Justifying a Windows/Office update – those “little things” add up

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

It’s often hard to justify a Windows or Office upgrade, but I think I might just have found a way to identify some of the advantages – try going back to an older version.

A few weeks ago, my company-supplied notebook was rebuilt onto the corporate standard build. I realised that it’s been about 4 or 5 years since I was last in that situation, as I’ve always been in a position to be trialling new versions of Windows and Office but these days my role is largely non-technical (so I have no real justification to be different to anyone else) and my team actually sits within the IT department (so I guess I should be setting an example!). I do have local administration rights on the machine, and I did install some software that I need for my role, but which is officially unsupported (examples would be TweetDeck, Nokia PC Suite and the drivers for my company-supplied HP OfficeJet printer). I also tweaked some power settings and turned off the corporate screen saver (thereby keeping my green credentials intact by balancing the lack of automatic shutdown with the lack of increased processor/fan activity to run a screensaver) but I’ve been trying to stick to the company build where possible/practical. That means I’m back to Office 2007 (with Visio 2003) although I am at least on a Windows 7 (x64) build in order that I can use all 4GB of RAM in my notebook.

I have to say that it’s been driving me insane. I had a similar experience when I went back to XP for a couple of days after a hard drive failure a couple of years ago but I’ve really missed some of the newer functionality – particularly in Outlook 2010:

  • I’ve lost my Quick Steps (I use them for marking an e-mail as read and moving to my archive folder in one action, or for sending a team e-mail).
  • Conversation view is different (I can’t tell you how, but I’m missing some new e-mails as a result).
  • When I receive a meeting request, I don’t see my other appointments for that day in the request.
  • [Update 15 April 2011: Access to multiple Exchange accounts from one Outlook instance.]

These are just examples off the top of my head – I should have noted each feature I’ve missed in recent weeks but I didn’t (maybe I’ll come back and edit the post later) but, for a knowledge worker like me, they are significant: a few minutes extra in Outlook to triage email 7-8 times a day, represents half an hour of lost productivity – every day.

…none of this is likely to convince a company to invest in an upgrade, even if they have the software (software costs are generally quite insignificant in relation to resource costs), but it’s all part of the business case – employee productivity is never easy to measure, but the little things do add up.

I’m now running Internet Explorer 9 (I need to test certain websites on the latest browser version), although I’m ready to revert to 8 if there are issues with any of the business applications I need to use, and my PC is fully patched including the latest service pack. I am resisting the temptation to install my own (licensed) copy of Office 2010 though… at least for now.

Upcoming events (including special #uktechdays) event

This content is 14 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

We’re having difficulties scheduling WSUG events right now. Without going into all the gory details, Microsoft’s funding for rooms, etc. is not available in the way that it has been in the past, so we need to find another way to do things…

Now that the summer holidays are over, I’d like to organise a “virtual” user group meeting, over Live Meeting – and have had some conversations with Microsoft about a session on “Azure for IT Pros” (how can we integrate our on-premise infrastructure with Windows Azure, etc.). Please leave a comment if you think this will be of interest.

In the meantime, I wanted to tell you about a Microsoft-hosted event that may be of interest, although it may also be a bit “developery” for some Windows Server admins.

In any case, Steve Ballmer will be the guest speaker at a special UK TechDays “Future of Cloud Development” event in London’s Docklands on 5 October.

The site has not gone live yet but you can registration on the event page or at 0870 166 6670, quoting event reference 9886 – you’ll also need the invitation code: 6D4723.

More details of the session content can be found below:

  • A lap around Windows Phone 7 (Mike Ormond) – In this session Microsoft will take a look at Windows Phone 7 and the developer ecosystem, from the capabilities and unique features of the platform to the development frameworks and tools you have at your disposal. Along the way they’ll build a simple application or two and explore how people can purchase your finished masterpiece.
  • A lap around the Windows Azure Platform (Eric Nelson) – Hear how the Windows Azure Platform provides a scalable compute and storage environment with Windows Azure, secure connectivity with Service Bus and Access Control Service, and a relational database with SQL Azure. Learn about these new services and see demos that show how to build applications that run in and take advantage of Microsoft’s new cloud platform.
  • We’re Not on XP Any More – A Windows 7 Application in 60 Minutes. (Mike Taulty) – In this code-only session Microsoft will use Visual Studio 2010 and any .NET assembly that we can beg, borrow, steal or even build in order to put together a simple, modern Windows 7 application from scratch using the journey to provide pointers on how your applications can shine by using features that Windows XP only dreamt about ( when it wasn’t dreaming of electric sheep in its world limited by 2 processor cores, 4GB of RAM and GDI based graphics).
  • Keynote: New opportunities and compelling experiences – Microsoft’s Chief Executive Officer, Steve Ballmer, will talk about new opportunities to deliver seamless experiences across many screens and a cloud, and why now is such an exciting time for developers
  • IE9 The Best Browser for Windows (Martin Beeby) – In this session Microsoft will use IE9 and a sprinkling of JavaScript and HTML5 to show you how to create an integrated and immersive experience maximizing the full power of your visitors Windows 7 PC.

