I’ve previously written about Eiger, the codename for a product from Microsoft that will convert a legacy PC into a Windows-based thin client device. Microsoft has officially announced that this product will be available in March 2006 and called “Windows Fundamentals.” There’s a catch, though. You can’t just go out and buy Windows Fundamentals. It will only be available as part of Microsoft’s volume licensing program to customers who have Software Assurance. This means that it’s for customers who buy Windows XP but who can’t run it yet.
Confused? Let’s go through a quick example:
Imagine a company has 3,000 desktops. Microsoft wants to move them to a volume license agreement with Software Assurance. (“Software Assurance” is Microsoft’s version of license maintenance. Instead of having to budget for a new version of each application every few years, you just pay a smaller annual fee to be “assured” that you’ll always be licensed for the newest stuff.)
So the Microsoft sales rep wants to sell Software Assurance to this company with 3,000 desktops, giving the company the ability to use Windows XP Pro on all 3,000. However, the company’s IT director says, “No way. Of our 3,000 desktops, only 500 are new enough to run Windows XP, so I’m not buying Software Assurance for 3,000 desktops since I will only get the value on 500 of them.”
Now, with Windows Fundamentals, the Microsoft sales rep can answer with, “But wait! You should still buy Software Assurance for all 3,000. Then install XP Pro on 500 and Windows Fundamentals on the other 2500. As those PCs are replaced, you’re already licensed for XP Pro!”
Windows Fundamentals is derived from Windows XP Professional with SP2. However, most of the “standard” XP functionality is stripped out, leaving a core OS that’s designed to run the RDP or ICA clients, a browser, management and security agents, document viewers, and (of course) the .NET Framework.
Since Fundamentals is built on XP Pro, you can add Fundamentals machines to your domain and lock them down via Group Policy or manage them via SMS. (All your management tools will see these things as XP SP2 clients.) You can also patch them in the same way that you patch standard XP workstations.
Even though Windows Fundamentals is software-based (i.e. you install it onto a standard PC’s hard drive), Microsoft is offering some capabilities that allow all changes to be written to a disposable part of the drive so that anything a user changes is lost when the client is rebooted. (In this sense, Fundamentals acts a bit like Windows XP Embedded.)
What's the impact?
All-in-all, Windows Fundamentals will help bring more people into the Windows-managed world (which is not the same thing as the server-based computing world). I mean it certainly can't hurt the up-take of Terminal Server or Citrix, I'm just not sure how many companies out there are going to pay for Windows XP (via client Software Assurance) and then run on old hardware. I think that in reality, we'll see this account for a small percentage of legacy desktops in environments where Software Assurance has been purchased. I don't think anyone is going to use Windows Fundamentals as a final-state thin client computing solution.
I also don't think that Windows Fundamentals will impact thin client makers or other software-based thin client products since it won't be released as a normal Microsoft product.
The bottom line is that Windows Fundamentals is a brilliant move for Microsoft because it lets them get their management tendrils on more client devices that wouldn't ordinarily be manageable by them, and that's it's real impact.