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AnandTech Review Reveals Inner Workings of Windows Thin PC

Lots of IT professionals have been wondering about the footprint and capabilities of the Windows Thin PC product that Microsoft released for a community technology preview (CTP) in March, 2011. The stated goal of this Windows OS is to enable older and less capable PCs to enjoy and use Windows 7 core features, so that frugal organizations and companies can convert existing PCs into thin clients running a stripped down version of Windows 7.

When I’d read about this technology, I’d hoped it might mean older PCs with less than 1 GB of RAM, or older and slower single-core CPUs, might be able to tune into this Windows 7 version. Alas, Andrew Cunningham’s review “Windows Thin PC: Windows, Slimmed Down” puts paid to any such foolish notions. System requirements for Windows Thin PC are identical to those for all other Windows 7 versions (as shown in this table from his article):

“What’s the appeal for this product?” is something readers may be wondering at this point. Windows Thin PC (which I’ll abbreviate as WTPC henceforth) lets businesses use all the MS goodies they’ve got seamlessly, such as the typical combination of AD, private Windows Update servers, image creation and deployment tools, and group policy objects to define, update, manage and secure these clients the same way they handle all their other desktops. WTPC also works with the latest version of Remote Desktop, including those available on Windows Server 2008 R2 boxes running SP1. WTPC even includes a special Enhanced Write Filter that prevents end users from changing their OSes permanently, thanks to storing all such changes in a partition separate from the base Windows OS partition.

On the plus side, WTPC is supposed to become available to MS volume license customers for about $100 per copy per year. On the minus side, it will only be made available through a VPA or other similar legal scaffolding, and not through normal retail or OEM channels. Cunningham’s article also performs a detailed analysis of WTPC resource consumption, including RAM (505 MB versus 621 MB for Win7 Ultimate), disk space (2.7 GB on disk vs. 8.64 GB for Win7 Ultimate), but with no real change in base-level performance. And other than some Microsoft programs and utilities (which detect the OS and inform users that they are not compatible with WTPC) Cunningham was able to install and use a wide variety of third-party programs on a machine running WTPC as well.

What does this mean for enterprise use of WTPC? It may give older hardware a longer lifecycle thanks to an ability to run the new OS on older gear, but it reminds of Perry the Platypus on Disney’s “Phineas and Ferb” (“They don’t do much, you know…). Except in situations where there is both the need and the desire to keep using old PCs, I don’t see much business application for this technology.

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