The annual Microsoft MVP conference is coming up next week at the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond. This is the gathering where more than 2000 MVPs get together to talk to the Microsoft product groups about the new products, features, and feedback. Longtime readers will remember that Ron Oglesby and I attended our first MVP conference three years ago, and it really opened our eyes as to how cool the terminal server product group at Microsoft was, and how they seemed genuinely interested in hearing our feedback.
There are now a total of 19 Terminal Server MVPs, and we've all gotten to be pretty close over the last several years. (I'm personally looking forward to meeting Gustavo Gurmandi and Eric Perromat--the two TS MVPs I haven't met yet.) And remember, anyone can be an MVP! All you have to do is join the conversation by writing blogs, answering forum questions, presenting at a user conference, etc.
Anyway, the three-day MVP conference is a mixture of us attending presentations by various technical folks and smaller interactive discussions with the product groups. This year, the Terminal Server product group is turning the tables and asking us, the MVPs, to prepare two presentations that we will deliver to them. The two topics are:
- Feedback on Longhorn Terminal Services: What are the top features of Longhorn TS that people like, and what additional features should Microsoft consider for Longhorn and beyond?
- The Terminal Server Community Impact: What's happening in the industry that we (the MVPs) think the Terminal Server product group should keep tabs on.
We MVPs have been discussing these topics via email over the past few weeks, and we decided to open up the discussion to the community-at-large. So I ask you, community, to please share your opinions. Let's take a look at some of the topics that we've discussed so far. (Before we do, I want to point out that I cannot take credit for all of these ideas myself. This list is based on the work of many people.)
What features would we like to see in terminal services?
This year, the terminal server product group asked us, the MVPs, to give a presentation to them about what features the community would most like to see in terminal services.
Internet Explorer on Terminal Server
There seem to be a lot of requests for the ability to have a more locked-down version of Internet Explorer for terminal server environments. Right now there are so many different policy settings that affect certain aspects of this, but there is no easy "make IE work on TS" button, and yet so many people use IE. Perhaps there could even be an IE "Lite" version for terminal services?
USB Drive Policies and Support
We already know that Terminal Server does a pretty good job working with client-side USB devices. Unfortunately, it's almost "too good" of a job, and client USB drives are hard to lock down since it's tough to differentiate them from regular client drives. Especially in today's world where self contained apps can run right off USB drives, it would be cool if there were some way to control what could and couldn't be done via a TS session from a client-side USB drive. Maybe this is as simple as better policy templates? Maybe not?
Help us with security and lockdown
In general, most people are getting to be more aware that Terminal Servers need to be locked down in special ways, but why is it that after almost a decade of Terminal Server, administrators must basically reinvent the wheel and search for the appropriate set of GPO settings with each new environment? How about a custom security template specifically made for terminal services? And maybe as soon as TS was installed, a wizard could pop up which guides the administrator through the process of applying the TS security template?
"Real" load balancing
In my mind, the biggest hole in the Longhorn TS feature list is some kind of "real" load balancing--something more than Windows NLB. NLB is fine for web servers and stuff, but the fact that basis its load algorithm completely on network load (i.e. the "N" in "NLB") means that it's not very useful in a Terminal Server environment.
This doesn't even have to be a TS product group enhancement. How hard would it be for the NLB team to modify the code so that it could load balance based on any perfmon counter? (My guess is that wouldn't be hard at all, but that would put Microsoft into the angry partner territory.)
Other feature requests?
In addition to the few requests we've outlined here, what else would you like to see in the core TS product from Microsoft? Better RDP printing? Patch management? Profile changes? Please share your ideas in the comments area of this article.
Longhorn features: Which ones do you like? Which ones don't you care about?
People have been discussing the features of Terminal Services for Longhorn for over three years. (In fact, out of the hundreds and hundreds of articles on this site, article #5--that's zero zero five--from July 2003 was about RDP 6.0.) If you're not familiar with the new terminal services features that Microsoft will add into Longhorn server, take a look at all that we've written on the topic.
But getting back to Microsoft's question, what features will people like most? And what features won't they care about?
Not to be disrespectful to anyone, but let's face it: the more "Citrix-like" features that are added, the happier people will be.
Specifically, I believe that the new terminal services web access (TSWA), combined with the Remote Programs (RP) feature in seamless windows mode will be huge. As will the fact that Microsoft is building in client peripheral device redirection at the UMDF level.
With regards to features that are not as exciting (or that are exciting to a subset of users), I think the TS Gateway falls into this category. (The TS Gateway is an RDP SSL-VPN gateway service that can proxy multiple SSL-encrypted RDP sessions through a single gateway server.) The reason I feel that the TS Gateway is not that interesting is because it only focuses on RDP, and most companies have a larger VPN strategy (be it IPSEC or SSL) for providing remote access. Especially considering that Microsoft bought SSL-VPN maker Whale Communications, I think that a lot of people will opt for the "real" SSL-VPN capabilities of ISA server instead of the "lite," RDP-only capabilities of the TS Gateway.
Then again, the TS Gateway has some advantages. First is the fact that it's built right into the Windows Server product and the new RDP clients, so all you have to do to use it on the client is check a box in the connection properties. Also, it's part of Microsoft's larger "Anywhere Access" strategy, which also includes Exchange's RPC over HTTP/S and the upcoming SMB over HTTP/S. Then again, I want to make sure that the TS group isn't spending too much time focusing on a feature that wouldn't be as useful as something else. (Are they? Share your thoughts in the comments!)
Keep in mind the perspective of Microsoft
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind moving forward is that Microsoft is Microsoft, and Citrix is Citrix. What I mean by that is that Citrix as a company is focused on technology that delivers applications to users. Microsoft is focused on the core platform. Of course the purpose of this article is not to be "another" Citrix versus Microsoft discussion, but such comparisons are inevitable when thinking about core TS feature enhancements.
So my point is that while Microsoft has many of the core application delivery components--Terminal Services with TS Web Access, Remote Programs, TS Gateway, ISA Server with SSL-VPN features, Softricity--they are primarily focused on the core application platform. Whether they can tie together these very different technologies from different product groups remains to be seen, and that's where Citrix excels. (By the way, I’m not suggesting that Microsoft should focus on this stuff per se. I’m saying that to me, this kind of holistic thinking is the next step in the evolution of TS. Now that they have all the basics covered, it’s time to make a strategy if they want to continue to grow their market share.)
Anyway, please share your ideas and opinions in the comments below. Are they more features that you'd like to see in Terminal Services? What Longhorn TS features do you like? What don't you care about? We'll aggregate all of the thoughts and comments for our presentation to the TS product group next week.