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Virtualizing Shared Computers

Updated: September 22, 2010

Applies To: Windows 7

A physical computer with Windows 7 installed on it is the best way to provide a rich experience for users sharing a computer. However, it is not the only way. Virtualization can also enable shared-computer scenarios. The Microsoft Virtualization website describes the types of virtualization that Microsoft offers. The following Microsoft technologies can help businesses virtualize shared-access computers:

  • Windows Virtual PC   Windows Virtual PC is a free download for Windows 7 that provides desktop virtualization on the client. Although Windows Virtual PC does not provide the deployment and management features of other Microsoft virtualization products, it is a simple solution to shared-access computing. For example, you can use the Undo Disks tool to restore virtual machines to their original state. The Virtual PC Guy's Blog contains numerous scripts that you can use to automate various tasks. The drawback to using Windows Virtual PC in Ben’s scenario is that preventing users from accessing the host computer is difficult. For more information, see Windows Virtual PC.

  • Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V)   MED-V is part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP), and it adds the missing deployment and management features to Windows Virtual PC. You can more easily provision virtual machines to users and control them. However, because MED-V relies on Windows Virtual PC to run virtual machines, it has the same limitations in shared-computer scenarios: Preventing users from accessing the physical computer is difficult. For more information, see Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V).

  • Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)   With VDI, businesses host users’ desktops in the datacenter. Users access those desktops by using Remote Desktop Connection. VDI has the potential to be viable in shared-computer scenarios. You can put thin clients in public areas instead of rich clients. Then, employees can access their own virtual desktops from the datacenter. In this case, the thin client is shared, but the desktop experience is not. You can also provide access to shared virtual desktops. In this case, the thin client and the desktop experience are shared. The benefit is that you can heavily manage the virtual desktop from a central location. Additionally, you can write scripts to add capabilities such as reverting to a snapshot when a user logs off of the desktop. See Operating system virtualization for more information.

  • Application Virtualization (App-V)   App-V is part of MDOP. By itself, App-V does not provide the capability to virtualize shared computers. However, App-V can add value to shared computers by giving users access to their applications from any shared computer they use. For more information, see Application Virtualization.

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