[A version of this post also appears on the Windows Server User Group blog]

Windows support lifecycle reminders

This content is 14 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Last week, I wrote about the forthcoming service pack for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.  At the other end of its support lifecycle, is Windows 2000, which finally reaches end of life (i.e. the end of extended support) on 13 July 2010.

Windows XP remains on extended support for a while longer (until 8 April 2014) but service pack 2 (SP2) also goes out of support on 13 July 2010 and, from that date onwards, Microsoft will no longer support or provide free security updates for Windows XP systems running SP2 or earlier.  Service pack 3 is available free of charge; however Windows XP users should really be planning on migration to a later version of Windows.  For details of how to obtain the latest service pack for Windows XP, see Microsoft knowledge base article 322389.

Also, on 13 July, Windows Server 2003 moves out of mainstream support and into its extended support phase.   Service pack 1 for Windows Server 2003 was retired on 14 April 2009, so service pack 2 is required in order to remain supported.  For details of how to obtain the latest service pack for Windows Server 2003 (and Windows Server 2003 R2), see Microsoft knowledge base article 889100.  Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2003 R2 are subject to the same support lifecycle milestones as each other.

Windows Vista with no Service Packs installed will also lose support on 13 April 2010.  Customers are advised to install service pack 2 for Windows Vista in order to remain secure and supported (although service pack 1 is still supported until 12 July 2011).  For details of how to obtain the latest service pack for Windows Vista, see Microsoft knowledge base article 935791.

Customers running Windows Server 2008 have plenty of time left in their operating system investment, although Windows Server 2008 service pack 1 will be retired on 12 July 2011.  For details of how to obtain the latest service pack for Windows Server 2008, see Microsoft knowledge base article 968849.  The same service pack is applicable to both Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008.

Native boot from VHD on a Windows XP computer

This content is 15 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Guest PostLike almost every other corporate in the world, where Mark and I work there is a standard build deployed to everyone. The default in our particular organisation is a 32-bit Windows XP OS regardless of the capabilities of the laptop or desktop it is deployed to. Over the years, this has caused a number of problems that have required an increasing number of “exemptions” from standard policy to allow people to run a different Windows version or platform.

Whilst this hasn’t been too much of a problem for the majority of the Architects that Mark and I work with – after all, we’re fairly self-sufficient when it comes to supporting our environments and are infinitely capable of collectively dreaming up ever more creative workarounds for the things that don’t work – it isn’t a solution that’s manageable at scale.

Then, along came Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 and with them came the introduction of a great new feature – Native Boot from VHD. With a little configuration, this has enabled us to leave the existing Windows XP corporate build in place, and to deploy a 32-bit or 64-bit Windows 7 (Enterprise or Ultimate) or 64-bit Windows Server 2008 R2 build side-by-side, crucially without having to make any changes to the Windows XP build or the existing disk partitioning scheme.

To achieve this, we created a new Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 bootloader, and “chained” the original Windows XP bootloader from it. At boot, this allows us to select a Native Boot from VHD into, for example, a 64-bit Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise build, or to select the chained bootloader which allows us to boot into the corporate Windows XP build.

Of course, you’ll need to create your VHD-contained Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 OS build and put it to your local disk, and this post doesn’t go into that detail, but once you have done that, the steps below will allow you to create a new bootloader and chain your existing Windows XP corporate build from it.

To begin, boot your computer using your Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 installation media.

When you reach the Install Windows screen, select your preferences in the Language to installTime and currency format, and Keyboard or input method boxes, and then click Next.

Do not click Install now. Instead, click Repair your computer.

