Windows Thin PC License Conundrum

Windows Thin PC is a strange beast. Based on a slimmed down version of Windows 7, the re-badged Windows Embedded, now re-re-badged Thin PC for volume installs of thin-client, low-spec’d devices, Microsoft is pitching for the remote-desktop, kiosk-style terminal PC.

If you compare the installed footprint, Thin PC consumes around 2.8Gb, a default Windows 7 install is around 6.8Gb. I have no idea what the extra 4Gb of ‘stuff’ is in Windows 7, but it hints at having nothing to do with the core operating system. But I digress, this seems like an excellent, low-cost way to extend the life of hardware whilst keeping it within the Microsoft product net. Except in true Microsoft fashion, they seem intent on screwing this up, or else I’m missing their logic somewhere…

The issue with it is that you can only run applications that fall into the following categories:

  • Remote desktop clients
  • Management
  • Security
  • Media Players
  • Web-browsers (including Flash)

However, you cannot run any productivity applications, such as Microsoft Office and similar applications.

It’s deceptively like Windows 7 but not Windows 7. Designed to be more manageable than regular Windows 7, the write-filters seem comprehensive – down to sector-level or file-level. However, there seem to be real running in to road blocks when trying to automate deployment of Thin PC clients.

Not being allowed to run productivity apps is baffling, since you can actually install them just fine). Add to this the whole licensing spaghetti that comes out of Microsoft

Customers will need to be in the Software Assurance programme in order to run Windows Thin PC, purchasing VDA bulk licenses rather than needing to have every device in the organization participating in SA. Why this doesn’t cover productivity apps is something that currently only makes sense to the competing product marketing groups within Microsoft.

Only Professional / Business, Enterprise, or Ultimate licenses qualify for VDA //for that device// on which you’re installing Thin PC, so the quoted $100/yr license becomes, it’s $200 for the OS, plus $100/yr. There’s total confusion whether this applies to current Windows XP Professional and Windows Vista or only to Windows 7 and onward.

Then there’s a whole class of Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 using remote desktop services. Are they eligible or not? In many ways, Thin PC is more restricted and less flexible than Remote-fx on these devices. Are we expected to pay more for less and not notice?

Then there’s the core functionality. Media Player comes without codecs, so you install these and it still doesn’t behave itself. Also, there’s NO desktop or Start Menu search feature, which is fine, so long as you keep the device to a simple kiosk-style or remote-desktop terminal with all the applications running server-side through locked-down corporate short-cuts.

Ultimately, the licensing restrictions may prevent Thin PC from ever gaining any traction beyond certain key corporate customers in need of a lightweight OS for legacy systems or thin clients. Consumers will not be able to purchase the OS at all. I am not in Microsoft’s corporate customer base any more, but as usual, I am baffled by their product positioning and licensing. AJS

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