My love/hate relationship with Windows Thin PC (WinTPC)

When I wrote a few weeks ago about the possibility of using Windows XP as a RemoteFX client, I also mentioned that Microsoft has suggested that Windows Thin PC would alleviate the need to run Windows XP. So, I carved out some time last week and sat down with Thin PC to take a look.

When I wrote a few weeks ago about the possibility of using Windows XP as a RemoteFX client, I also mentioned that Microsoft has suggested that Windows Thin PC would alleviate the need to run Windows XP. So, I carved out some time last week and sat down with Thin PC to take a look. It turns out that while I love Thin PC, it doesn't love me back. To be fair I've been using a beta, so if something changes between now and the release, I'll be sure to circle back and take another look.

If you'd like to experience your own love/hate relationship, you can join the beta here. It's a great experience, for sure, but it leaves a little to be desired in the end. Read on for my take.

Love it

It looks like Windows 7. In fact, I built a Windows 7 box alongside my Thin PC box to compare them, and I regularly mistook one for the other until I changed the backgrounds. Even Aero Glass works!

Hates me

There's no ability to add features or install things like Microsoft Security Essentials. Maybe in the future MSE will work, but currently you're told that it is an unsupported OS. Also, the Start Menu search capability is gone. All by itself that's not a big deal, but I did get used to it. Ultimately, you won't need it. Read on to find out why.

Love it

Most apps I installed (spare MSE) went in without a problem. Since I use my Windows 7 VMware Fusion VM almost exclusively for Visio, I installed that first. Then I tacked on Office 2010, Flash, Google Chrome, and Acrobat Reader for good measure. Everything works just fine. I'm even thinking about using ThinPC as my full-time VM (in an experimental capacity, of course).

Hates me

Absolutely none of these apps are allowed to be installed on Thin PC. According to the WinTPC FAQ:

…you can only run applications that fall into the following categories:

  • Remote desktop clients
  • Management
  • Security
  • Media Players

However, you cannot run any productivity applications, such as Microsoft Office and similar applications.

Actually, maybe I can use Flash, since I primarily use that for screwing around (definitely not being productive).

Love it

Since it's pretty much real Windows, it seems just as manageable as real Windows. Plus, the write filters seem pretty comprehensive (sector-level or file-level). I can really see this being useful. I've heard of people running in to road blocks when trying to automate deployment

Hates me

Not being allowed to run productivity apps baffles me (especially when you can install them and use them just fine). I think it's so crazy that I'm mentioning it twice. 

Love it

While you do need SA to run Windows Thin PC, you can get SA by purchasing VDA for your device, rather than needing to have every device in your organization participating in SA.

Hates me

…except that to qualify for VDA, you must already have purchased a Professional / Business, Enterprise, or Ultimate license for that device (which you're going to replace with Thin PC). So it's not just $100/yr, it's $200 for the OS, plus $100/yr. There's some additional confusion here, too. Does Windows XP Professional qualify since it's a "Professional" level client OS, or does that only apply to Windows Vista (forgot about Vista for a second) or Windows 7 and up? Hopefully someone can answer that.

Also, this means that there is a group of customers out there using RemoteFX on Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 that won't be able to use Thin PC because they don't need to buy SA or VDA. If all you need is an RDS CAL to connect to Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, why should you have to buy VDA to get Thin PC?

Love it

The footprint is so small compared to Windows 7. Thin PC weighs in at a svelte 2.8 GB, whereas a default Windows 7 install tips the scales at 6.8 GB! That's right - There is 4GB of extra stuff in Windows 7 that has little to do with the fundamental OS. That's not a bad thing, since the overall experience and purpose of these operating systems is different, but it is interesting.

Hates me

Some of the stuff that was pulled out is useful! There are no codecs installed by default, so Media Player isn't exceptionally useful (you can install codecs, and this is presumably allowed since Media Player is on the list of allowed apps), and the aforementioned Start Menu search feature has been removed to save space. 

Wrap-up

Thin PC just looks so promising, but the fact that its use is restricted to only remote desktop connections, management, security, and media players means that I just don't love it. Some people will argue that what I'm looking for isn't a thin client at all, and while that may not be true in a traditional sense, I still maintain that it would be useful to have an OS like Thin PC (without said restrictions) available for organizations to use.

Now, on to the root topic that started this discussion (at least for me). Windows XP can be made to run RemoteFX sessions. It would be unsupported, and it would probably make the lawyers in your organization cringe (if you tell them), but with that method you'll be able to install apps locally and access them remotely, use older hardware that may not run Win 7, and manage them as you would ThinPC. You can still lock down the user interface and add write filters, but you'd have all the flexibility you need until application support on XP forces you to upgrade (that's coming soon, I'm sure). Plus, if you're accessing Remote Desktop Services on Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, you'd only need an RDS CAL and not VDA (which you'd have to have to be entitled to ThinPC), so it's almost a no-brainer!

