When we talk about desktop virtualization, we often discuss the "layer" concept where we split the Windows OS into virtual hardware, OS, application, and user layers. The industry has generally agreed on terms like "hardware virtualization" and "app virtualization" (and even "desktop virtualization"), but when it comes to the user layer, it seems like every vendor uses their own term, including:
- Profile management
- User profile virtualization
- User workspace virtualization
- User environment virtualization
- User experience management
- User state virtualization
- User personality
- User workspace management
From this point forward, I'm going to collectively refer to all of this as "user virtualization."
User Virtualization is more than just Windows profile management. In the days of Terminal Server-based solutions, slick ways to manage Windows profiles were all we needed since our Terminal Servers were only used for single application publishing (where the users' "real" desktop was still local) or for full desktop publishing for task workers (with simple needs). But now that we're trying to do desktop virtualization for more complex users, we need to capture "everything" the user does, not just the stuff that's been conveniently placed into the user profile folder or HKCU key.
Most of the user virtualization products have followed suit, evolving from "profile management" products in the early 2000s to full user virtualization products today.
The ultimate user virtualization product will capture everything a user does on a non-persistent desktop image, allowing that user to log off and log back in to a newly-refreshed image and have everything exactly as he or she left it.
Most of the products on the market today are pretty good, accounting for multiple OSes (Windows XP, Win7, 2008 R2) and allowing the user to be simultaneously logged into multiple desktops. (Maybe a local desktop plus a few remote Terminal Servers?) We're just now getting to the point where these user virtualization products intelligently deal with user data and user-installed applications, and we're starting to see some intelligent links between the user virtualization and app virtualization worlds.
User virtualization is big and will continue to get bigger. We'll be writing more about it on BrianMadden.com over the next few months, including a comparison of the top products (hopefully for Geek Week 2011).
By the way, here's a working list of the main vendors we're tracking in the user virtualization space:
- Liquidware Labs
- RES Software
The Big 3 all have initiatives here too, although so far they're all more like traditional profile management products and not as advanced as some of the third party full user virtualization products.
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