The search for supported operating systems will fail, and the System Recovery Options dialog box appears with the Restore your computer using a system image that you created earlier option selected. Click Next.

The Re-image your computer tool will fail to find a system image and will display a dialog informing you of this. Click Cancel on the dialog, and then Cancel again on the main tool window.

The System Recovery Options menu appears. Click Command Prompt.

To write the new Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 bootloader:


To create a BCD store from the Windows VHD:


Set up the VHD native boot:


Set up the legacy boot:

BCDEDIT /CREATE {ntldr} /d "Chain Legacy Bootloader"
BCDEDIT /SET {ntldr} PATH \ntldr

To put things back to normal, should you ever need to:


The sun sets on Windows XP, Office 2003 and Windows Server 2003 SP1 – Vista SP1 and XP SP3 will soon be unblocked – Office 2007 SP2 to ship at the end of April – Office “14” is given a name (and will be available in both 32- and 64-bit versions)

This content is 15 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Just in case you hadn’t noticed, today is the day that Windows XP and Office 2003 end their mainstream support phase and move onto extended support – it’s security hotfixes only from now on, unless you are prepared to pay. Security updates for Windows XP will continue to be issued via Windows Update until 8 April 2014 (ditto for Office 2003).

Whilst XP has enjoyed a longer period of mainstream support than would otherwise have been the case (due to the time it took for Microsoft to ship its successor – Windows Vista), many organisations have held back on upgrades due to the negative press that Vista has received (which may have been partially warranted at release but is not exactly valid in 2009). Regardless of the perception of Windows Vista, Windows Vista R2 [ahem] Windows 7 is receiving plenty of praise and a release candidate is widely expected to be released within the next few weeks. Those considering an eventual move to Windows 7 could prepare themselves by application testing on the beta – or even using Windows Vista as a limited pilot in preparation (the two operating systems are remarkably similar, for all but those applications that need to work at a very deep level – e.g. anti virus and VPN software).

Meanwhile, reaction to Office 2007’s “ribbon” user interface has been mixed; regardless of the many improvements in Office applications with the 2007 release, many users are still using the same basic word processing features they had in earlier versions (dare I say as far back as Word for Windows 2.0) and so organisations are needing further persuasion to upgrade – for some the business case is only justified through integration with Office server products (such as Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Office Communications Server 2007 R2) although, my personal experience of reverting to Office 2003 for a few weeks whilst my laptop was being repaired was not a happy one… it’s amazing how those “little tweaks” become embedded in your way of working after a while.

As for Windows Server, those organisations still running Windows Server 2003 (including R2) with service pack 1 lose their support today – Windows Server 2003 with service pack 2 will continue to receive mainstream support until 13 July 2010 with extended support ending on 14 July 2015.

On the subject of service packs, now is probably a good time to remind people that the service pack blocking tools for Windows Vista SP1 and Windows XP SP3 will expire on 28 April 2009 and 19 May 2009 respectively, after which time the updates will be automatically delivered via Windows Update. As for Office updates, Office 2007 service pack 2 is due for release on 28 April 2009 (including support for ODF, PDF and XPS document formats).

Looking ahead to the next release of Microsoft Office, various websites are reporting that Office codenamed “14” has been named as… no surprise here… Office 2010. APC’s David Flynn is citing delays that prevent a tandem launch with Windows 7 but I have no recollection of any announcements by Microsoft for either a joint launch or a 2009 release – and they have not even committed publicly to releasing Windows 7 this year (it’s all pure speculation by journalists, bloggers and other pundits)… how can something slip if it’s not even been formally announced? Meanwhile ARStechnica is concentrating on the availability of both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Office 2010.

The halycon days of wholesale PC refreshes every few years may now be just a distant memory but these changes signal the need for IT departments to seriously consider their options. With Office 2010 expected to include web applications based on a monthly subscription charge, increasingly feasible online services, and desktop virtualisation becoming increasingly viable (in various forms – be that full VDI, a managed virtual desktop running on a traditional PC, or a hybrid solution using something like MED-V), these are interesting times for those given the task of providing a corporate desktop.

Establishing parental control: easy when you know how

This content is 15 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

This week, Channel 4 is running a series of sex education television programmes looking at how young people today are gaining their sex education from Internet porn – and as a result are exposed to some disturbing content on the web.

