Microsoft Offers Free Beta of Updated Virtual Desktop App

MED-V update designed to boost Win7 migration by running older apps in XP mode

Microsoft has released the third update to its Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V) application streaming technology yesterday.

Microsoft has released a beta of the new version of its half-step application virtualization technology MED-V, with better support for USBs, printer sharing and access to the host machine's data.

MED-V , Microsoft's version of app virtualization technology it bought from Kidaro in 2008, installs Microsoft's Virtual PC, with an instance of Windows XP and whatever XP-dependent apps the user needs, running as a virtual machine, on an end-user's workstation.

End users launch applications as they normally would, without necessarily even knowing they have a virtual machine on their desk .

Access controls, updates, management and security are all handled centrally by Microsoft's Systems Center, with which administrators can install preconfigured XP VM images on remote machines, add or delete apps for particular users, and keep track of licensing and patches in both the physical Win7 and virtual XP machines.

The newest update eliminates the need for separate management infrastructure, integrates signon wiht Active Directory, allows VMs to share USB devices with the host machine, and gives the VMs better access to the host's documents, desktop and printer access.

It doesn't remotely approach the host of new virtual desktops Citrix and VMware have spun out recently, however.

MED-V is a kind of half step between real server-based application streaming and do-it-yourself virtualization using XP Mode on a Windows 7 machine . As such it's probably a little easier and more controllable than having individual users run apps in XP compatibility or XP Mode.

It's not remotely a complete solution compared to any of the vast number of flavors of virtual desktop and virtual application, however, and it presents a host of new opportunities for both end users and IT to screw up both individual workstations and whole workgroups .

Virtualization products of all kinds, but especially desktops, require long commitments and absolute faith in the performance of both the product and the infrastructure behind it, according to Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf.

End-user companies are moving steadily toward virtual desktops for the advantages they offer in management and, to a lesser extent, cost. But they're doing it slowly and carefull y so they don't get any nasty surprises after a big part of the rollout has already happened, Wolf says.

There's no better way to get fired than to roll out a highly technical project you promise will deliver great things and have it slow down or goof up the everyday, every-minute, every-hour experience of every user on every PC in the building. Mess up desktop virtualization, and that's exactly what you'll be facing.

Microsoft news-maven Mary Jo Foley predicts Microsoft's server-based App-V and desktop-based MED-V will be part of the next big release of Windows, probably in mid-2012.

If it makes the cut, it will put a lot more power in the hands of end users and a lot more capabilities in the hands of IT to secure desktops from viruses, bad end-user RegEdit sessions, buggy personal software installs and all the other normal hazards.

It will also increase by an order of magnitude the potential problems in configuration for individual end users.

Before that happens, or at least before you allow it inside the firewall and let end users get their hands on it, get some kind of centralized managment, auditing and control for both physical and virtual systems, just so you'll know what's going on in the invisible virtual spaces inside all those laptops.

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