Move to a Thin Image
The factor that will make the concept of complex thick images a thing of the past is the arrival of a new technology along with Vista, that of software or application virtualization.
Application virtualization protects the core operating system at all times from any changes performed during the installation of an application on a system. This is because application virtualization does not capture an installation, but rather the running state of the application. Since the running state is captured, no actual installation is required. This means you can simply copy the application to the system and then activate it. Virtualization solutions also avoid every possible conflict applications may cause.
For example, organizations have successfully virtualized Microsoft Access 2000, 2003, 2007 and run them all at the same time on the same PC. Whats even better is that a virtualized application becomes OS agnostic; i.e., it relies on the virtualization layer to make it work properly on the OS. This means that the same virtualized application will work on both Windows XP and Windows Vista.
In addition, virtualized applications can be streamed to PCs. Streaming uses the same technology as video or audio and delivers content to endpoints in continuous streams. When enough content is streamed, the application can be launched. Microsoft Word, for example, needs about 160 kilobytes (KB) to start working, making it much easier to deploy. Several vendors offer application virtualization solutions: Microsoft SoftGrid, Altiris Software Virtualization Solution, and Thinstall are a few options.
With the advantages inherent in application virtualization and software streaming, you can move to the concept of a thin system image. This means deploying a smaller OS system image, and then, deploying a generalized application layer (GAL) to achieve the same result you would obtain with a thick image.
The Thin Kernel with the GAL
This gives you the best of all worlds: thin OS kernels are multicasted to endpoints and as soon as the system is up, GAL contents are streamed to each system. Role-based contents, if required, are also streamed to users of the IT role. Images are much easier to maintain and are much fewer in number. You cant quite make one single world-wide image because despite their best efforts, Microsoft was not able to create an image that would work on both 32-bit and 64-bit systems, but you can reduce it down to two thin images. Now, thats smart system management!