UE-V: Roaming Profiles That Actually Work?
Microsoft may finally solve a major Windows admin headache with this addition to the Microsoft Desktop Optimization package.
- By Greg Shields
Finish this sentence: "Roaming profiles _____." For most of us, that final word is probably "stink." Roaming profiles in Windows are a nagging thorn in IT's side. We want them to work, sometimes desperately. They never really have. Yet in situations such as Remote Desktop Services (RDS), we need them to work.
In many cases we'll convince ourselves they are working. Deep down, though, we know they really aren't.
Users want a seamless experience wherever they log in. They want that experience delivered instantaneously, adding zero friction to the login/logout process. They also want anything they do on this computer to be automatically, transparently and immediately replicated over to that computer.
Reality disagrees. Lacking third-party assistance, roaming profiles have never truly delivered on any of these wants.
All this could change, however, with the aid of Microsoft User Environment Virtualization (UE-V). Ignore for a minute its egregious extension of the overused "virtualization" buzzword (must everything be "virtualization" these days?). This surprise addition to the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Package (MDOP) lineup could be the company's first step toward roaming profiles that actually work.
Elegant in Its Simplicity
UE-V is remarkable first in how quiet Microsoft kept the project during development. Code-named "Park City," Microsoft unveiled the solution to a select group of Microsoft Application Virtualization, or App-V, and RDS MVPs last February at its MVP Summit in Redmond, Wash. We'd never heard of it before. Cursory Web searches turned up nothing. Most of us liked what we saw and demanded to know more. It took until early April for Microsoft to publicly announce the existence of UE-V.
Does it work? Admittedly, UE-V isn't the all-encompassing platform you'll find in mature third-party solutions such as AppSense, RES, Immidio, triCerat and others. It's a somewhat-simple solution in comparison. That said, there's deeply buried elegance in that simplicity, if you're willing to do the work.
Settings of interest to UE-V are first configured in templates. These XML-format templates look keenly similar to those used in customizing the Microsoft User State Migration Toolkit (USMT). In fact, if you're one of the handful of IT pros who've mastered USMT customization, you'll find yourself well-prepared for generating your own UE-V templates. The overarching concepts share notable similarity.
Luckily, generating templates by hand needn't be part of the experience. Also included is a GUI tool called Generator. This nifty little tool "watches" an application to log where it modifies file and registry settings. Using the tool is simple: Launch it, specify an application to watch, then launch that application and fiddle with its settings. Once you're comfortable you've toggled enough switches and buttons, Generator will generate a template.
UE-V requires an agent on every desktop and centers its actions on the launching and closing of configured applications.
Is UE-V a game-changer? Potentially, if you haven't already bought into a third party's solution. It does stand to deliver on user wants -- including a seamless experience across multiple logins, delivered (almost) instantaneously, without adding login/logout friction. And, for administrators willing to do the work, it appears to proficiently replicate the experience on one computer to another
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Greg Shields is a senior partner and principal technologist with Concentrated Technology. He also serves as a contributing editor and columnist for TechNet Magazine and Redmond magazine, and is a highly sought-after and top-ranked speaker for live and recorded events. Greg can be found at numerous IT conferences such as TechEd, MMS and VMworld, among others, and has served as conference chair for 1105 Media’s TechMentor Conference since 2005. Greg has been a multiple recipient of both the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional and VMware vExpert award.