Microsoft Bangs Drum For Key Desktop Virtualization Feature

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As part of its quest to demonstrate that its virtualization portfolio is ready for prime time, Microsoft is playing up User State Virtualization, a desktop virtualization functionality built into Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate editions.

User State Virtualization reflects the specific needs of mobile workers: By separating user settings from the PC and storing it in a central location, it allows users to work with a familiar Windows look and feel when logging into multiple different PCs. In cases where a notebook goes missing, the feature also allows IT to quickly get that user back up and running.

"Because the data is stored centrally and delivered on demand when the user logs in, they get their Windows experience immediately regardless of the location they log in," said Karri Alexion-Tiernan, director of product management for Microsoft Desktop Virtualization, in a Tuesday blog post.

User State Virtualization isn't just about roaming profiles, however: It also includes a feature called folder re-direction, which can be configured through group policy to replicate user data to a shared network location, thereby cutting the size of user profiles and speeding Windows 7 upgrades. In Windows XP there are five folders that can be redirected, but Microsoft has bumped this to 13 in Windows 7.

"We heard from customers that they needed more flexibility in what could be redirected because users were storing their data in more places. With these improvements, IT can reduce the size of the roaming profile even further," A.J. Smith, Microsoft product manager for User State Virtualization, said in a separate Tuesday blog post.

Another feature, called offline folders, stores copies of files locally to allow users to work while they're out of network range, and synchronizes their changes to a shared network location later on.

Rand Morimoto, president of Convergent Computing, an Oakland, Calif.-based solution provider and Microsoft partner, says User State Virtualization is ideal for companies that run physical systems, remote desktop (terminal server) systems, and VDI guest session users.

"While most IT folks are familiar with basic 'roaming profiles,' that was only part of the user configuration," said Morimoto. "User State Virtualization expands basic roaming profiles and brings along offline folders and content, effectively bringing along more than just favorites and desktop info, but really all of the stuff users use on a day to day basis."

User State Virtualization is one of three pillars in Microsoft's desktop virtualization story (application virtualization and OS virtualization are the others), and it's a feature that helps illustrate the added value in Windows 7 while at the same time making the transition from XP to Windows 7 a smoother one.

As Microsoft looks to scour the last remaining vestiges of XP from the IT landscape, we can expect to hear more in the coming months about how it's making life easier for customers and partners.

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