Softricity is expected to release this week the latest version of SoftGrid, application virtualization software that is aimed at reducing the work associated with managing Windows PCs by turning desktop applications into virtual services that can be delivered over a network.SoftGrid packages traditional desktop applications into data files that can be centrally managed, then deployed on client devices as appropriate. With SoftGrid, applications are not installed on a client, meaning that customers do not have to worry about application conflicts or operating system glitches, Softricity executives say."Instead of people pushing out applications, or installing applications or having to test applications, we're treating applications like Web pages that can be delivered on demand," says David Greschler, a co-founder and vice president of marketing at Softricity.SoftGrid 4.0 adds a number of updates that are designed to make virtualizing desktop applications easier, Greschler says. Those updates include new automated tools for virtualizing applications; remote management of SoftGrid client devices; active upgrades, where applications on the server can be updated or patched without affecting users; integration with Microsoft Systems Management Server software so that users can virtualize and stream applications from within SMS; and support for virtual machines from VMware and Microsoft.Because Softricity focuses on the application level, it competes with vendors such as\u00a0Altiris that provide products to manage client applications centrally as part of a broader move toward a service-oriented architecture, analysts say."Virtualization has become mainstream because of what you can do with [server] platforms," says Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions. "Now that people understand the overall benefits of virtualization, they can take the concept a step higher and start virtualizing applications, particularly as they start thinking about things like service-oriented architectures, which are going to require them to take a more holistic, enterprisewide approach to how they build and distribute applications."Softricity also competes with vendors such as Citrix, with its application isolation environment. For Andy Gerringer, senior network administrator at Alamance Regional Medical Center in Burlington, N.C., Citrix's product wasn't able to solve his problems with Java-based application conflicts, because the applications were still required to be installed on the Citrix server."One week we had three upgrades, and each required a separate version of Java. So we said, 'OK, do we continue creating these Citrix silos or do we do something about it," he says. "That's when we started with a pilot of SoftGrid, and we immediately saw the benefits and we rolled it out."Gerringer says he is in the process of migrating some 900 desktops to SoftGrid."We're in the planning stages of getting all those locally installed applications on all those PCs converted over to where we can just give them a PC with an operating system," he says. "All their applications would then be available [remotely]."Gerringer says he's seeing significant savings with SoftGrid."I'm able to take an application that normally would need a test server, a few test users just to get it up and running to make sure it's not going to break something else, and now I can literally sequence [virtualize] the application and make it available," he says. "As long as the application launches, you know it's not going to have a problem. It's totally isolated and it's just not a problem."SoftGrid 4.0 is available for free to current SoftGrid customers with a maintenance contract. It costs $200 per user for new customers, although volume discounts apply.