Today a laptop, tomorrow a user-experience delivery vehicle

Derek Schauland is excited about the workstation trends he sees developing with the upcoming releases of Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7. He sees easier provisioning of equipment and reduced user downtimes.

Now that the Release Candidate of Windows 7 is available, and we are quickly approaching the RTM dates for both Windows 7 (October 2009) and Windows Server 2008 R2, I thought it would be a good opportunity to look at the features that promise some of the biggest changes coming to workstations.

While attending Tech Ed recently, I heard a lot of talk about a concept that seems too good to be true -- the separation of the various components of the user experience, allowing for faster provisioning of hardware and user readiness.

For example, suppose one of my users spills a huge cup of coffee on the keyboard of her laptop. Usually a new laptop would need to be acquired, the OS and applications reloaded, common data restored, and finally sent to the user -- a process that could take 2-3 weeks if the new hardware has to be ordered from the manufacturer. Now suppose that you could solve that problem, instead, in about the time it takes to eat your lunch and play a couple of games of Solitaire.

Windows 7 runs great on new hardware, but it also runs quite well on some older hardware, which may allow for better repurposing of equipment within your organization if you happen to have some extra laptops lying around for various uses.

Getting things rolling again on one of these older laptops should be a cinch if you use folder redirection to ensure that the user's My Documents (now, their Documents Library) is stored on a server; this removes the worry about data being unavailable when the machine arrives. Keeping the desktop and other user-specific items in a roaming profile -- though somewhat less efficient depending on bandwidth -- also ensures that the user would be able to access their desktop by logging on to the network.

You can take advantage of these methods already on Windows XP or Vista, but features like Direct Access, which tunnels to corporate resources using only the Internet (no VPN required), and application virtualization (APP-V) in upcoming versions of Windows can take this to the next level. Using APP-V, the Office client would not need to be loaded on the replacement laptop before it got sent to the user; it could be streamed to them and work just as expected.

These features -- some new, some not -- can improve the end-user experience overall. Something tells me that the possible delay in the logon process might cause some frustration at first, but the potential for making a laptop or other PC deployable to the end user with little to no configuration sounds like quite a big leap forward in technology to me. The concept of making the laptop or PC hardware merely a vehicle to carry the user experience to the employees is one of the coolest concepts yet, and I hope to look at it more when I can acquire some more capable testing gear.