I like to think that I’m fairly open-minded but my eldest son is reaching the point where I am considering giving him his own computer and, whilst I’d like to think that his computer time will be supervised, that will not always be possible as he grows up, or when he uses systems at friends’ houses, school, Internet cafés, etc..

One of the points that Channel 4 is highlighting is the lack of awareness (and knowledge, based on visits to a PC World, Sony Store and Micro Anvika stores) about the parental controls that are available in modern operating systems so, in this post, I’ll give a quick rundown of how to set up parental controls on your child’s PC – without resorting to additional software like that listed on the Kids’ safety advice on GetNetWise.

First up, the operating system on most of the world’s PCs – Microsoft Windows. Windows XP may not have any parental controls within the operating system but Vista and 7 do – as long as you are not running in a domain! Yes, that’s right – no parental controls on domain-joined PCs. I suspect this is something to do with the prospect of being hauled up in front of the United States Department of Justice or the European Union Competition Commission by the vendors of content filtering solutions if businesses relied on the controls built into the operating system to stop their employees from visiting the less salubrious portions of the web but for me, with several domain-joined PCs in the home, this effectively means my children will have to use their own PC. Not necessarily an issue but nevertheless an unnecessary constraint, particularly for those who have a single PC used for both home and business activities and also joined to a corporate domain (perhaps in a small business environment).

Assuming that your Windows Vista or Windows 7 PC is not joined to a domain, it’s parental controls are accessed via Control Panel and include limits on web content, limits on computer access times and games, as well as the ability to block access to specific applications. More information on Windows Parental Controls is available on the Windows help site and it’s also possible to view activity reports.

Over on the Mac, it’s pretty much the same story – OS X 10.4 (Tiger) and 10.5 (Leopard) include parental controls in the user account properties. In addition, OS X can display a simplified Finder window for young or inexperienced users, only allow access to certain applications, hide profanity in the dictionary (yes, I used to look up rude words in a paper dictionary when I was a boy!), limit website access (including the ability to create allow and deny lists) limit the users with whom mail and IM can be exchanged, enforce computer time limits (with different limits for weekdays and weekends!) as well as bedtime on school nights and weekends (I should try setting this on my own account).

The principles are similar in Windows and on the Mac but I’m using the Mac in these screen grabs (because my Windows machines are domain-joined). If I search for the first thing that a schoolboy might think of when given Internet access, it’s blocked:

Parental Controls preventing website access in Safari on Mac OS X 10.5

Unless I happen to know the administrator password:

Parental Controls requesting authentication on Mac OS X 10.5

Similarly, if I try to open an image, using an application that’s not allowed (in this case the OS X Preview application)… computer says “no”:

Parental Controls preventing application access on Mac OS X 10.5

And, assuming I’m not watching over my child like a hawk, I can keep an eye on their computing activities from a distance using the logs:

Parental Controls logging activity on Mac OS X 10.5

By now, you have probably got some idea of what’s possible on the mainstream consumer operating systems. Over in Linux-land it’s a little more complicated but still possible using a combination of IP filters, third party applications and limited DNS (e.g. OpenDNS). I’m sure I’ll write more as I become exposed to child computing habits but, for now, hopefully this has highlighted the ability to easily put in place some controls to protect your children from the Internet, whilst simultaneously allowing them some freedom.

Bulk file renames in Windows Explorer

This content is 15 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Working in Windows Explorer today, I noticed something that I found pretty useful. At first I wasn’t sure if it was a new feature in Windows 7 (I’ve since tested and found XP will do something similar, so I guess Vista will too) but I was bulk renaming files and found that Explorer would allow me to rename several files to the same filename root, but suffixed with an identifier to ensure that each file name was unique.

For example, imagine you work for an organisation that produces a lot of customer design documents but which is really keen on re-use. Some customisation is inevitable but you might start out with a template document, or you might work from a documentation set produced for a similar customer environment.

