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The History of Microsoft VDI: Part 5 – Traditional Application Delivery + MSIX App Attach

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Welcome to our series on the history and evolution of Microsoft VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure). You can check out the other four posts in the series here (parts onetwothree, and four). But I am excited to summarize how the evolution of AVD and Azure have changed and simplified traditional application delivery and discuss the use cases and benefits of MSIX App Attach.

In this concluding chapter, we’ll dive into the world of traditional application delivery and explore a game-changing technology called MSIX App Attach. We’ll unravel how organizations used to manage applications in the past and how MSIX App Attach is transforming this landscape.

Traditional Application Delivery

In RDS, application management was a world of its own. Creating virtual desktop images involves meticulous planning and effort. Each image had to be tailored to suit the specific needs of various departments within an organization. Additionally, each image included different applications to serve the different roles in the organization.

For instance, developers required Visual Studio Code and NPM, while the accounting team needed specialized software. The result? A proliferation of custom images, each loaded with role-specific applications.

The Challenge of Traditional Application Delivery

Delivering applications as part of the image is a mechanism IT administrators use to this day. However, it comes with certain challenges – application compatibility, licensing, customization, and the list goes on. This has resulted in IT administrators having to maintain a separate image for HR, sales, and other departments (and if they’re lucky, it’s one image per department). The burden of managing these distinct images is substantial, straining IT resources and leading to inefficiencies. If a user’s virtual machine goes down, it means losing data, configurations, and applications. This situation is far from ideal.

Even with multi-session capabilities, the need for distinct images for each role persisted with traditional application delivery, resulting in underutilized virtual machines. Clearly, we needed a more efficient approach.

Enter Application Virtualization

Whole books have been written on the different technologies that in one way or another were looking to abstract the application lifecycle away from the image and OS lifecycle. One of the popular solutions was/is App-V. At high-level applications are put into virtual packages, allowing for zero-installation delivery. This not only simplifies updates and rollbacks but also minimizes conflicts and enhances security. App-V offers the flexibility of dynamic delivery. It ensures applications are delivered to users as needed, thereby optimizing performance. It’s a new way for application management that IT administrators in Windows environments embraced to streamline their application delivery.

The Promise of MSIX App Attach

While App-V got some popularity it still had few issues. Mainly applications had to be repackaged so they could work in those virtual containers. The developers writing the applications didn’t care about their applications running in App-V. This led to an entire industry forming around repackaging apps.

What if IT administrators didn’t have to repackage apps?

This is where MSIX App Attach, enters our journey. It is built on the MSIX application format that Microsoft promotes. Developers can build their applications directly into MSIX, from tools like Visual Studio and DevOps pipelines. With the App Attach portion, the idea was to use MSIX as the format and dynamically attach the applications.

Here’s how it works: instead of installing applications within the virtual machine image, admins put MSIX packages on a file share. Whenever the end user logs in and needs an application, the application is attached on the fly. Further, MSIX applications run in containers allowing the applications and its state to be independent for the OS.

As an IT administrator, you can now assign applications to users based on their roles or specific needs. Since applications are attached to the OS and run within a container, you don’t have to worry about the application data. This newfound flexibility allows for the creation of stateless virtual machines with minimal customization.

The Path to Stateless Compute

The core concept here is the statelessness of the compute layer. Rather than maintaining multiple custom images, you can start with a pristine, plain image—preferably from the Azure marketplace. This base image remains unaltered, with all applications applied through MSIX App Attach.

User-specific applications and configurations are attached dynamically, ensuring that each user receives their unique environment upon login. This approach streamlines image management, simplifies application delivery, and enhances security.


In the ever-evolving landscape of VDI, traditional application delivery methods are giving way to more agile and efficient solutions like MSIX App Attach. As developers adopt MSIX more and more organizations can leverage it without costly application repackaging. This empowers the IT administrators to manage applications by having to worry about the image opening the way for virtual desktops for remote and flexible work.

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