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Microsoft Talks Desktop Virtualization Strategy

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As more PC managers begin, or follow through on, migrating from Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) to Windows 7, they are encountering one of the downsides of staying on an aging platform for too long.

It’s no surprise that some custom applications for IE6 won’t run on Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) new operating system. What may be surprising, however, is the scale of the problem, and the impacts of dealing with it.

In a blog post Thursday, a Microsoft manager published recommendations for how customers should deal with virtualizing the environments for those applications that are mission critical.

In its first year on the market, Microsoft sold 240 million licenses for Windows 7. While many, if not most, of those copies went to consumers, a lot of them went to corporate early adoptersas well.

As adoption of Windows 7 by enterprise customers gets into full swing, though, there are inevitably bumps in the road — but virtualization solutions to aid in the migration are not without at least a bit of controversy.

In fact, researchers at Gartnerrecently registered their views on how much impact compatibility problems with IE6 apps are having on costs and time required to make the switch.

The Gartner study predicts that by 2014, “IE6 compatibility problems will cause at least 20 percent of organizations to run overtime or over budget on their Windows 7 migration projects.” That report made several suggestions, including that Microsoft should make some virtualization products available for free to help customers make the transition.

While not directly addressing Gartner analysts’ recommendations regarding free software licenses for virtualization products, a Microsoft spokesperson told InternetNews.comin an e-mail, that the company is working hard to ease the migration for customers.

“To help customers take advantage of the modern desktop Microsoft makes available a significant number of resources to help organizations with their migrations to Windows 7 and Internet Explorer 8, including webcasts, prescriptive guidance, whitepapers, tools and temporary virtualization solutions,” the spokesperson added.

Meanwhile, on Microsoft’s Windows Team Blog, Karri Alexion-Tiernan, director of product management for Microsoft desktop virtualization, Thursday discussed three “layers” of virtualization, and some guidance as to when to use each one.

The simplest form is called “user state virtualization” and it separates a user’s data and settings from the device and instead saves that information centrally.

The next layer is “application virtualization” or App-V, which is part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP), an add-on package of tools for administering corporate desktops.

Application virtualization works by isolating client applications from the operating system. It blocks app conflicts by replicating “the original Windows installation, files, or registry.”

The final layer enables a PC to run multiple virtual machines, or VMs, next to each other on the same computer. That technology — called Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization, or MED-V, also comes with the MDOP.

“Is the application compatible with the new operating system? If no — Use OS Virtualization,” Alexion-Tiernan said in her post.

OS virtualization can be used to address legacy application compatibility or to enable hosted virtual desktops in the datacenter.

She recommends using MED-V if the target systems have enough disk space and memory to run two operating systems. If not, then the next suggestion is to go with Remote Desktop Services, formerly called Windows Terminal Services, or to Virtual Desktop Infrastructure.

“We recommend that you start with user state and application virtualization first,” Alexion-Tiernan said. “Both of these layers can help you realize monetary and technology benefits across all approaches to desktop management.”

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.

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