One of the great advantages of desktop virtualization is the opportunity to reduce the costs and complexities associated with managing personal computers distributed across the organization. Desktop virtualization centralizes all of the tricky stuff in the data center where it is far more manageable. But does that mean you need to replace all of your existing PCs with thin clients? Thankfully not. There’s an alternative, and the new Windows Thin PC operating system from Microsoft is an important new solution to help organizations join the desktop virtualization revolution with a lower upfront investment. Windows Thin PC (“WinTPC” for short) is a skinnied down version of Windows 7 that makes it practical and cost-effective to repurpose existing PCs as easier-to-manage “thin clients”. Windows Thin PC reached its RTM milestone on June 7th and will become generally available for download on July 1, 2011.

But just how skinny is Windows Thin PC? Did Microsoft go too far? Can WinTPC deliver a true “HDX” high definition user experience? Can users receive full fidelity audio, high definition video and Windows 7 Aero 3D graphics on these devices? Yes! WinTPC does not compromise the user experience.

Ready to give it a try? You’ll need the new Tech Preview software that we introduced at Synergy San Francisco last month. At citrix.com/techpreview you’ll find the latest XenDesktop VDI, Hosted Shared Desktop (XenApp) and Citrix Receiver technologies.

The Tech Preview software supports two alternatives for delivering Windows 7 with Aero to PCs running the new WinTPC operating system:

  1. With Aero Redirection, a XenDesktop VDI feature, you can leverage the graphics processor on the user’s PC. This requires an Aero-capable integrated graphics processor or graphics card. Basically, that means support for DirectX 9 and PixelShader 2.0, which means this approach should work with most PCs manufactured within the last few years, provided they have a fast enough processor (2 GHz dual core recommended) to decode the highly compressed data stream. Using this method, you can also redirect Adobe Flash and Windows Media video to the endpoint for local rendering, which helps maximize server scalability, keeping your costs down.
  2. To support older PCs that don’t meet the minimum specs for Aero Redirection, you can install graphics cards in the data center for server-side Aero rendering, and deliver the Windows 7 desktop using RemoteFX, another new Microsoft technology. Thanks to the GPU virtualization capabilities of RemoteFX on Hyper-V, each graphics card can support multiple users. And there are a variety of new hardware platforms now on the market from all the leading vendors with multi-GPU support.

Of course, if Aero graphics isn’t important to you, you don’t need Aero-capable graphics processors anywhere.  You can access your virtual desktop over our regular Thinwire virtual channel, which is also the most bandwidth efficient option.

To try out either of these alternatives, download the Tech Preview versions of XenDesktop (VDI) and the Citrix Receiver for Windows. You can also use the new Citrix Receiver for Windows on WinTPC to access apps and desktops delivered from XenApp, although the Aero graphics effects are not available when using this FlexCast method.

WinTPC is available as a benefit of Software Assurance (SA) and hence does not represent any additional cost for SA customers, giving it another cost advantage.

My take on Windows Thin PC? I think it’s great news. By making it practical and cost-effective for customers to repurpose PCs as thin clients, Microsoft is giving the desktop virtualization market a major boost. And with Citrix HDX technologies to ensure a great user experience, this is a win-win for both IT and end users.

Derek Thorslund
Citrix Product Strategist, HDX