Today marks the day the traditional, boring, XenApp published desktop dies!

“Huh? Is that possible?” you may gasp. Indeed it is!

With the first release of the XenApp 6 Service Provider Automation Pack, we’ve made it easy for service providers (and XenApp admins alike) to deploy a rich published desktop experience on XenApp 6 for their end users and customers. Don’t believe me? I’ll give you a few minutes to digest this …

(Note: The Automation Pack is currenlty only available to CSP Partners)

I promise this isn’t a fancy Photoshopped picture of a Windows 7. It’s also not XenDesktop. This is a published desktop being delivered via XenApp (on Windows Server 2008 R2). Better yet it’s XenApp 6 … which means you can start rebranding and beautifying your desktops today!

The XenApp 6 Service Provider Automation Pack (a series of PowerShell scripts) is one of the first deliverables from the newly formed Cloud Application Delivery Group within Citrix. A subset of the scripts being delivered focuses on transforming the default published desktop experience within XenApp to the one you see above (leveraging the Windows Desktop Experience role, Windows Themes service, and custom Active Directory policies).

Note: This deliverable formalizes the recent blog postings from one of the Cloud Application Delivery Groups Architects, Ashish Gujarathi, found here and here.

Don’t worry, my friendly administrators, we haven’t done away with the Windows server desktop you’ve grown to love. In fact, since we leverage custom Active Directory policies, there’s choice in whose desktop is altered. Below you can see a different user, connecting to the same published desktop. This particular user is not configured to have the Citrix Desktop Experience policies applied. The result is the default look and feel of a Windows Server 2008 desktop.

While functional for an admin, delivering a desktop like this to end users or customers may have them scratching their heads, quite confused. Utilizing the Automation Pack to revive your desktop offering will not only make a Desktop as a Service offering even more appealing, but these same end users will finally be able to enjoy a custom branded, personalized, IT experience.

Note: The download of the Automation Pack is currenlty only available to CSP Partners

Besides the obvious theming and background changes, there are subtleties to point out about the above transformed published desktop. We’ve taken into account minute details that help deliver an overall better experience for your end users.

A Few Examples are:

  • Applying Microsoft policies and settings that follow best practices restricting user access to the server desktop.
  • Removal of low utilized, pinned, applications for the end user (like Server Manager and PowerShell) from the taskbar, while adding more accustomed defaults (like Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player).
  • Adding the XPS viewer to the user’s application list.
  • Relocating and restricting access to the Citrix Administration tools from the start menu (relocated to Administrative Tools -> Citrix folder on the start menu).
  • Availability to allow or restrict user personalization of the themed desktop.

Speaking a little further on the first bullet point … In order to provide guidance on securing hosted desktops, we’ve taken our time to pour over numerous Microsoft policies and settings to alleviate some of the guess work (Yes, admins, we feel your pain!). The result is an all-inclusive PowerShell script that creates a resultant set of 4 policies within your domain ( high five! )

I encourage any IT administrators delivering desktops to start off by reviewing the official documentation for the Citrix App Delivery Setup Tools (found here). Also, keep your eyes peeled for follow up blogs that offer a deeper dive into customizing the above experience.

Finally, as a few parting words to our beloved Citrix Admins and Service Providers:

I know, in the IT world, there are very few chances for end users to recognize your hard work. I’m hoping that the Automation Pack will provide a chance for your inboxes to be flooded with praise instead of problems.

Enjoy! And keep the feedback (service provider community) coming to help shape future development.

John Cattaneo

[Updated: July 5th]

[Video Overview] – Installing / Configuring the Desktop Experience for XenApp 6.0

Learn More @ Citrix Synergy 2011

Interested in learning more about the above technology? Join us at Citrix Synergy in the Tech Lab or for some of the following sessions, and get your questions answered:

  • Start out with a discussion on what we feel is the most exciting opportunity within Cloud App Delivery – the desktop – more specifically the Desktop as a Service (DaaS). Since the proof is in the pudding, we’ll do more than just talk about DaaS, we’ll see it in action. Bob Bye, President of nGenx Corporation will join the discussion and talk about nGenx’s success with DaaS and the CSP program. SUM114 – Deliver managed hosted desktops as a service, Tuesday May 24 at 10:00 AM.
  • On Wednesday we’ll explore role service providers can play in an enterprise IT organization. Whether it’s more gracefully (and economically!) handling a seasonal work load (think tax preparation), trialing a new business app or simply avoiding further datacenter expansion, service providers can and do play an increasing vital role in today’s enterprises. SYN316 – Hosting apps and desktops in the cloud: considerations for leveraging service providers, Wednesday May 25 at 4:30 PM and Friday May 27 at 11:00 AM.