In this example, I have three documents in my set:

Customer X – Infrastructure Design (AD)
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (Exchange)
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (SharePoint)

If I copy and paste these, I now have 6 documents:

Customer X – Infrastructure Design (AD) – Copy
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (AD)
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (Exchange) – Copy
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (Exchange)
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (SharePoint) – Copy
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (SharePoint)

Keeping the copies highlighted, if I right click and select Rename, I can rename them all to a common root of Customer Y - Infrastructure Design. The resulting directory structure is:

Customer X – Infrastructure Design (AD)
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (Exchange)
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (SharePoint)
Customer Y – Infrastructure Design (3)
Customer Y – Infrastructure Design (2)
Customer Y – Infrastructure Design

At this point, it’s now very simple (faster than renaming each file individually and typing the whole filename would have been) to amend the end of each filename to get what I really wanted:

Customer X – Infrastructure Design (AD)
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (Exchange)
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (SharePoint)
Customer Y – Infrastructure Design (AD)
Customer Y – Infrastructure Design (Exchange)
Customer Y – Infrastructure Design (SharePoint)

Some people may be unimpressed. Others may say “script it”. And more people might say use the document templating features in Microsoft Office! Whatever your view, for me, this was a real timesaver.

Upgrading to Windows 7 – it’s all about reliability

This content is 15 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

There’s been plenty written over the last week or so about Microsoft’s plans for users upgrading to Windows 7 and, in short, customers will be able to purchase an upgrade license, but there will be no in-place upgrade path from Windows XP (direct in-place upgrades from Vista will be supported but are not recommended).

After all the anti-Vista press, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see that much of what’s been written about Windows 7 has been relatively positive (I even wondered if they should market the product as Windows Mojave!) but now the critics have found something to complain about.

“What! No direct upgrade path from my 8-year old (n-minus-2) OS?”

Yes. Exactly. And that is A Good Thing.

I’ve often wondered why Windows gets such a hard time with stories of system crashes and general unreliability but that’s just not been my experience. I thought that maybe it was because I’ve been running NT-based systems (including Windows 2000, XP, 2003, 2008, Vista, 7) for the last thirteen years – after all, I certainly experienced that sort of chaos at one company where I worked but when we migrated the 4000 European employees from something approximating 4000 customised installations (mostly Windows 95/98, with users rebooting several times a day) to a standard Windows XP image, reliability improved significantly.

Ironically, it was buying a Mac that helped me to realise why people think that Windows is buggy and unstable. My Windows systems are my workhorses. I install standard software and I use them. I might install the odd application here and there, but it’s generally well-written software and it’s not a succession of installations and uninstallations. I also tend to dump the OEM installation and to perform a clean installation of Windows with each new operating system (although I have also used upgraded machines). On the Mac I’m much more of a novice: I have to learn how to do things; I download things that look interesting, then take them off again – and then I have reliability issues. Not a huge problem – but probably the cause of more forced restarts than I experience on my Windows PCs.

So what exactly is my point? Well, firstly this is not a Mac vs. PC discussion. The point I’m making is that, on any platform, the key to stability is only making configuration changes where necessary (i.e. incessent tweaking is generally not a good thing). The other point is that starting from a known baseline (i.e. a clean OS installation) is highly recommended.

When Apple shipped the last major update of its operating system (Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard”) the general advice was to perform an “archive and install” installation. Basically, that’s what Microsoft is offering for XP users moving to Windows 7 but, unlike Apple, who have the benefit of a closed system with only a few devices (at least at a hardware and operating system level), Microsoft has to support almost infinite permutations of hardware and software for its operating system. And, from a brief conversation yesterday with one of my colleagues, it seems the situation is no different on Linux – if I want to move from an old distribution of Ubuntu to the latest version then I should expect to have to reinstall.

There was one comment on the article that Randall C Kennedy’s wrote for his enterprise desktop column at InfoWorld which just about summed this up for me:

“[…] I’ll bet if Microsoft did allow for an upgrade his next article would be bitching about all the upgrade problems Windows 7 caused from XP systems.

Next blog we’ll probably see how puppies (really cute ones too) are slaughtered in the process of making Windows 7. Desperate stories call for desperate measures.”

Even his colleague J Peter Bruzzese at InfoWorld can’t agree when he argues why Microsoft’s XP-Windows 7 upgrade strategy is right.

Opinion aside, for most corporates, clean, imaged, installations will be the preferred deployment option for Windows 7. Meanwhile, the majority of consumers will run an OEM-installed copy of Windows that came with their PC. Only a relatively small number of consumers, small business users and hobbiests will want to upgrade directly from Windows XP or Vista to Windows 7 (and the Vista users will be able to do this in-place, if they so desire) and, from Microsoft’s perspective, limiting the options to reduce the likelihood of users experiencing upgrade issues makes sound business sense.

