AppDetails Content Archive > Reviews > Appixoft Scense (April 8, 2018)
I think Workspace management is a great way to address the challenge of application deployment while also addressing many of the tasks that often find their way into an unwieldy logon script.
Scense provides a solution that is both easy to use and highly customizable. Aside from the more obvious task of application deployment, it also…
- Manages windows and application settings providing a welcome alternative to roaming user profiles
- Provides software metering and license management
- Provides printer management (assigning defaults and providing an interface for end user selection)
- Can distribute messages to end users
- Provides real-time control to administrators (changes implemented take place right away)
- Provides a service portal for users to request applications and other services (with optional workflow approvals)
Looking at their website, you’ll see Scense Workspace Management, Scense Application Delivery, Scense Profile Management, Scense Software Metering —while it appears broken up, this is only for marketing purposes and it is a single product.
At first glance, you could get the impression that Scense looks a lot like GPO (advertises shortcuts based on AD group targets) but there is quite a bit more to it…
- You don’t need to choose AD as a target, you can choose almost any criteria you can think of
- You can suspend an application from launching, display a message or ask a question
- It automatically addresses DLL hell without the need for virtualization
- It supports any kind of delivery package: MSI, EXE, App-V, ThinApp, etc.
The defaults for Scense are aimed at maximum flexibility and access. It can be made to restrict systems to a significant degree, but out of the box it intentionally avoids preventing users from doing things.
- Windows XP through Windows 10, 32bit and 64bit systems
- Microsoft SQL Server (2005 or higher)
How It Works
The Scense OnDemand Service is used for execution of background tasks or those requiring special privileges. This service account requires local admin rights and is utilized by the Scense Client or for remote actions triggered by Scense Explorer (its admin console). Additionally, the OnDemand service is used for pre-installing and configuring software on the computer, so the user doesn’t have to wait for large installations upon initial request.
The Scense Client user interface can be opened by clicking the Scense icon in the System Notification Area (System Tray) in the task bar. From the Scense Client, users can choose or override default printers, reinstall applications, read messages and more. The Scense icon can have different overlays: with a green checkmark, which indicates the Scense Client is online and uses information directly from the Scense server or a blue circle which indicates the Scense Client is offline and uses information from the local cache to allow normal operation.
The Scence Client executes scripts (logon, logoff etc.), and gives feedback to the user by means of a progress indicator. The Scense Client component also provides a user interface which enables the user to execute several tasks on the workstation.
The administrator interface is referred to as Scense Explorer. Scense Explorer is the admin interface and is accessible from managed clients, versus a management server. It is here that you can create and assign applications, printers, messages, tasks, etc.
The interface is modeled after the familiar Windows File Explorer application, arranged in a folder hierarchy which supports copy, cut, paste and drag-and-drop editing functions.
Beyond just making applications available, it also supports the ability to perform many tasks such as to
- set an environment variable or registry key before starting an application (for example, to point to a new or different license server)
- start a service before starting an application
- wait for the application to finish and then do some cleaning up
- display a message to application start
You can block an Application and can automate tasks around application usage, such as to automatically remove an application after it is closed. In a situation where an application is being used by different users, it may be conditionally configured for the user (for example to specify an alternate data location) before it is started.
You can identify any application dependencies you wish, even if delivered using different technologies and formats). Application groups for App-V applications are created automatically at runtime. Also, in cases where you are limiting access to certain applications, you may force applications only to run through Scense (so users cannot run the application directly from the file system).
To address potential file conflicts between applications, Scense can automatically isolate them: A file comparison inside a DLL is performed to make sure new and old files match. In fact, for each DLL, the exported functions as well as the entire ActiveX (COM) interface are examined in detail to determine compatibility rather than a simple file comparison. Scense can then stop the installation, isolate it, and let it continue all on the fly. The MSI is not edited, just its behavior.
Scense can be set to perform a long list of predefined actions which I would compare to a visual scripting language. Things like mapping printers, manipulating files, registry entries, shortcuts and using such things as triggers for other actions are supported. There are also several special actions to manipulate things like virtual layers, windows installer, App-V, and ThinApp. This ultimately gives you a great deal of granular control over what you want to happen under which conditions without the need to script a thing. That said, a scripting action does exist which supports VBScript and Jscript if you should find a need for something not already covered. Further, there is also a ‘Runtime Extension’ you can import which adds PowerShell to this list.
Settings all move (even things like window size and position). Application settings are tied to applications instead of user profile. To get the most out of Live Profiles, you must specify what keys are relevant. However, a strong set of defaults are provided which work even between versions of Windows. It filters for related Windows and application settings dynamically so that you can it can learn about your applications and help avoid the need to have a deep understanding of how application settings are stored.
In the end, you can enjoy the same settings for your applications as you move from machine to machine in much the same way you would leveraging roaming user profiles. However, Scense applies only critical settings during login as opposed to Windows Profiles which must load in full at each logon. When launching an application, those settings are loaded just in time. Then, when the application is closed, any filtered settings are stored centrally for the next application launch. Prior to logging off, the agent checks for changes during a session to apply them to any other sessions to avoid potential “last write wins” issues). It checks every two minutes by default but can be adjusted (5 minutes is a popular setting in educational environments, while an enterprise production environment is typically set to 10 minutes). Not just speeding logon times, it also speeds logoff times as a complete profile need not be saved up to the network. Finally, it also helps mitigate potential corruption or system failures by caching such locally.
From the Scense agent, users can find and select local and network printers either by searching or browsing by location. An administrator can set a printer to be the default printer for a certain location and this will be enforced during logon. However, the user can override the default printer for a location.
