Application Upgrades in RES Workspace Manager

Upgrading applications that store user personalisation settings in different places for different versions of the application can be problematic and we at Virtual Engine run into this time and time again. The most obvious example is Microsoft Office migrations but this isn’t the only example. Due to the latest upgrade cycles, the typical problem we come across is migrating from Office 2003/2007 running on Windows XP to Office 2010 running on top of Windows 7. Why is this so problematic?

Best practise within RES Workspace Manager mandates that application settings should be captured at the application level to improve logon performance etc. For example, we normally configure Microsoft Word to capture user personalisation settings behind the application like so:

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In addition we probably have our applications to to be hidden (I’ll come back to this later) when they’re not detected on a machine, i.e. we won’t show the Word 2003 icon if Word 2010 is installed (and vice versa). The different application versions are installed into different paths and we don’t want both application icons appearing and confusing our users. Therefore, all the various Office applications are configured with the ‘Hide application if executable was not found‘ option.

This is fine for the individual application settings, but what about Office-wide settings, i.e. the stuff stored in ‘HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Office\Common‘ or ‘HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Office\11.0\Common‘? Normally we capture these all encompassing settings as a global User Setting, a la:

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It’s all fairly straight forward thus far and so why the blog post? Well, this is where the fun starts. We have all our Office 2003 applications configured and we introduce the Office 2010 applications into Workspace Manager and configure the user personalisation capture settings as defined above, probably like this:

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Are you with me so far? Good!

The first time that an Office 2010 application is run it will attempt to migrate/upgrade the existing user settings (if they exist) and write them into the Office 2010 specific locations, i.e. ‘HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Office\14.0‘. Now, think about this for a second as we have a BIG problem… We have moved the user from a v1 profile (on Windows XP) to a v2 profile (on Windows 7) which means a clean slate and no existing user settings. “WAIT,” I hear you cry, “RES WM will layer the user settings back in!”

Unfortunately, you’re wrong! RES Workspace Manager will only layer the application settings back in for an individual application if it’s detected on the system. Remember, we’ve elected to ‘Hide the application if executable was not found’ and therefore, they’re not loaded. When we start an Office 2010 application there is seemingly nothing to migrate. DOH! We’re safe with the global Office-wide settings though, as they are configured at the global level (loaded at logon) and not dependent on any application detection.

So how do we at Virtual Engine get around this little conundrum? Simple; linked user settings!

I don’t know why but this solution seems to confuse a lot of people. It’s actually an elegant solution and should be (in my humble opinion) adopted as a standard/best practice :=). Essentially we configure dummy applications that have the various user personalisation settings configured for each version of the application that we’re interested in. For example, we create a ‘Microsoft Word’ application that is hidden but will capture the user settings for all the individual Office Word versions, e.g. in our example Microsoft Word 2003 and Microsoft Word 2010 like so:

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Each of the individual applications are configured as before, but their user personalisation settings are linked to our dummy Word application. Fortunately, this means that both the Word 2003 and Word 2010 settings will be layered onto the Windows 7 machine if either Microsoft Word 2003 or Microsoft Word 2010 is detected. When a user launches Word 2010, the previous settings will be available, upgraded and then captured in the same way. Here is how we now configure Microsoft Word 2003 as an example:

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There is a small down-side to this approach. We’ll be collecting two sets of roughly the same settings for a short period. However, it’s a small price to pay compared to losing everyone’s settings and once the migration is complete, the user settings definition previous Word version, 2003 in our instance, can be removed from the dummy application. If you ever need to upgrade to the next version of Office you’ll also be covered with this solution. Hopefully, it’s fairly obviously that this approach can be used for application other than the Microsoft Office suite too.

We would like to hear how other people tackle this problem as well as update this post if someone has a more elegant solution/idea. Please leave your comments below and thanks for persevering.

Thanks, Iain

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