Desktop virtualization is still probably more often talked about than actually deployed, but analysts and vendors believe the expected mass migration to Windows 7 may be coupled with many new virtualization deployments.
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Virtualization of desktops, applications, and user settings may potentially speed up the process of moving users from an old desktop to a new Windows 7 machine, and solve application compatibility problems. However, the virtualization projects themselves are timely and costly -- although Microsoft did lower the Windows licensing costs for virtual desktops earlier this year -- so IT shops will have to examine the pros and cons closely.
Microsoft, though, gives nothing but high marks to desktop virtualization in a post on the Windows for your Business blog.
"As they move to Windows 7, we are seeing customers widely adopt the virtualization technologies," writes Microsoft Windows general manager Rich Reynolds. "This helps IT simplify deployment, migration and management of their desktop environments enabling faster service delivery, as well as centralize and secure data, and makes applications and user state available regardless of locale."
Reynolds goes on to say that "Leveraging these benefits can get customers to Windows 7 more quickly and easily, so we recommend all our Windows 7 customers look into how desktop virtualization can help their migration."
Microsoft, of course, is pushing its own virtualization products to help with Windows 7 upgrades, recently updating the Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization to improve compatibility with legacy applications and create more options for running Web apps that require the outdated Internet Explorer 6.
"Desktop virtualization will make tasks easier through technology and Microsoft virtualization provides the ability to separate the desktop into layers: User State, App, and OS," Reynolds writes.
Windows 7 includes an XP Mode and a Virtual PC technology to run older operating systems. However, Microsoft has many strong competitors in desktop virtualization and is unlikely to dominate this market in the same way that it dominates the operating system market.
Citrix and VMware are the biggest contenders, with each vendor offering both desktop and application virtualization software. VMware, for example, upgraded its ThinApp application virtualization software this year to migrate applications from older versions of Windows to Windows 7, noting that many customers face complications in moving legacy apps to a new operating system.
But Citrix and VMware are far from the only alternatives to Microsoft. The likes of Dell, AppSense, Liquidware Labs, Parallels, Tranxition, Viewfinity, Zinstall, and Symantec's Ghost and Altiris all make tools that help move either business users or consumers to Windows 7. (See slideshow to view some of these products.)