There were some comments in the last article I wrote about how much you are able to do with ThinPC, and I have to agree…it's pretty amazing. The problem is that you're not allowed to do most of those things, and that's too bad. We've learned that customers are more than willing to ignore Microsoft's stance on IE6 virtualization if the end solution addresses their needs. I wonder if we'll see the same thing here.

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Damn dude.. I can't believe we made it almost eight years without using the word "svelte" in a blog post. Way to ruin that.


www.brianmadden.com/.../SearchResults.aspx


For WinTPC, I know this is a follow-on version to Windows Fundamentals (i.e. WinTPC is like "Win7 Fundamentals.").. but I wonder, did that ever really catch on? Is anyone out there using Fundamentals or planning on using WinTPC?


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I would advocate using WinTPC if the price was (or were?) part of a TS/SBS license. In fact, if this were the case, MS would possibly start to disrupt other vendors' offerings and even make their (MS) solutions more appealing for overall cost-benefit equation. Until then, svelte happens.


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Hi Gabe


I think you’re over complicating things…


The point of WinThinPC is to provide value to organisations which have already invested in Software Assurance.


Imagine…. A big corporate organisation has ensured all their desktop devices are entitled (via SA) to run the latest Microsoft desktop operating system.   In theory the organisation could deploy Windows 7 and all their productivity applications out to each of the desktop devices and manage them in the traditional ‘distributed PC computing’ style we all know.


However, the organisation notes that:


a) Not all of the existing desktop PC hardware would give a good Windows 7 experience when loaded with productivity apps


b) Delivering a hosted shared desktop, hosted virtual desktop or published applications would provide a much better experience for some devices.


This organisation could replace the desktop devices with thin clients and then pay for the appropriate RDS CAL or annual VDA license subscription, or they could leverage WinThinPC to instead re-purpose their existing desktop device with a cut-down desktop operating system and add some low impact connection software (RDP Client/Citrix Receiver etc)


Ideally the cut down operating system would offer the kind of experience that is granted to full desktop operating systems (Windows 7), but would have a reduced footprint, require less patching, need less support and yet still be managed and deployed using the toolset used to deliver the full Windows 7 desktops used in other areas of the organisation.


WinThinPC fulfils this exact requirement.  The organisation  continues to pay their SA subscription on the physical device, and for doing so, Microsoft provides a cut-down OS which can leverage rich Windows 7 client capabilities (such as RemoteFX, Citrix HDX Mediastream, Flash redirection, etc etc).  WinThinPC is an easy to deploy, relatively hardware agnostic operating system based on Windows 7 that Microsoft will continue to secure and patch.


Whilst the system requirements for WinThinPC may not be as low as some people would want (in comparison with WinFLP) it offers organisations a chance to extend the life of the existing PC devices and leverage the investment that they’ve already made in Software Assurance.


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Thanks, Simon - those are some great points, and I understand that WinTPC does bring value to a company that has already invested in SA.


Ultimately, there's three issues I have:


1. Windows XP can do most, if not all of what is needed to be a PC-turned-Thin Client, except run RemoteFX (which it CAN do, it's just not supported or even allowed). Instead of supporting that, Microsoft has said that Thin PC will be the preferred path.


2. When got my hands on Thin PC, at first I was in complete agreement with Microsoft. It's a great experience and it runs almost any app I'd want, remote or local, plus it supports RemoteFX. But the fact that you're not allowed to run productivity apps on ThinPC itself is what gets me.


What if an org just wants, as you describe, "the kind of experience that is granted to full desktop operating systems (Windows 7), but would have a reduced footprint, require less patching, need less support and yet still be managed and deployed using the toolset used to deliver the full Windows 7 desktops used in other areas of the organization"?


You're right that WinTPC fills this exact requirement, until you figure in the fact that the only thing you're allowed to do with it is play media, connect to the internet, and access remote applications. I wonder if you can even stream a "productivity app" to it, since that app would be executing locally. I'm guessing not.


3. An RDS CAL does not appear to grant you the ability to use Thin PC, which means that organizations that want to deliver RemoteFX RDS Sessions (which at this point is the easiest path to using RFX) are limited to Windows 7 SP1 clients or whatever thin clients support RemoteFX. This is another case where, with limited hardware, Windows XP RFX support would be useful. Thin PC would be too, if it ran apps locally.


The bottom line is that if organizations want flexibility, they're faced with a choice. Run ThinPC and shoehorn in any local apps they might want that aren't supported, or run XP (which they already own) and shoehorn in a RemoteFX client.


BTW - I don't have much of a problem with the licensing, other than the fact that owning an RDS CAL does not appear to entitle the machine to run Thin PC (which is yet another reason to support RemoteFX on XP). I'm not trying to get anything for free here…I'm just looking for ways to leverage existing hardware/software.


I guess if we drag this out until August 2014, it won't matter anymore :)


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I've been using WinFLP for a couple years now a open student lab of about 100 computers.  It's been a great way to extend the life of the existing hardware well beyond the typical lifecyle.  


