Hands on: Windows Server 'Longhorn' Beta 3 review

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Terminal Services

So perhaps the second-most-improved area of Windows Server Longhorn Beta 3, at least to the administrator's naked eye, is in Terminal Services. Terminal Services has long been part of Windows on the server, but in this release it has taken on Citrix-like features that transform the functionality from a useful administration tool to an enterprise-caliber way to deploy applications to users. Let's take a look.

One new feature of Terminal Services in Longhorn Server is the Terminal Services Gateway. Useful for corporations where large numbers of remote users would still need to be able to take advantage of RDP-based application deployment, Terminal Services Gateway allows users to access hosted applications from a centralized Web portal accessible over Port 443 (or any other port you choose) via an encrypted HTTPS channel.

To further control access, there are connection authorization policies, or CAPs, that administrators can create to define user groups that are permitted to access TS through the TS Gateway machine. So you can limit hosted application use to only those users that need it while still deploying full-client copies of your programs to users with desktops, laptops and other devices that can support them.

Going a little further, Terminal Services RemoteApp lets you define programs to be run directly from a TS-enabled server but appear totally integrated within the local copy of Windows. The integration is nearly perfect, showing off a seamless independent task bar button, resizable application window areas, Alt-Tab switching functionality, population of system tray icons where appropriate, and more.

Terminal Services RemoteApp is designed to remove from the user's mind the concept that he is using a hosted application; the only giveaway would be the ToolTip in the task bar that indicates Terminal Services is in use, plus occasional slow response because of network latency or server overload. It will look locally just like the application is running locally.

It's very simple to deploy as well. You simply create .rdp files that act as simply formatted profiles of available hosted applications. You can deploy these RDP files however you like throughout the enterprise, through Group Policy or over a Web site, or through e-mail or a systems management tool and so on.

Rounding out the suite is the Terminal Services Web Access feature, which lets administrators make Terminal Services RemoteApp-hosted applications available on a Web page. Users can browse the list for the application they are looking for, select it and then be seamlessly connected to the application.

You can even integrate TS Web Access within SharePoint sites using an included Web part, so users have access from their collaboration portal to various hosted applications. One of the only missing parts of this feature that I've seen is the inability to control which programs are published on the Web Access menu on a per-user or per-group basis. This could be rectified before release.

Administration of the Terminal Services functionality is, of course, conveniently located within Server Manager. See Figure 2 for a glimpse at what the tools look like.

Figure 2: the Terminal Services management tools within Server Manager

Figure 2: The Terminal Services management tools within Server Manager (Click image for larger view)

All of this is not to mention some of the other improvements, like a more-efficient RDP client that supports a better user experience; this will be available for Windows Vista clients and, at a later time, Windows XP clients running the latest service pack. Other advances include better printing support, so printing over an RDP connection isn't as kludgy as it was in previous releases. All in all, I think the Terminal Services improvements make a compelling upgrade case for shops that have invested heavily in RDP-hosted applications.

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