This is a big deal if you're deploying Windows to multiple desktops: Microsoft has completed work on Application Virtualization (App-V) 4.5 (formerly SoftGrid) and has made some surprisingly forward-looking licensing changes. It's all explained in the MDOP (Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack) blog:

Today we’re announcing that we’ve reached a number of important milestones in helping customers harness the power of an Optimized Desktop, in which physical and virtual resources are centrally managed by IT, and seamlessly deployed to users via technologies like application virtualization. This enables IT managers to maintain complete control over user desktops, which results in higher uptime and levels of performance company-wide, but also drives end-user productivity by giving them great performance and flexibility on a computer that doesn’t feel “locked down”. In short, the Optimized Desktop eliminates the “tug-of-war” that exists between IT and end-user needs in a traditional desktop infrastructure.

App-V 4.5

App-V 4.5, formerly SoftGrid Application Virtualization, has hit “RTM” (Release To Manufacturing) status, which means that it will be available as part of the forthcoming MDOP 2008 R2 release in the next several weeks. App-V 4.5 epitomizes what the optimized desktop is all about; centrally managed IT providing a seamless, unobtrusive, highly flexible solution for end users. It’s a win-win – IT maintains control over the infrastructure to ensure uptime, performance and end-to-end license compliance, and users have instant access to their applications, without worrying about software installs, application management, or potential software conflicts.

Besides changing the name and making it the first Microsoft-branded release, we’ve included new capabilities that will help IT support large-scale virtualization implementations across many sites and provides multiple delivery options, including over-the-internet application delivery. Newly added support for eleven languages makes this a truly global release.

Read more on the App-V blog.

New Licensing Changes Address Tomorrow’s Challenges

To help give IT departments the flexibility to make their Optimized Desktop infrastructure ready for the next generation of users, we’re expanding the Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD) license beyond VDI to provide additional flexibility for emerging use cases in the Enterprise. This proactive licensing change, which will take effect January 1st, 2009, will enable several nascent user scenarios:

  • Employee owned machines: Traditionally, computers are purchased as company assets and distributed to employees based on job function. Some companies are trialing permitting users to buy the PC of their choice with a company stipend. The changes enable early-adopter companies to let users purchase with the PC of their choice, but still perform business tasks in a secure, standard Windows Vista desktop image running in a virtual machine. IT departments can enable this scenario via VECD for $110 per PC/year.
  • Contract Workers: Companies can use VECD to deploy a standard, sandboxed, Windows Vista virtual machine for use on contractor machines for $110 per PC/yr. By enabling all workers, even contractors, to work with a standard image, companies can improve productivity and reduce IT headaches by enforcing application, security, and document standards.
  • Desktop-based employees who occasionally from home: VECD also enables desktop-based workers to take a local copy of their Windows Vista virtual machine to any VECD covered Windows machine at work or to take it home. VECD permits this scenario for $23 per PC /year.

This isn’t a series of isolated announcements; it’s a unified set of important advancements that drive the value - and the promise - of an Optimized Desktop as part of our broader virtualization strategy from the desktop to the datacenter. With today’s announcements, and the announcements that you’ll see from us in the coming weeks, Microsoft is moving forward and delivering on its promise to provide customers with a suite of virtualization, management and licensing options that truly optimize their computing experience by delivering scenarios that strike the right balance of end-user flexibility and productivity and IT Pro management and control.

Interesting stuff.