We've been using provisioning server to boot them all and have played with different methods of presenting the WinFLP OS image to the clients.  At first we set it up as a web browser kiosk only image to a Citrix Web Interface.  That generally worked okay, but because this was an open lab with some students running Facebook, Youtube, Flash Games/etc during their downtime between classes we just didn't like the scenerio (and sometimes the servers didn't like it either).  We then switched the image to a "light" XP logging in to the domain and then just published the apps into the image.  The beauty of this model is that when just doing web browsing they leverage the local hardware, but we have very little to manage as far as software on the image.  


That said, MOST of the limitations in WinTPC seem to be acceptable, as we want a basic image with a browser, media player, and the Citrix receiver (to which Microsoft says: "We are working with our partners like Citrix to provide support for WinTPC using their products").  However I'm not willing to run any PC thin or not without some type of AV tool on the image.


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Hey Gabe - Good points both on the good and the bad...


We have customers using Thin Desktop and WinFLP...they like the combination of control + underlying functionality that remains intact. We have also successfully tested Thin Desktop with WinTPC - same result -customers like the fact that have control but also have access to drivers support, etc. from the underlying OS. Also, they REALLy like the idea of saving significant $$ when it comes to MS licensing costs. We have also tested our Thin Browse product with WinTPC - works fine right out of the box.


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The good new is "ointment" has still never been used:


www.brianmadden.com/.../LocalResults.aspx


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Love WinFLP meets the need. What is the need.


1) Best client for virtual desktop still by far Windows clients. Investment in Linus etc all behind and will continue to play catch up.


2) Ability to run the exceptional Windows productivity app for a whole host of reasons and where Reverse Seamless kicks in.


Item 2 is what concerns me. I am going to be lazy and ask Gabe the question instead of trying it as I am buried this month :-) Gabe, is the restriction to not install on ThinPC apps outside of the broad categories they mention a paper restriction or physical do they prevent it. I assume it's a paper restriction in which case I WILL ignore anything MS tells me.


I don't want a full PC, I need a way to manage exceptions. If MS try to stop me or make it hard, they are missing the point that I am trying to keep Windows on the client. If they act dumb, then I might as well move as many clients as possible to Linux etc.


MS wake up and build or OEM and release a free Reverse Seamless that's secure and integrated as part of RDP. Avoid that POS from RES, It's a complement to RemoteFX, don't fall for the RemoteFX will solve world hunger. Already know it sucks on a WAN.


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@VMware Guy - Not "Salve"! Svelte: en.wiktionary.org/.../svelte


@AppD - Yeah, everything I tried, spare MSE, worked great. I didn't go crazy, but Office 2010, Visio 2007, & Chrome all worked well. They're not allowed, but (at least during this beta) they work. The only thing I tried that was explicitly denied is managing any Features.


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The big problem with WinTPC is the system requirements, for example MS want at least 1GB of RAM. From them TPC will use around of 350MB without any active application.


As I see it, WinTPC should be used as an OS on old PCs we want to transform into a "thin clients" and just open a ICA\RDP\PCoIP connection from.


I saw some customers with a lot of PCs that have only 512MB of RAM.


Some MS guy told me that if you have a SA covered PC, they have no problem if you going to install a Linux on it and open the connection from it. And still not pay for the VDA. I still pretty sure it will "break" the free VDA option with SA covered PC. But whatever, if he rights, why I need this pretty heavy OS when I can use very light Linux?


It's like MS losing the point. Again.


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@Gadi Feldman "As I see it, WinTPC should be used as an OS on old PCs we want to transform into a "thin clients""... This is the exact purpose of WinTPC.


Also upgrading from 512 to 1GB is cheap as chips - certainly cheaper than a Thin Client or new PC.


The reason why WinTPC is so attractive is that there is no better Virtual Desktop client than a Windows workstation - FACT. Citrix, Quest, VMware all have feature rich Windows clients/agents (Flash re-direction and more) while Linux, OS X, etc lag behind. In addition to this, WinTPC can decode RemoteFX which is pretty important for MS.


Out of our 7000 workstations we see at least 2500 - 3000 (my guessing is more) where WinTPC is most likely going to be used.


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I would love to just be able to run an Outlook client on a laptop in Offline mode with this. That would give me the "svelteness" of a thin client with essentially the only "fat" functionality I'd be looking for from something like XenClient or NXTop.  99% of the time my Mobile users can connect to the network one way or another.  Until I can get them addicted to Angry Birds or something, they still want to do email in subway stations and tunnels.


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I am a little confused here.  Win 7 Thin is a version of Windows 7, but it is stripped down and installs on older PCs and only take 2GB of hard drive space.  It will run all my Apps that students PCs need (Office 2010, Firefox, NAV, Gimp) and works great even on an older 2GHz machine.  I own the license through my MS Agreeement to install it (or Windows 7 Enterprise) but I "can't" because the agreement says so.


Why?  I can strip Win 7 way down with RD7Lite, but it still takes 8GB of HS Space, and Win7 Thin only takes 2, and runs fantastic....  GRRRR


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