Microsoft's "User State Virtualization" is a joke

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.

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."

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.

Join the conversation


Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.

In my experience Waggener Edstrom aren't usually that bad, there must be some reason for MS pushing them to promote this. Besides its so much more fun to bash MS.

That aside, I think you have nailed it.

Just one thing, as BYOC takes hold, how do we extend persona management beyond the boundaries defined by current USV solutions that are limited to managing personas controlled within AD?

Sorry, I still can't accept user virtualization as appropriate terminology here, maybe post December 17th




The ability to Sync the profile has nothing to do with even the MS version of user virtualisation, it's to address the fact that many users simply never log off.


Indeed. I have tweeted about this time and again:

One addition: settings stored in a user profile are not only inherently coupled to the version of the OS but also to install path, language and version of the application writing them - if user state virtualization were a reality, those properties would not matter, since the data would be virtualized, right?


When your only tool is a hammer...

It is what it is.


I totally agree with you, Brian.

What's even more sad is the fact that they already have the needed technology to deliver a true USV solution, and this technology is at the heart of App-V.


Preach on!


Fine, no more wallpaper. Mouse pointer? I once heard: "I want my arrow thingy to turn into a baby rattle when it's thinking again."

Thank you, Microsoft. Those that implement USV and nothing more are what we call "Job Security"


Since the bar is lower now, American Greetings has a USV solution:


But Microsoft USV is free with Windows.

Why spend all that money on those other solutions?

Oh yeah, because they actually work.

Think we've seen this scenario somewhere before...


(*** Disclaimer: I work for a User Virtualization Vendor – AppSense. ***)

Thanks Brian, while I welcome the Microsoft move towards managing the user component of the desktop, I agree that Profile Management and Folder Redirection is not User Virtualization (UV).

While USV can serve a purpose in some environments – however as both you and our customer base have found, it does not meet the enterprise requirements associated with managing the user component of the desktop in complex, heterogeneous environments.

One reason for this is that the way we deliver desktops and assets has changed – for years we have had the main options of Physical Desktop or Server-Based Computing (TS/RDS, XenApp etc)  but now, with demanding users, their own accessing devices, multiple locations, multiple delivery mechanisms and desktop platforms and application versions – we have moved away from traditional desktop management, beyond device based desktop management, and are now in the User-Based Computing era.

Desktops must be Personalized AND Configured with policy at a user level.  What is available in USV forms one of the many parts of a UV solution.  Best practice is to start with the user layer and configure the OS and App components dynamically to create fit for purpose compliant desktops, with all required peripherals mapped, application access entitlement, user rights management, security, user installed application and personalization etc...

Yes agree with both you Brian and Helge; personalization settings must no longer be profile based – Brian and Helge rightly state that the profile does not capture all user settings, and the settings that are captured and do reside in the profile are often tied to the specific OS, delivery mechanism, App version, site location etc..   To manage user personalization successfully, you must capture EVERYTHING and then be able to apply it back onto ANY desktop or application, REGARDLESS of platform, version, delivery mechanism or location.

But what else goes into managing the user? Basic personalization management aside – the user component of the desktop encompasses so much more; dynamic policy must be applied to set-up and configure the desktop based on the context of both the user and their accessing device, not only at logon, but throughout the user session as they interact with the application set.  Permissions must be controlled on a per application or task basis.  Lockdown policies must be dynamic in that they automatically change as the user moves between locations such as from within a LAN to offline or remote connection.  User Installed Applications must follow the user between delivery mechanisms and accessing devices.  System settings and protected files, folders, process, services etc must all be self healed if altered...

So agreeing with Brian, based on the above – Roaming Profiles + Redirection options is a step in the right direction.... but it is not User Virtualization..

I am sometimes asked how big is the UV market, and have seen this question on here also.. so to address this at the same time; the User Virtualization market is here, has been for some time (around 10 years now), and is continuing to grow – with a great mix of products and solutions available with various level of functionality and scalability to meet the needs of small to enterprise organizations.  

To put the existing market size into perspective; AppSense have sold circa 10million user licences, combine that with RES, LiquidWare, triCerat, Sepago, Immidio, Scense etc.. there could be 20 million users out there, 20million users whose IT departments saw the value in paying for a user management solution, not only for the ease of management in now managing the user component of the desktop, but because without it, Roaming Profiles and Folder Redirection are technically not feasible in today’s world..

I am glad to see Microsoft making a move into this space as it acknowledges the requirement to manage the user component of the desktop, however based on their current offering, i see the UV specialists continuing to drive the way in which we manage our user base.




Definitely them