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Microsoft incrementally upgrades its virtual desktop line

Microsoft's virtual desktop line got a mini refresh. There is management integration for MED-V and Package Accelerators for App-V 4.6. Thin PC also got a status update.

Microsoft improved its desktop virtualization story this year and now offers a handful of virtual desktop technologies. But the company known for bundling its software into expensive suites still sold a VDI package that was largely stitched together.

With the release of MED-V 2.0 and App-V Service Pack 1 this week, Microsoft has started to integrate some of its products with its systems management suite. The company also gave more details about Windows Thin PC (WinTPC), a stripped-down version of Windows 7 that Software Assurance (SA) customers can use to run the new operating system version on legacy hardware.

MED-V 2.0
MED-V lets IT run applications that aren't supported or tested on Windows 7 in a virtual Windows XP environment. Version 2.0 also supports running App-V within a MED-V environment. The company also integrated MED-V 2.0 with Systems Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) and Systems Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM). Now administrators can manage MED-V in the same way they manage a virtual machine host. In addition, this version includes application programming interfaces to use MED-V 2.0 with other products, and it is 64-bit-compatible.

App-V 4.6 SP1
The big improvement in App-V 4.6 SP1, due out in April, is the addition of the Package Accelerators feature to automate the packaging process.

Without Packaging Accelerators, packaging an .exe app required a step-by-step process that took two to three hours to complete, according to Microsoft. The Package Accelerator provides a template overlay that cuts the packaging time to under 30 minutes, the company said.

Holger Brink, an IT consultant at Login Consultants in Germany, said this improvement will appeal to customers who virtualize large volumes of applications. "Because it was time-consuming, many of our customers sent applications out to be virtualized, but [App-V 4.6] SP1 is intuitive enough that they can virtualize their own apps, and they can also maintain the apps themselves," Brink said.

Microsoft will release Package Accelerators for its own products, starting with Microsoft Project 2010, Microsoft Office 2010 and Adobe Reader 9.4 in April. At that time, Microsoft will also launch an App-v Package Accelerator Community website, where IT pros can share the Package Accelerators they've developed for other products.

Both MED-V and App-V are part of Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack 2011 (MDOP), available only to SA customers.Windows Thin PC
Microsoft also provided details about the status of Windows Thin PC, a stripped-down version of Windows 7 that runs on old Windows XP machines that lack the memory or CPU resources to support a full version of the OS.

In 2006, Microsoft offered a similar thin-client OS based on Windows XP embedded called Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs. Like Fundamentals, WinTPC contains some core management features of the full OS version, but the ability to run services and store anything locally has been stripped away, the company said.

Microsoft said WinTPC is ideal for companies that don't want to invest in thin clients for virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). Instead, they can use it to turn old PCs into locked-down "dumb terminals."

Another benefit of WinTPC, the company said, is that it doesn't require the Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) license, which is required of true thin clients. There is a catch: You need Microsoft Software Assurance, the maintenance portion of Microsoft's licensing agreement.

"If an organization has such an old PC that it can't run Windows 7, they've really wasted a lot of money paying SA on it for not a lot of benefit," said Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner Inc. "In many cases, companies with old PCs don't have SA."

If an organization buys a thin client and wants to connect to VDI, they need to pay Microsoft $100 per year for each VDA license. If they buy a Windows 7 Pro PC and SA, which includes VDA, it only costs $40 per year. WinTPC could be viewed as Microsoft's way of prodding non-SA customers into that program.

WinTPC is now in beta and will be available the first half of this year.

Let us know what you think about this story; email Bridget Botelho or follow @BridgetBotelho on Twitter.

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