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Windows Thin PC Hits RTM Milestone

Microsoft announced today that its Windows Thin PC (WinTPC) solution has reached its release-to-manufacturing milestone (RTM), with general availability expected on July 1.

RTM usually means, in Microsoft's parlance, that the software is available to hardware manufacturers for imaging on new products. However, WinTPC is a bit different. It's designed to run on existing older PCs, repurposing them as thin clients. WinTPC is virtual desktop infrastructure technology, based on the Window Embedded Standard 7 codebase, that can run on any PC that is capable of running Windows 7.

Microsoft describes WinTPC as a "locked-down version of Windows 7" with a user interface that's similar to its Windows 7 desktop operating system. WinTPC is able to take advantage of some of Windows 7's security features, such as BitLocker and AppLocker. It features a smaller footprint, resulting in a smaller attack surface. It also uses write filters that prevent users and applications from writing to the device's hard disk, so the OS reverts to a "pristine" state on reboot. WinTPC instead writes to a virtual hard disk that gets discarded when the session ends.

Microsoft's hardware partners Hewlett-Packard and Wyse Technologies have created new thin-client devices that can run WinTPC. However, those devices were available before Microsoft's official RTM date. The RTM date for WinTPC was June 1, according to a Microsoft FAQ (PDF).

Microsoft previously released WinTPC as a release candidate test version back in May. A beta test version is still available via the Microsoft Connect site here (requires Windows Live ID and signup). The beta will continue to be available until July 1, according to Microsoft's announcement.

For the RTM version, Microsoft incorporated community technology preview feedback, adding three new features. IT pros can now lock down certain keys, such as Ctrl + Alt + Delete (which provides access to Windows Task Manager). Microsoft also added support for international keyboards with the RTM. Finally, IT pros can now activate using the key management server or multiple activation key process, according to Microsoft's announcement.

Despite now having international keyboard support, the RTM will only be supported in English, according to Microsoft's FAQ. Microsoft did not provide additional information on whether other languages would be supported.

Microsoft plans to add Forefront Endpoint Protection support for WinTPC sometime in the third quarter of this year. The solution can already be managed using System Center Configuration Manager and Windows Embedded Device manager 2011. Citrix's Receive technology also works with WinTPC, allowing access via Citrix XenApp or XenDesktop.

There are a few caveats to using WinTPC. For instance, it doesn't support running productivity applications, such as Microsoft Office. The only applications supported by WinTPC are those that can run on terminal emulation and Remote Desktop Services, plus apps based on the .NET Framework and Java Virtual Machine. Other supported apps are document viewers, instant messaging clients, media players and Web browsers.

WinTPC is a benefit for those who have the Software Assurance (SA) licensing option in place. However, the PC used as a thin client running WinTPC has to have SA licensing rights plus an existing Windows 7 client (Professional, Business, Ultimate or Enterprise editions). If it doesn't, organizations would have to purchase a Windows Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) license for the PC or buy a Windows Intune subscription for the PC, according to Microsoft's FAQ.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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