Securely wiping hard disks using Windows

This content is 16 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

My blog posts might be a bit sporadic over the next couple of weeks – I’m trying to squeeze the proverbial quart into a pint pot (in terms of my available time) and am cramming like crazy to get ready for my MCSE to MCITP upgrade exams.

I’m combining this Windows Server 2008 exam cramming with a review of John Savill’s Complete Guide to Windows Server 2008 and I hope to publish my review of that book soon afterwards.

One of the tips I picked up from the book this morning as I tried to learn as much as I could about Bitlocker drive encryption in an hour, was John’s tip for securely wiping hard drives using a couple of Windows commands:

format driveletter: /fs:ntfs /x

will force a dismount if required and reformat the drive, using NTFS.

cipher /w:driveletter:

will remove all data from the unused disk space on the chosen drive.

I don’t know how this compares with third party products that might be used for this function but I certainly thought it was a useful thing to know. This is not new to Windows Server 2008 either – it’s certainly available as far back as Windows XP and possibly further.

For more tips like this, check out the NTFAQ or John’s site at Savilltech.com.

Microsoft Virtualization: part 5 (presentation virtualisation)

This content is 16 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Continuing the series of posts on Microsoft Virtualization technologies, I’ll move onto what Microsoft refers to as presentation virtualisation (and everyone else calls terminal services, or server based computing).

Like host virtualisation, Terminal Services is not a new technology and Microsoft has provided basic Terminal Server capabilities within Windows Server for many years, with Citrix providing the enterprise functionality for those who need it. With Windows Server 2008, Microsoft has taken a step forward, introducing new Terminal Services functionality – with new features including:

  • Terminal Services Web Access – providing a web portal for access to RemoteApps – applications which run on the terminal server but have the look and feel of a local application (albeit subject to the limitations of the RDP connection – this is probably not the best way to deploy graphics-intensive applications). Whilst this is a great feature, it is somewhat let down by the fact that the Web Access portal is not customisable and that all users see all RemoteApps (although permissions are applied to control the execution of RemoteApps). For web access to RemoteApps, v6.1 of the Remote Desktop Connection (RDP) client is required but for v6.0 clients an MSI may be created using RemoteApp Manager (which may be deployed using Active Directory group policy).
  • Terminal Services Gateway – provides a seamless connection to Terminal Services (over HTTPS) without need for a VPN. It’s not intended to replace the need for a firewall (e.g. ISA Server) but it does mean that only one port needs to be opened (443) and may be an appropriate solution when a local copy of the data is not required or when bandwidth/application characteristics make the VPN experience poor.
  • Terminal Services Session Broker – a new role to provide load balancing and which enables a user to reconnect to an existing session in a load-balanced terminal server farm.

There are improvements on the client end too – for details of the client enhancements in Remote Desktop Connection (v6.1), provided with Windows XP SP3, Vista SP1 and Server 2008 see Microsoft knowledge base article 951616.

One of the more signicificant improvements in RDP 6.1 (but which requires Windows Server 2008 Terminal Services Printing) is Terminal Services EasyPrint. Whereas printing is traditionally problematic in a server-based computing environment (matching drivers, etc.) – Terminal Services EasyPrint presents a local print dialog and prints to the local printer – no print drivers are required on the server and there is complete transparency if a 32-bit client is used with a 64-bit server. If the application understands XPS (i.e. it uses the Windows Presentation Framework) then it prints XPS using the EasyPrint XPS Driver (which creates an XPS spool file). Otherwise there is a GDI to XPS conversion module (e.g. for Win32 applications). On the client side, the spool file is received over RDP using the Remote Desktop Connection with an EasyPrint plugin to spool the XPS through an XPS printer driver (converted by print processor if required). If the print device does not support XPS, the print job is converted to EMF by the Microsoft.NET Framework and printed using a GDI printer driver.

Terminal Services EasyPrint

Whilst Microsoft’s presentation virtualisation offerings may not be as fully-featured as those from other vendors, most notably Citrix, they are included within the Windows Server 2008 operating system and offer a lot of additional functionality when compared with previous Windows Server releases.

In the next post in this series, I’ll look at how the four strands of Microsoft Virtualization (host/server, desktop, application and presentation) are encapsulated within an overall management framework using System Center products.