

We recently helped a leading utility company in the UK to modernize 500+ applications using our Workplace Automation Platform. The sprawling legacy application estate was repackaged and migrated to modernized formats such as MSIX to work with Microsoft Intune.

We are now able to [with Juriba's AppM platform] take full advantage of Azure Virtual Desktop and other new virtual or hybrid technologies to further reduce costs while boosting employee productivity and Work-From-Home flexibility. - Leading Utility Company in the UK

Change You Can't Ignore

Application management modernization and MSIX are undoubtedly the future of application packaging and will continue to be driven by end-user demands as businesses migrate to the modern desktop. Adoption of MSIX may continue to be slow until compatibility tools, ISV support, and adequate packaging tooling gain critical mass. But it’s coming, and the time is now to seize the opportunity and begin evaluating what this means for your organization -- articulated nicely by Bob Kelly of Flexera recently at the AppManagEvent at the end of last year.

Successful adoption of a new packaging format must justify the tooling and investment involved in packaging, testing, and converting hundreds if not thousands of applications to the new modern format so that they are compatible, secure, and will work. Automation provides the opportunity to achieve this – testing and packaging applications at scale in any new format, against any new release or feature, in any environment. And, while MSIX is definitely not the answer for every packaging team looking to modernize applications, it will provide organizations with a modern and reliable packaging experience. Plus be essential for those enterprises looking strategically at desktop and application virtualization - either as a new initiative or modernizing from MSI and App-V.

Rather than repackaging from legacy formats, the first step for many organizations is likely to be testing applications that are already in MSIX format supplied by the ISV. As more embrace the modern desktop, the focus then be modernizing applications for this virtualized environment. – David Cuffy, Application Lead at Juriba

We can be sure of constant change, which means application modernization is inevitable, and for the foreseeable future, MSIX is the packaging format of choice. All that remains is to ask... will you be ready?

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