MS Office: Click-to-Run and APP-V vs. Windows Installer and MSI

MS (Microsoft) Office has a new distribution packaging method for retail customers, starting with the release of Office 2010 and proliferated in Microsoft Office 2013, called Click to Run. Sometimes expressed as Click-to-Run or Click-2-Run. I’ll bold the text if I don’t use hyphens but typically I’ll express it as Click-to-Run when not using embellishments (Bold/Underline/Italic) to my text.

So what is Click-to-Run? Virtualized, streaming copy of Microsoft Office, installed from a webpage. It’s a small download, typically 800KB to 2MB in size. This small file essentially is an endpoint on your (local, client) computer to kick off the download off the pre-sequenced, published (installed) to the cloud, copy of Office. It’s kind of like a virtual jukebox librarian or that insurance commercial with that lady or something that gets it for you (web merchant), charges you (via the website basket dealy bob) and starts installing it. Actually by installing it I mean that it’s

It’s like an snapshot image of an install of Office from a computer elsewhere. Except instead of the disk image concept, you’re simply extracting the install of Office off the computer, not the entire file system bit by bit (forensic) or operating system (sysprep).

How’s this different from getting it on CD or DVD at the store? No more box, unless you go to the store and get a hollow cardboard box with a card containing the 25 character product key you would use, but you still get it from the web. The overall vision for years from software makers was to do away with the dreaded “box” concept and that you should just be able to “plug it in” (your computer) and go, and by “go” I mean install your additional software, updates, get your backed up data synched back down (cloud) etc… Now you can…if you have all that stuff at least.

Saves the carbon footprint and the file size (500-1,200 MB) and performance hit by going over the optical (DVD) drive that’s usually built-in to your computer.

User upgrade, ramp up times (deployment). The interactive user experiences a benefit of having any one of the Office applications such as Word, Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint, or OneNote running in a second or two depending on device and speed of ISP*.

So how does that work under the hood? What are the nuts and bolts?

Old method: Windows Installer databases packaged in the form of an MSI file in the Windows file system typically in the form of physical, optical media (CD-ROM or DVD). ISO*** and EXE images (files) have become the preferred download method.

New method: Virtualized packages using APP-V (SoftGrid) containing “sequenced” installs of a particular application or service. It’s another way of virtualizing something, in this case not just the install but the “sequence” of that install, like a disk image of an app, if you will.

Benefits? Faster deployment time, smaller footprint in terms of disk space, throttling (bandwidth allocation), centralized management and administration, roaming settings. You can also run Office side-by-side with other MSI based installs. A very common headache for users are issues related to multiple office versions on the same pc. You an also use APP-V to create your own packages from software that’s non-Office or even non-Microsoft, I believe.

Negatives? Initial adoption and OEM Office software conflicts. However, there is hope for OEM (pre-loaded) installs of Windows with a buy Office shortcut. Microsoft now has a diagnostic package to resolve most issues relating to failed installs with Click to Run. Search for Microsoft, Office, install, troubleshooter, diagnostic, or Office and MSDT.

In the end it’s really just rhetoric of a “cloud” and “consumer IT” philosophy. The current major trends in the software industry. Click-to-run follows the principle of on-demand software, kind of like Netflix but for desktop computer apps. Enter Windows 8 into the equation and it’s a pretty good experience now because you’re settings and files now roam with you. Roaming profiles have always been a challenge in managing Windows domains.

Can I still get MSI installs of Office? For individual (consumers) no, except in the enterprise for organizations licensed to run this as such. But even then they may still use APP-V to sequence the Office 2013 install their way anyway.

Microsoft markets to both individuals, schools, government, small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs), and even corporations and enterprises. The type of need you have determines what Microsoft allows you to purchase. An
“individual” is usually the best unless it’s for a job or school. Microsoft has something called @EDU that gets you the “could” stuff for colleges.

You also have SkyDrive and Office Web Apps now also, so it’s not as big as it once was to have Word. But if you need to do any complex word processing feature, good luck that or GoogleDocs or other online embedded doc viewers like Office Web Apps. Outlook.com is pretty cool though if you can’t use Outlook installed on your computer for whatever reason.

 

Footnotes

ISP stands for Internet Service Provider

C2R is a common acronym for Click to Run technology pertaining to Microsoft Office product offerings.

ISO contains entire contents of an entire file system in one file for publishing to physical media like DVD or USB (flash) drive.

ClickOnce is a deployment method used in Visual Studio, the development tool Microsoft markets to developers.

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