Last week, Microsoft announced the availability of the 1.0 version of its Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V) product, part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) set of tools that the software giant makes available to its volume license customers. MED-V, along with associated tools like Virtual PC and App-V (Application Virtualization) is, I think, the future of Windows application compatibility, a theme we've discussed a few times here in the past. But now that MED-V has been finalized, what was once a theory can now be put to the test.

MED-V removes one of the biggest barriers to adopting a new version of Windows because it eliminates the need for application compatibility testing. Until now, migrating to a new Windows version entails a lengthy compatibility testing process and, usually, investigations into what it will take to move critical custom applications, LOB (line of business) applications, and other client software over to the new OS. This delays the rollout of the new OS, and prevents users from taking advantage of that system's enhanced security and functionality.

With MED-V, application compatibility is decoupled from the OS. Those applications that cannot run natively under the new Windows version can be deployed to desktops under a hidden Virtual PC-based virtual environment. To the end user, however, they're simply running the applications that they need, and they don't need to deal with separate virtual and physical desktops. Instead, MED-V allows virtualized applications to run side-by-side with native applications and interact properly with the underlying PC's file system and other capabilities. The effect is nearly seamless.

MED-V
With MED-V, you can run virtualized legacy applications alongside more modern local applications.

Of course, in its current incarnation, MED-V requires you to participate in Microsoft's volume licensing program, which somewhat impacts its availability. Too, similar MDOP tools like App-V--which lets you essentially stream virtualized applications from a server to clients without requiring them to be installed locally--are similarly constrained from an availability perspective. But I have no doubt that Microsoft will make this technology more broadly available in the future, if only for the simple fact that it removes the need to saddle the core Windows OS with backwards-compatible APIs and components. Suddenly, the fetters are off.

Even Microsoft hints as much. On its MED-V web page, the software giant hints at future use-cases for MED-V beyond the 1.0 release: "In future releases, MED-V in conjunction with the new VECD \[Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktop\] licensing, may be used to deliver a corporate virtual image to 'unmanaged' PCs, and reduce the tension between IT control and user flexibility. \[This will\] increase productivity for on-site contractors, offshore outsourcing and branch offices, enable employees to work from home or with personal laptops, \[and\] drive business continuity and recovery plans with virtual desktops anywhere."

I'm excited about what this technology portends. I think it's safe to say you can expect to see a lot more about this topic in the coming months. And if you're already licensing MDOP or can do so, be sure to check out MED-V. It may just forever alter how you view application compatibility on new versions of Windows.

This article originally appeared in the April 14, 2009 issue of Windows IT Pro UPDATE. --Paul