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Move stubborn XP apps to Windows Server 2003 and get on with your migration

You can use Remote Desktop Services to publish those pesky Windows XP applications that are holding up your migration to Windows 7. Keep them alive on Windows Server 2003 R2.

We all know the end-of-life date for Windows XP, or at least we should. April 8, 2014 will be met with much fanfare...

in a dark, seedy basement in Redmond where Windows programmers from a bygone era still make patches for Windows XP. But their celebration will be brief, because organizations have recourse for those apps and desktops that just have to be XP -- Windows Server 2003 R2 and Terminal Services (now called Remote Desktop Services).

What Windows XP applications do you want to move?
Windows Server 2003 R2 is still used in many organizations (with and without Citrix XenApp) to publish applications and desktops -- via Remote Desktop Session Hosts (RDSH) -- that haven't moved to Windows Server 2008 R2. Applications that fall into this category include: older three-tier applications; "edge apps" that aren't prevalent enough to upgrade, package or install in the base image; apps that are incompatible with each other or with software installed on the client; and, perhaps most importantly, 16-bit apps.

Apps that are 16-bit are somewhat sneaky because they manifest themselves in a few ways. Of course, you could have an app that is entirely 16-bit. They can be found in the "Oh, I forgot I use this once a year to do XYZ" department. The other way 16-bit gets in the way of progress is that perfectly normal 32-bit applications can still have 16-bit installers.

You could even run into this issue with "newer" applications. I recently tried to install a game -- a Microsoft game -- that was published in 2002 on Windows 7 64-bit, and encountered the 16-bit installer problem. Thankfully, there was a new installer available on the Internet, but organizations with older apps that have fallen out of support or were developed in-house might be out of luck.

What can Windows Server 2003 R2 do for you?
That's where Windows Server 2003 R2 and Remote Desktop Services come in. Windows Server 2003 R2 is stable (we've been running the same Service Pack level on it for almost five years), and it's proven in organizations. While it's true that the pre-R2 Windows Server 2008 was released as a 32-bit operating system and does support 16-bit apps, keep in mind that Windows Server 2008 R1 is essentially Vista Server. 

That's right … You, too, could magnify all the complexity and instability of Vista with your very own Vista Server!

In fact, the only problem with running Windows Server 2003 R2 to keep these necessary apps alive (because if they aren't necessary, why are you still using them?) is that Windows Server 2003 R2 also has an expiration date. Mark July 14, 2015 on your calendar as the official death of the NT 5.2 kernel.

That's sad because it will have been in our lives for 15 years at that point. At least it gives you more than three years to come up with some way of dealing with the apps that you still have running on Server 2003 R2. You could move them to Windows Server 2008 to buy some more time (July 10, 2018 can't come soon enough), but that just perpetuates the nightmare that was Vista.

The key takeaway is that you don't have to let oddball applications hold up your migration from Windows XP to Windows 7. (It's not worth waiting for Windows 8.) In fact, publishing those apps via RDSH, XenApp or Quest vWorkspace on Server 2003 R2 lets you keep them largely intact as you migrate your desktops and enables you to focus your entire attention on them later, rather than having them be an annoying part of your desktop migration. The fact that the end-of-life date for Server 2003 R2 is later than that of XP just gives you a bit more breathing room.

Gabe Knuth
is an independent industry analyst and blogger, known throughout the world as "the other guy" at BrianMadden.com. He has been in the application delivery space for over 12 years and has seen the industry evolve from the one-trick pony of terminal services to the application and desktop virtualization of today. Gabe's focus tends to lean more toward practical, real-world technology in the industry, essentially boiling off the hype and reducing solutions to their usefulness in today's corporate environments.

This was last published in February 2012

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