Change the Device, Keep Your Experience

This morning on the Windows for your Business blog, we announced a new Desktop Virtualization product called Microsoft User Experience Virtualization (UE-V), which will be available via the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) once it’s complete. The central idea of UE-V is to enable users to keep their Windows and application experience regardless of what device they use to access Windows and their apps. We have heard from many of you that your users have multiple devices to access their corporate applications and content. To support this, we are seeing organizations adopting desktop virtualization technologies, including Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V), RDS session-based desktops, and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).

So what do we mean by “experience”? Think about how you use Windows and productivity applications. If you’re like most users, you have configured specific options just the way you like them – from toolbars that are turned on or off, to font size preferences, or how often autosave kicks in. This is your personalized experience. In the many conversations I’ve had with organizations addressing consumerization, IT Professionals have expressed the challenge of delivering a consistent look and feel to desktops and applications when their users access their experience from more than one delivery method or device.

Let’s consider a scenario to illustrate this problem. You have a user named Jill in the finance department of your organization. She does not travel much and works from the same desk every day using a desktop computer where all of her applications are installed locally. Like most users she rarely logs off her machine and locks it every night when she leaves. She has spent some time configuring Windows 7 and her applications just the way she likes them to help her be productive.

Every few months, Jill travels to another office to participate in budget planning meetings. For these trips, IT temporally grants her access to a RDS session based desktop. In this delivery model, IT takes advantage of App-V to get better scale per RDS server. Jill doesn’t realize this because her applications just work. Each time Jill uses the RDS desktop, she has to reconfigure her applications and desktop experience. This is because the experience does not roam between Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, and the different application delivery methods used.

With UE-V deployed in the company, Jill would not have to do this. She would no longer need to reconfigure the OS and applications when she went to the other office. UE-V can automatically keep her Windows 7 experience from her desktop – even the background picture of her family – and roam them to her virtual RDS desktop. UE-V also does this for her applications by including items she has configured in Word 2010, like the quick access toolbar, or the database server her line of business application needs to connect to in order to work properly. The other great benefit is that although IT chose to use virtual apps in the RDS session, it doesn’t impact Jill’s experience. UE-V seamlessly moves the personalized settings between traditional and virtual applications.

Another great feature of UE-V is when we capture and load the experience information. Compared to traditional roaming solutions that only capture the experience at login and logoff, UE-V uses additional triggers to capture and load the experience, reducing delays. For applications, we use the trigger of opening the application to apply the experience and then closing the same program to gather it. This way, if you make any changes to the look and feel of the app, we quickly roam this to another instance of the application. This also means that we can decrease the Windows login time compared to other roaming settings solutions since all we need to load at login is just the Windows experience. For the operating system triggers, we use login and log off, screen lock and unlock and RDS session connect and disconnect.

Jill gets her great experience, but what does IT have to do to roam the experience for the application and OS? At a high level, IT needs to deploy the UE-V agent to all the machines (physical or virtual) that they want to enable roaming on. UE-V also needs a settings location template for each roaming application. These XML-based templates are used to tell the agent what applications should have their experience roamed, and where in the file system and registry the settings are stored. In the beta release of UE-V, we provide settings location templates for Windows 7, Windows 8 Consumer Preview, and the Microsoft Office 2010 suite. If IT needs to support more applications, they can create their own templates using the UE-V Generator. The UE-V Generator is a wizard-based tool that automates the creation of the settings location template. All the IT Pro has to do is point the tool to the executable for the application, watch the application open (so that it can read and write settings to file system and registry), close out of the application, and choose the locations they want to add to the template.

This last step where the UE-V Generator shows you where an application writes and reads from in the file system and registry is crucial. These locations are split up into two groups: standard and nonstandard locations. Standard locations are areas on the machine where you would typically find settings written to, like C:usersjillappdataroaming or HKCUSoftwareMicrosoft. Nonstandard locations are places where an application might write if it assumes you have administrative rights, like C:Windows or HKLM location in the registry. By default, the UE-V Generator will assume that you want to roam all the standard locations but none of the nonstandard locations. You should review both sets of locations and decide which locations you do or don’t want to roam.

Here is a quick screenshot of what the review process looks like in the UE-V Generator:

generator

Another important task is helping users rollback settings to a known “good” point, an issue we hear about often from IT Pros. Sometimes users change settings that they don’t mean to. For example, they accidently drag and drop a toolbar to a new location and don’t know how they did it. The user typically calls the help desk to get it fixed. Sometimes the help desk does not know the application well enough to fix this and the only solution is to delete the user’s profile and have them reconfigure every application, instead of just the one they need help with. With UE-V, the help desk does not need to do this. Now they can roll back the application’s experience to when UE-V first saw that application launch and get the user back up and running. All other application and OS experience information is not touched.

Beyond the agent, the settings location template, and the UE-V Generator, there is one other piece needed to roam Jill’s experience: a remote location to sync the experience information. This information is stored in a settings package that is synced from the machine to a file share on the corporate network. The file share can be the users’ home drive mapped in Active Directory or another location that is configured on agent install or through group policy. If disconnected from the corporate network, the settings packages are cached on the local machine and any changes will be synced when connectivity to the share is restored.

The last thing I want to discuss is how UE-V integrates and scales, leveraging your investments in existing tools. A software distribution system like System Center Configuration Manager or group policy can be used to deploy the UE-V agent and settings location templates. If you plan on using System Center Configuration Manager 2012, we will release a desired configuration management (DCM) pack to help you keep the agent configuration consistent across the organization. UE-V also heavily leverages Windows PowerShell, so all the knowledge you have in creating PowerShell scripts to automate tasks can be utilized. As I mentioned earlier, UE-V also works with the Microsoft Desktop Virtualization products like RDS, VDI and App-V, so that there is nothing to configure in these products to make them work seamlessly with UE-V. All the logic happens inside the UE-V agent.

UE-V will be available in a future version of MDOP, but the beta is available for you to download and evaluate how it can help you deliver a consistent experience for your users. The UE-V Beta can be downloaded here (Windows Live ID required). You can also watch a short overview video about UE-V on the MDOP Video Zone on the Springboard Series on TechNet.