Here at TechEd in New Orleans we’ve seen some further demos of Windows Phone 7. Two features that have been highlighted are the ability to have more then one Exchange account, and a mobile version of SharePoint Workspace for easy access to SharePoint documents and an option to keep an offline copy.
Neither of these strike me as consumer features, which is intriguing given that at the Mix conference in March we were told that the first release of Windows Phone 7 is firmly targeted at consumers rather than businesses.
I also saw a report in the New York Times this morning noting that Apple is working to stave off the threat to iPhone from Google. No mention of Windows Phone 7, which I suspect has been almost written off as irrelevant by the general public. In the rarefied atmosphere of Microsoft TechEd, though, where most people I talk to seem to be solidly Microsoft platform – Exchange, SharePoint, Office Communications Server and so on – having a mobile phone that integrates nicely makes a lot of sense.
There’s also the application aspect. Windows Phone 7 runs Silverlight, which means .NET code, so for developers who already use Visual Studio it is a mobile platform that fits with their work.
In fact, it is easy to see why Windows Phone 7 will appeal to these business users, whereas in the consumer space it is up against tough competition.
I will be interested to see what Microsoft says about business use of Windows Phone 7 as we get closer to launch.
Included in today’s SP1 announcement at TechEd is the news that remote desktop sessions to Hyper-V virtual machines will support USB devices as well as the hardware accelerated graphics already announced back in March, in a feature called RemoteFX. The combination means you could be using a remote desktop and still be able to attach USB devices, play games, view HT video, or use graphically demanding applications like Autocad. In other words, it narrows the performance gap between a full desktop or laptop PC, and a thin client with everything running on a remote server.
The downside to this idea is that it requires a high-end graphics card or cards – in particular, lots of video RAM – on the Hyper-V host server. Most servers have low-end graphics cards, because until now there has been little use for them. Nothing comes for free; and it takes more server capacity and more bandwidth to support this kind of remote session. Lightweight sessions using the old Terminal Services model are far more efficient.
Still, you could adopt a hybrid approach and only give users full-featured desktops if they actually need them; and both server power and available bandwidth will increase over time as technology impresses. The implication is that thin clients might get more attention, with the possibility of running all or most of your desktops on the server.
We were told that the prototype thin client device from ThinLinX, demonstrated at TechEd, uses only around 3 watts.
The load on server RAM is mitigated by another SP1 feature in Hyper-V: dynamic memory. You can specify a minimum and maximum for each VM, and the available physical RAM will be allocated dynamically according to load, and the priority you set.
Could thin client Windows stage a comeback? I’d like to see figures showing the real-world cost savings; but it looks plausible to me.
At TechEd in New Orleans, Microsoft has announced that the version of Hyper-V in Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1 – a typical Microsoft mouthful – will include support for generic USB devices. That is, you can remote into a Hyper-V VM, plug in your USB camera, scanner or bar-code reader, and it will be re-directed to the remote desktop.
It’s a welcome feature, and removes one of the annoyances of working on a remote desktop. However, there is another scenario that Microsoft has not addressed, which is support for USB devices on the Hyper-V host. For example, USB drives are often used for backup, but if you plug a USB drive into a Hyper-V host, it is not easy to use it for backup from within a Hyper-V guest. Well, there are ways, but you are not going to like any of them – mount the drive in the host, mark it as offline, attach it to the guest using pass-through, and so on.
So will Hyper-V ever support USB devices in the host as well as on remote clients? I asked about this, and was told that it is not a priority, because although the topic comes up regularly, it is “not in the top ten feature requests”.
That’s a shame. Even if Microsoft supported only USB storage devices, it would help significantly with tasks like backing up Small Business Server when run on a virtual machine.