Review: Windows 7 and Windows 2008 Server R2 Combo a Win-Win

Microsoft's Windows 7 and Windows 2008 Server R2 combination offers a big payoff in terms of virtualization and administrative policy controls.

By Tom Henderson and Brendan Allen
Mon, June 01, 2009

Network WorldMicrosoft released the Windows 7 and Windows 2008 Server R2 release candidates at the same time last month, with final versions of both products expected to ship by yearend. Undoubtedly, part of the message is that the desktop and server operating systems are supposed to work together and provide additional value when combined.

Slideshow: What we love and hate about Win 7/Windows 2008 Server R2

In testing, we found that implementing Win 7, Win Server and Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) requires careful planning and attention to detail. But this trifecta offers a significant payoff in terms of virtualization and administrative policy controls.

Let's start with Windows 2008 Server R2. The major updates in this 64-bit-only release are a new version of Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualization hypervisor, branch cache of files and folders, improved IPv6 connectivity, and DirectAccess remote connectivity ('VPN-less VPN'). In addition, a key ingredient for administrators (and those happy with command line control) is the rapid expansion of control offered by Microsoft's powershell.

Windows 7 comes in a confusing array of options, but for enterprise use, we recommend 64-bit versions of Windows 7 Ultimate and Enterprise. The third leg of the stool is Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP), which ships 90 days after the final production delivery date for Server R2 and Win 7.

Certainly you can use the W7/Server R2 combination without it, but the tools in the MDOP are fairly juicy and they're currently available for Vista use — although some of them tragically don't work with Vista 64-bit versions.

The current MDOP tools include application virtualization (called App-V), where apps are 'stubbed' onto the desktop but execute somewhere else, and Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (called 'MED-V'), which includes deployment, policy administration, desktop recovery and remediation tools, as well as desktop error monitoring.

While MDOP is a separate product, enterprise deployment is likely to be popular and we wonder why it isn't included in the R2. There's potential danger in not using MDOP, too — especially when using a key feature of Win 7 — the hosting of Windows XP.

Win 7 will contain a Windows XP virtualized client mode, which on the surface looked to be troublesome to us. We understand that compatibility issues are one of the objections to the adoption of Windows Vista, but we reeled at the thought of supporting two operating systems per user and the additive requirements, let along rogue installations of XP that might ensue.

The way it works is that XP installs (via Windows VirtualPC Version 7) as a virtual machine guest of Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate or Enterprise editions. MED-V V2 would run the pre-loaded VM (Windows XP SP3 with pre-embedded Active Directory controls and policies where programmed), and provide control.

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