Microsoft's Complete Longhorn Terminal Server Feature List

A lot of information about the new features of Terminal Server in Longhorn has come out over the past few weeks.

A lot of information about the new features of Terminal Server in Longhorn has come out over the past few weeks. In this article, I’ve collected, organized, and commented on all the new stuff.

It’s important to note that the information in this article is all public information from Microsoft. (i.e. it’s “real.”) This is NOT rumor or speculation. Most of this information came from last week’s Microsoft Technet Terminal Server chat and the Channel 9 Terminal Server Product Group video.

New Terminal Server Features for Windows Longhorn Server

First of all, Longhorn Server is still called “Longhorn” (for now). The “Vista” name only applies to the client version. The following new features have been publicly confirmed by Microsoft as being part of Longhorn.

Application Publishing with client-side file type associations. Microsoft is calling this “Remote Programs.” Basically you use a wizard on the Terminal Server to create a Remote Programs package for an executable. That package becomes a small (<100k) MSI file that you can then deploy to client machines running Windows XP or newer. (Terminal Server will not include any functionality for deploying these files. That’s up to you to do using Intellimirror, SMS, logon scripts, web portal, etc.) When an MSI is run on the client machine, the proper application shortcuts get installed into the Start Menu and the proper file-type associations are registered. From the user’s perspective, it appears as if the application was installed on their machine, although it’s really a shortcut to a remote seamless application running on a Terminal Server.

Seamless Windows. This is pretty self-explanatory. Seamless windows are obviously a big part of the whole “Remote Programs” experience. Microsoft’s seamless windows on Longhorn will have full local system tray integration, just like other vendors’ products do today.

A Terminal Server Gateway (TSG). This is like a Microsoft version of Citrix Secure Gateway. It’s a head-end gateway server that can provide SSL encryption for many back-end Terminal Servers. TSG will be an extension of the current RPC over HTTPS functionality that’s built into IIS6 and Exchange 2003. Basically, the TSG will allow RDP traffic to be encrypted with SSL and sent via HTTPS to an IIS server. That server will peel off the SSL wrapper and then transmit the RDP traffic to the back-end Citrix server. RDP 6 clients will have this functionality built-in.

Intelligent Avalon/WinFX Remoting. This is kind of a complex topic, and something I’ve written on before. Longhorn and Vista will have a new programming interface called WinFX. (WinFX includes the new presentation layer that was codenamed “Avalon.”) WinFX will do a lot of things, but in terms of Terminal Server, the biggest change will be how developers write their applications to deal with screen space. Applications will be able to more intelligently draw their windows and deal with available screen space. This will provide an opportunity for a big change for Terminal Server and RDP. In today’s version of RDP, the RDP protocol acts as a display driver, and the RDP client device receives whatever the server sends to its display driver. (This is what I call the “screen scraping”-based technology.) In Longhorn with WinFX, Microsoft is building a more intelligent RDP engine that can intelligently intercept and redirect raw WinFX calls (or “WinFX Primatives” to use Microsoft’s term) and send them down to the client where the client’s local WinFX engine can do the processing and display them. This has several advantages, including the fact that server resources and network utilization will be reduced and that the client device can have the “full” WinFX application experience even over a remote session. The downside is that a client device will have to be running WinFX (which will mean Windows Vista or Windows XP with the WinFX add-on) in order to experience this. Microsoft has said, however, that Longhorn’s RDP protocol will be smart enough to figure out whether the client device can display WinFX primitives. If so, that’s what it will get. If not, the Longhorn Terminal Server will render everything on the server and then scrape the screen and send the contents down to the client. Note that a WinFX client will NOT be required for seamless windows and published applications.

A Unified Management Console. Today there are several tools in Windows that you need to use to manage a Terminal Server. In Longhorn, Microsoft will combine these into a single, easier-to-user tool.

Redirection of Plug-n-Play devices with UDMF drivers. In Terminal Services for Longhorn, Microsoft is taking a different approach to client device redirection. Instead of trying to write a client redirection engine for every single type of client device (drives, ports, printers, etc.), Microsoft is writing a more generic redirection engine that can make almost any PnP device on the client available within a remote Terminal Server session. The catch is that the client device will need to have a UMDF (“user mode driver framework”) compliant drive. Does this mean that Terminal Server will support USB redirection? Generically you could say “yes,” Longhorn will have USB redirection, but the full answer is “yes” there will be USB redirection “if” the device has a UMDF driver. The other caveat is that Microsoft has not yet finalized the specific set of UMDF device classes that will be supported for redirection, so this won’t necessarily work for every single device.

