It’s been some time since I blogged about things Droplet Computing. The main reason is we have been so busy with customers and product development (and documentation work!) I’ve had to focus purely on supporting new and existing customers. We have seen a spike in activity and engagements before the whole Coronavirus thing, mainly caused by the EOL of Windows 7, and folks being forced to decommission and get those apps into either Windows 10, Apple Mac, Linux, Chromebook or environments like VMware View, Citrix Virtual Apps or Amazon WorkSpaces. We are experiencing another spike of interest because of the Coronavirus, as customers look towards their nascent Work From Home (WFH) capabilities, and try to scale them to unprecedented demand, that few if any could have envisaged even a couple of weeks ago. I suspect when this is all over (and it will eventually be over) folks are going to have to think again about their WFH capacity.
So, in this blog post, I want to talk about what’s been happening in product development…
Droplet Computing DCA v1.2.3
The first bit of news is we recently GA’d a new version of our software that through a co-incidence of versioning has the number 1.2.3. Back in the early 1990’s Lotus 123 was the first application I taught as a fledging IT trainer fresh out of university. Back then Windows 3.1 had just gone mainstream and folks were being ported off their old DOS PC programs to this new-fangled thing that needed a “mouse”. I recall one delegate left a course because the creepiness of moving a pointer on the screen freaked them out, although they had no issue with moving the cursor on the screen!
I suggested our new DCA release and the Droplet Container Image (DCI) should not include Notepad as our default sample app but a DOS version of Lotus 1-2-3 as a nod to the past, and a little tongue in cheek joke – ostensibly to show how Droplet Computing Containers can run all sorts of apps, not just modern ones but Jurassic ones too! So here’s a screengrab of Microsoft Excel 365 and Lotus 1-2-3 for DOS running side by side…
The Spreadsheet Wars live again! 😀
Customers actively engaged in PoCs should consider upgrading to the latest version, to take advantage of all the new features, as well as fixes and performance enhancements. Existing customers obviously qualify for the upgrade as part of their support and subscription, but it’s not mandatory.
Droplet Computing is GA for Google Chromebook
A couple of weeks ago we GA’d the first release of our software for Chromebook. Initially, validated the solution with our DCI-X container (The X stands for cross-compatibility suitable for older Apps) container, and then last week – after substantial testing and QA – we were confident of the performance and stability to support our DCI-M container (M stands for modern, and I’ve had the DCI-M running Office97 and O365 suitable for modern and less Jurassic apps). If you’re not familiar with Chromebooks, Google has had a project called “Crostini” it’s called “Linux Beta” in the UI. Our regular .DEB file installs natively to this environment that we would usually use with Ubuntu. We have had this capability for more than a year, but recent changes in Crostini enabled by Google (THANK YOU GOOGLE, DROPLET LOVES YOU!) meant that finally, the performance was acceptable to us such that, with a modest amount bugfix es and testing, we were ready to GA.
Crostini has come on leaps and bounds in terms of performance in recent months, but the “killer moment” was the turning on of the access to Intel-VT instructions via the KVM /dev/kvm device. Performance is, from an end users’, perspective near native. From an end user experience perspective, it’s a “blink and you’ll miss it” level of performance. With our new development, we have been able to ramp up our relationship with Google directly, and I’m pleased to say that a recent tests conducted by Google engineers came back with a resounding thumbs up – not least because I was able to pull out the stops and build both a 32-bit and 64-bit container for their testing purposes, as well as an update to make things like Visual Studio 2019 work.
It is actually a feature that’s been around since the 1.2 release, but functionality that’s often overlooked by customers. So, I want to take this opportunity to highlight and focus on this feature. DirectLaunch something very simple – the ability to create shortcuts in Windows 10 that launches applications within the container. The syntax for DirectLaunch is very simple:
This will start the container using the configuration held in the per-user “settings” file:
“C:\Program Files\Droplet\Droplet.exe” launch
This will start the container (if not already started) and launch excel.exe, assuming MS Office of whatever flavor has been installed:
“C:\Program Files\Droplet\Droplet.exe” launch excel.exe
This syntax can be used to put shortcuts on folks’ desktops using a variety of methods such as AD Policies or your UEM of your choice such as VMware DEM or Liquidware ProfileUnity. They can also be used in “Application Publishing” solutions such as Citrix Virtual Apps, VMware Application Pools or Amazon AppStream. For example, in Citrix Virtual Apps 7.x you express the parameter in the command-line arguments section.
Support for Droplet 64-bit Containers on Linux and Chrome OS
As part of my engagement with Google Support staff, I was asked if we had, or supported, a 64-bit edition of our container image. The answer is we have always been able to support a 64-bit OS, currently supported on Linux and Google Chrome OS platforms. We are currently working on developing 64-bit support for Windows 10 and Apple Mac containers. With the updates that are coming from Intel we will be able to QA this support at some point in the future.
With that said, I haven’t actually seen a huge demand for 64-bit containers, mainly because there is usually a 32-bit edition of the software that offers the same functionality and performance. This was the case recently with a financial institution that had a legacy Java application. Initially, the customer said they “had” to use the 64-bit. Turned out this was just some “corporate standard” that because they had 64-bit Windows, they thought they “had” to use the 64-bit version of Java. Turned out the 32-bit version was just as good. So much for that “had”. I know that someday a customer will have an application that was only compiled and encoded in 64-bit. So, I feel it’s better to be ahead of that requirement.
Exporting Application Tiles and Disabling Shared Folders
Application Tiles is the term we use for the icons available in the Droplet Workspace UI that only allows the end user to launch their applications and for the administrator to configure. Essentially, these act as read-only shortcuts. Administrators can now easily export this application tile configuration to an apps.json file and reuse that configuration. In the case of AD GPO’s, it’s one of the core configurations files I push down to the user profile, so everything is configured for the first logon.
Next to the export functionality we now can disable “Shared Folders”. In case you don’t know we have our own internal file replication service (strictly speaking not a share as such as its not driven by SMB/CIFS/NFS). Occasionally, customers don’t want any file access – this is especially true when the containerized app is a DB application and all the end users changes are written to a DB backend from the client.
Droplet Computing 1.2.3 demonstrates our commitment to pushing our containers into every nook, cranny, and platform. With the incorporation of Chromebooks to our stable of support platforms, this opens new vistas and opportunities before ourselves as a company and our customers alike. I’m confident that this will provide a firm foundation from which we can focus on ceaselessly improving the user experience and creating ever increasingly seamless integration by which legacy and modern applications co-exist in the same instance. We have demonstrated our commitment to future-proofing the Droplet Computing platform by developing our capabilities to run 64-bit instances of our containers – as well as introducing the kind of administrative controls that befit a mature technology. I’m very excited about the future of technology.
You can learn more about what we do by checking out these resources, and if anyone would like to engage with me directly to stand up a ‘proof of concept’ just reach out to me thru the usual channels.
Case Studies including our very latest with Oxford University:
Product Admin Guides and Integration Guides:
Getting Started Videos: