Microsoft Edges Closer to App Compatibility

Last week, Microsoft announced the availability of its Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V) product, part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) set of tools that the software giant makes available to its volume license customers. MED-V, along with associated tools like Virtual PC and App-V (Application Virtualization) is, I think, the future of Windows application compatibility, a theme we've discussed a few times here in the past. But now that MED-V has been finalized, what was once a theory can now be put to the test.

MED-V removes one of the biggest barriers to adopting a new version of Windows: It eliminates the need for application-compatibility testing. Until now, migrating to a new Windows version entailed a lengthy compatibility-testing process and, usually, researching how to move critical custom applications, line-of-business applications, and other client software over to the new OS. This delayed rollout of a new OS, and prevented users from taking advantage of that system's enhanced security and functionality.

With MED-V, application compatibility is decoupled from the OS. Those applications that can’t run natively under the new Windows version can be deployed to desktops under a hidden Virtual PC-based virtual environment. The end user simply runs the applications needed and doesn’t deal with separate virtual and physical desktops. Instead, MED-V lets virtualized applications run alongside native applications and interact properly with the underlying PC's file system and other capabilities. The effect is nearly seamless.

Of course, to get MED-V in its current incarnation, you have to participate in Microsoft's volume-licensing program. Too, similar MDOP tools such as App-V--which essentially lets you stream virtualized applications from a server to clients without requiring them to be installed locally--are similarly constrained from an availability perspective. But I have no doubt that Microsoft will make this technology more broadly available in the future, if only because it removes the need to saddle the core Windows OS with backwards-compatible APIs and components. Suddenly, the fetters are off.

Even Microsoft hints as much. On its MED-V web page, the software giant hints at future use cases for MED-V beyond the 1.0 release: "In future releases, MED-V in conjunction with the new VECD \[Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktop\] licensing, may be used to deliver a corporate virtual image to 'unmanaged' PCs, and reduce the tension between IT control and user flexibility. \[This will\] increase productivity for on-site contractors, offshore outsourcing and branch offices, enable employees to work from home or with personal laptops, \[and\] drive business continuity and recovery plans with virtual desktops anywhere."

I'm excited about what this technology portends, and you can expect to see a lot more about this topic in the coming months. And if you're already licensing MDOP or can do so, be sure to check out MED-V. It might just forever alter how you view application compatibility on new versions of Windows.

Update on Windows Server 2008 Foundation

Last week I wrote about Microsoft's new low-end Foundation Server product, which I'm still waiting to evaluate in person. Since this is a new product with which I've had no hands-on experience, my original description included a few potentially misleading comments, so I'd like to address those now.

- I noted that Foundation Server will only be available with new hardware, which is true, but I compared that to Windows Small Business Server. Retail versions of SBS are available only with new hardware, but Microsoft does make the SBS software available to its volume license customers and via other channels as well.

- I noted that Foundation Server supports only 15 small-to-midsized business (SMB) connections. Actually, the limitation is 15 users, which breaks down to 30 SMB connections for technical reasons.

- While Foundation Server doesn't require (or support) Windows CALs as noted, it does support other kinds of CALs (like Terminal Server CALs).

- Because of its 15-user limit, Foundation Server will usually be used in a standalone server configuration. But it can be added to existing domains, contrary to what I wrote. In both cases, however, the 15-user ceiling persists, limiting its usefulness in such scenarios.

Sorry for any confusion I caused. I'm excited about Foundation Server, but it's still brand new and comes with a unique set of capabilities and limitations that I'm still wrestling with.

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