Major Reworking of the Logon Process. This goes beyond Terminal Server a bit, but Longhorn server will have a much different user logon process (in terms of what happens under the hood). This means that logon speed should increase, and things like single-sign on should be available. No further details are available at this time.

Major Reworking of User Profiles. As everyone reading this is painfully aware, user profiles were never designed for a single user to be simultaneously logged in to multiple different computers. (This is primarily due to the fact that all registry settings are stored in a single, flat file.) According to Microsoft, “profiles in Longhorn are being updated to handle this situation,” although no further details are available at this time.

Per-User Licenses will be Tracked. As everyone knows, only per-device TS CALs are currently tracked and enforced in Windows Server 2003. The key about Longhorn is that out-of-the-gate, per-user licenses will be tracked, but not enforced. Microsoft will only “turn on” the enforcement once they verify that the tracking mechanism is working for everyone.

Web interface. Microsoft will not provide a full web interface like Citrix. However, they will provide a sample site with some ActiveX controls that will integrate with the new Remote Programs (their application publishing) feature. You should be able to use this as a template to develop a full remote programs-based portal. I would imagine that the community will develop some kind of free portal fairly quickly after Longhorn’s release.

RDP 6. The current version of the RDP protocol is 5.2. All these new features in Longhorn will bump that up to RDP 6, but a Longhorn Terminal Server will still be able to have users connect from any older platform and the protocol will negotiate its capabilities down as needed.

A Refined Windows System Resource Manager (WSRM). This should help you control rogue applications by limiting the amount of memory or processor they take. WSRM is currently licensed only for the Enterprise Edition of Windows Server. There’s no word yet on how that will apply in Longhorn. The bottom line, though, is that WSRM is being updated and (among the refinements) it will work better in Terminal Server environments.

WMI Interface for Everything. This is something that Microsoft is really pushing. Their goal is to make 100% of Terminal Server configuration options exposed via WMI. This means that you’ll be able to script anything.

RDP Virtual Channel Tuning. Longhorn will also have a mechanism to tune the specific RDP virtual channels. (This is something that you could do with Citrix since PS3.) This will let you control how much bandwidth individual virtual channels consume.

Beyond Longhorn

In addition to all the new Terminal Server features that will be part of Longhorn, there are many features that will (or might?) be coming after Longhorn. The following features are features that when asked about them, Microsoft answered, “we’re looking at this, but after Longhorn.” Note that Microsoft is not necessarily ever going to release any of these features—these are simply things that they’re looking into. Such features include:

  • Better integration with SMS / Systems Center
  • The ability to move Terminal Server sessions between servers
  • Application isolation
  • Better accessibility in remote sessions
  • Multiple session shadowing

Features that Microsoft has no plans to Build

Finally, there are some features that people have suggests that Microsoft has publicly said that they have no plans to implement or that they’re not planning on looking into. These features include:

  • No plans for any improvement on Terminal Server load-balancing
  • No plans to improve the session directory (except for adding IPv6 support)
  • No plans to improve the management of clusters of servers
  • No plans to speed up 3D applications
  • No plans to change licensing into a concurrent model (mainly because they want licensing
  • to be consistent across all their products)
  • No plans for any major architectural changes to RDP or to change how it works in low-bandwidth / high-latency scenarios.
  • No plans for 2-way audio
  • No plans for ink support in remote sessions
  • No plans for per-session IP addresses
  • No plans for multi-monitor support (although some developers at MS really want this, so maybe this will change)
  • No plans to change the way Terminal Server printing works

Other Interesting Tidbits from Microsoft about the future of Terminal Server

We learned a few other things over the past few weeks that are interesting but that don’t really fit into one of the other sections.

Schedule. The “R2” update for Windows Server 2003 will ship later this year, but it will have no additional Terminal Server functionality. (Of course readers of this site already knew that.) There will be a communications foundation update to Server 2003 in the second half of 2006 (when Vista ships) to ensure that Server 2003 can do what it needs to do to work with Vista. The next major version of Windows Server “Longhorn” will ship in 2007.

Bear Paw. “Bear Paw” was the codename for a project that included several updates to Terminal Server. Bear Paw is not a current project. Some Bear Paw components came out a few months ago with Service Pack 1 for Windows Server 2003 (such as the fallback printer driver support). Other elements of Bear Paw (such as the application publishing and seamless windows) are being rolled into Longhorn.

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