Scense Explorer can be used to push Messages to user desktops (for example to communicate an email outage). Messages can be assigned high, normal or low priority. A high priority message will cause a message window to appear on the screen, ready to read. A “normal” priority message trigger a ‘balloon-tip’ via the Scense Client’s system tray icon which will blink. The user can then click to read the message. For a low priority message, no alerts are shown. Adding some extra value here, Scense can target messages based on applications as opposed to sending emails to distribution lists which are commonly focused on organizational structure.
Scopes are conditions through which you can assign applications, printers, network drives, etc. A scope can be more than an AD group; a long list of criteria is provided out of the box and you can build scopes to meet your needs. Some examples include the presence of an application, file, or registry value, location, network info, hardware or environment information, etc. An increasingly popular target is based on Location.
Thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices and operating systems, location based services are an increasingly desired capability. Scense supports location as criteria for actions which can be particularly valuable when assigning applications, printers, messages and initiating other tasks. Scense Location services make use of a location tree structure in which all locations within the company have their own hierarchical place. This location tree must be defined by the administrator and mapped to special scopes that can distinguish one location from another.
Adding an Application
Adding an application via the Task Pad interface could not be easier. You need only specify the MSI file and the scope for its availability and the defaults take care of the rest. A legacy setup would need a command line provided, but for MSI, App-V, ThinApp, and SWV virtual layers. it is that simple. You may of course need to tweak things based on your own needs, and then you’ll find the interface straight forward. Scense Explorer can store responses to installations in its central database which it then uses to create response transforms just-in-time as part of the installation process.
For BYOD environments, Scense offers an Unmanaged Mode, whereby the computer is not managed by the IT department, but by the end user. That is to say that Windows settings do not get applied (as a personal system) but application settings do. This mode is automatically triggered when logging on as a local user that is not part of a domain. This is handy, but does have limitations in that the user must be logged in as an administrator because the Scense Client will be operating as the currently logged in user and not a domain administrator. To support users off the corporate network, it may also be desirable to make any installers or managed payloads accessible via the Internet using the supported HTTP, FTP or WebDAV protocols.
Naturally, in a distributed environment, one can establish multiple sites based on computer group membership, a network range or Active Directory.
AppiXoft reports that most customers take a 3-day training course and have few questions after. There is a partner channel as well if additional assistance is desired but it is generally accepted that is easy to use. When training, they focus on best practices as well as on how it works, versus how it should be used, because there are so many possibilities.
I always aim to point out both positive and negative aspects of the solutions reviewed here at AppDetails. I’m very confident in recommending Scense as a strong, mature solution worth consideration by anyone looking to implement a workspace management system. There is a lot I like, which I’ll summarize here. And, naturally, every product can do more so I’ll also point out a couple of areas I see such room for improvement below.
What I like
The solution is obviously a mature one. While it can do quite a lot out of the box with little effort, the granular capabilities exist to handle any situation you could come up with. It is also well documented with a thorough explanation of how things work with helpful examples. Both the comprehensive coverage of actions, scopes and variables, and its detailed documentation are the type of thing that only come together over a long period with lots of customer feedback. This is version 10 of Scense which was first introduced in 2015. With over 100 customers managing over 250,000 clients, Scense has evolved to a very competitive solution.
- Applications can be made available instantly, but won’t take the bandwidth or processing time to be installed until the user takes an action to make use of it
- Great for mixed environments where you may have fat clients and thin clients, multiple versions of Windows, or even multiple application types (MSI, AppV, ThinApp, etc.). From the user’s perspective, it just works with no need to be aware of how.
- You can specify predefined application settings which are loaded before user logon.
- Logon time metrics are captured and reported for users and computers. Average logon time, logon script time, profile load time, total time, average logoff time, etc. This is invaluable for a system that by its nature will impact user logon and logoff times and it is refreshing to see this product be proactive in collecting data you’ll need to confirm or deflect accusations surrounding logon times.
- It also lets you specify tasks as delayed actions, to have it postponed, such as in the scanning of assets to help typical impact it can have on logon times.
Where things could be improved
As Scense provides a feature rich and mature solution, I found it challenging to come up with areas where Scense could benefit from improvement. That said, here are the couple that revealed themselves to me…
- While the Scense Client provides a place to see which application are available and which are presently installed, it does not currently offer an enterprise application store interface. Leveraging images and a more familiar store/cart interface could help the system to be more user friendly for end users.
- Monitoring is possible but it is not enabled by default. I think it would be beneficial for monitoring to be a default capability enabled for all managed applications. Most of the reports provided rely on this data which is not available unless manually enabled on a per-application basis. The drawback of monitoring too many applications is the amount of data generated, but I believe a shorter default retention period could mitigate the impact of the database.
- It is the position of Appixoft that you should only do things that are needed. So, to enable things by default should primarily benefit the End-user. In case of Monitoring, and to some degree Live Profiles the suggest it much more about the administrator and that you should only monitor applications which need to be monitored. The same goes for the profiles: a large group of applications do not need to be profiled at all. In practice, it works fine the way the default is.
- While the solution is well documented, contextual help is not provided within the product. It would be great to jump to relevant content based on where you are in Scense Explorer. It would also be nice to see inline help such as to define things like Site Parameters, which while they have friendly names, can be unclear as to what their corresponding values mean without looking them up.
- As with most such solutions, I feel that some community enablement within the product could help users to crowd-source certain information and provide peer-to-peer assistance facing common challenges.
- Reports are provided via a separate application from Scense Explorer. There are many reports available, and results can be exported, but you cannot easily create or customize your own reports.
- You can modify the registry to add additional “Add” and “Remove” report options and can use Crystal Reports software to modify RPT files for custom reporting.
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