Microsoft Starts Windows Thin PC Push

There's a goofy video making the rounds in which a technology enthusiast installs (almost) every major versions of Windows from MS-DOS 5/Windows 1.01 through Windows 7. There are a number of lessons to learn from this video, but the big take away from this is that Microsoft is serious about backwards compatibility in ways that elude its competitors. I think most of us understood this, of course, and one of the reasons that so many businesses run on Microsoft software today is that the software giant has always respected the compatibility requirements of its customers.

This video is only the tip of the iceberg, of course: a true accounting of Microsoft's compatibility efforts would require quite a bit of time and documentation. But this week, I'd like to discuss an interesting upcoming Microsoft product that comes with a sense of déjà vu. It also speaks very clearly to the compatibility discussion.

It's called Windows Thin PC. According to Microsoft, this upcoming product is a locked-down version of Windows 7 aimed at older computers that can be repurposed as thin clients.

Sound familiar? It should: Ever since Sun declared that "the network is the computer," it seems, Microsoft and its partners have been pushing various iterations of Windows-based thin clients as the ideal alternative to any saber rattling from the UNIX and open-source crowds. The most recent iteration from Microsoft, I think, was something called Microsoft Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs. This product was based on Windows XP and was introduced in the ramp-up to Windows Vista (which had serious backwards compatibility issues).

I never really got Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs: It seemed like a stopgap measure, was based on XP in the year that Microsoft started replacing XP, and was only provided to Software Assurance (SA) customers as a benefit of their subscriptions.

Windows Thin PC might make more sense, however.

Like Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs, it's an SA benefit. But unlike that earlier product, Windows Thin PC is arriving during a time of record business migrations to the latest Windows version, in this case Windows 7. So it isn't so much an apology as it is a thank you: Customers that do need to upgrade their PCs to run Windows 7 will still be able to utilize their aging, out of date PCs. And the system they'll be running on top of those PCs isn't something different, it's Windows 7. So it will be familiar to users, and make up for the curious looks your users will give you for all those PS2 connectors and, potentially, CRT monitors.

And because it's part of SA, Windows Thin PCs also erases some of the costs of VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) for Microsoft's bigger customers. With other VDI solutions, customers would need to also purchase a Windows VDA license to run Windows via other thin clients. It doesn't replace these solutions—indeed, Microsoft sells Windows Embedded to thin client manufacturers—but it's now another option, one that is very secure (it prevents any data writes to disk) and highly manageable.

Beyond that, I believe that Windows Thin PC will offer a full, rich Windows 7 user experience. And that should include the RemoteFX enhancements that were added as part of Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1. I hope to speak with Microsoft soon about Windows Thin PC to find out more.

Timing for Windows Thin PC is a bit vague, but Microsoft promises a beta before the end of the month via the Connect website. And we'll see the final version later this year. I'll report back when I've learned more.

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