Microsoft's public relations agency was at it again yesterday, this time advertising the fact that a couple of blog entries were posted about desktop virtualization. (Side note: Is this the epitome of how worthless PR firms are now? Seriously? They're emailing me to tell me that a blog has been updated? Ever heard of RSS? Way to use that retainer!) Yesterday's coordinated blog posts were about a part of Microsoft's desktop virtualization strategy they call "User State Virtualization," or "USV."
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Microsoft's explanation of why USV is needed makes sense: it's a way to separate the "user state" from the underlying Windows OS. This is something that companies like AppSense, RES Software, Scense, & triCerat have been doing for years, and in fact I wrote an article way back in 2007 explaining that USV was more than roaming profiles. (I now call this "user virtualization.")
Microsoft agrees, stating that their USV "product" (their words) is not just roaming profiles, but also.... (wait for it).... folder redirection with offline folder support! TA-DA!!
Your reaction, like mine, will probably be somewhere along the lines of "Are you f***ing kidding me?!?" I'm all over the concept of user virtualization / USV. But saying that roaming profiles + folder redirection + offline folder support = user virtualization is a bit of a stretch.
While it's true that roaming profiles have received several improvements since Windows XP, there are still quite a few limitations, including:
- User profiles in Vista & Windows 7 have been enhanced to "Version 2," which has enough incompatibilities with the "v1" profiles of Windows XP that users cannot seamlessly flow back & forth between the two environments. Profile issues also occur when moving between 32-bit and x64 environments.
- While roaming profiles in Windows 7 offer the ability to "sync" the registry settings automatically every so often, they're still built around the idea that a user will only be logged into one Windows client at a time. (i.e. there's still a "last write wins" problem.) So no mixing VDI & local desktops & TS sessions with Microsoft USV.
- Roaming profiles only capture changes in the user's profile folder. Anything else they do is not captured. If you think that's ok, then I suggest try using a locked-down desktop with only roaming profiles to save your settings and see how that goes.
- Offline folder support only syncs unlocked, complete files in the background. It's not even close to working like Dropbox or even Microsoft SharePoint Workspace (i.e. "Groove").
To be honest I never thought of roaming profiles as user virtualization at all.. in fact I always used roaming profiles as the baseline BEFORE situation that real user virtualization fixed. So now that Microsoft is claiming roaming profiles are USV, one of us is a jackass. Is it them or me?
By the way, as one final soapbox issue, why do people continue to use the desktop wallpaper as an example of Windows desktop personalization? Guess what? No one in the real world is having trouble getting their wallpapers to sync. We solved that problem in 1994. Stop using it as an example. Move on. If Microsoft thinks that getting your wallpaper and menu settings are what makes up USV, then yes, roaming profiles are USV.