Microsoft User Experience Virtualization

Who dreams up these names eh?  Who knows… Well actually I do, usually it’s Microsoft.  User Experience Virtualisation is a new user state virtualisation tool that’s just gone into public beta.

Whatever OS you use, all of your personal settings and preferences are likely to be kept together separate from others so that each person that uses the computer can customise it to their liking.  These profiles hold details of the OS setup, application specific config and even documents.  In both Windows 7 and Mac OS X this all sits in the ‘Users’ folder.  That’s all well and good, but what if you use more than one computer?

These days the ability to make this profile information available across many (or any) computers is called User Virtualisation, or in MS’s parlance User State Virtualisation.  In my day it was just plain ol’ roaming profiles.  Whatever the name you give it, people have always liked being able to logon and use to any computer, and today companies are increasing looking to centralise their computing using technologies like VDI.   In doing this they might just issue people a different random computer every day, or have apps delivered from many different remote computers.  This capability then is as important as ever.

There a number of ways to do this of course, out the box Windows has ‘Roaming Profiles’, companies like AppSense will sell you dedicated solutions and both Citrix and VMWare provide tools in support of their desktop virtualisation tools.  It’s interesting to then that Microsoft is adding a new tool to their Desktop Optimisation Pack (MDOP) called suitably, Microsoft User Experience Virtualisation. 

Having taken a quick look at UEV, it seems to be a good step up from roaming profiles in terms of how and when the personal settings are applied, but it does seem to introduce a host of new management requirements. 

One of the big limitations of Roaming Profiles is that the sync only ever happens at logon and logoff.  It looks like EUV is much more flexible, applying application settings when applications start and close, and Windows settings on logon, when the computer is locked and when you connect to a remote computer. 

This should work well when users roam between computers or use applications presented from different systems (local, App-V, VDI, etc).  In theory you could also use it to restore settings following a computer rebuild.

The down side is that it achieves this by having specific ‘Settings Location Templates’ for each application you want UEV to process.  The template tells the agent which application to monitor, and what registry keys and files need to be saved and applied.  Whilst this does ensure that only the setting you want are processed, if you have lots of applications creating the templates could potentially be a lot of additional work – especially if you’ve already gone through the hassle of compatibility testing and packaging/sequencing your apps for Windows 7.   If you’re waiting for Windows 8 however it would be worth taking a look so you can incorporate this into application planning.

The beta of UEV is available now from the Connect site.

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