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Desktop An optimised desktop doesn't mean one for which all users have control over every function. So what should they control and how do you decide?

Once you've started down the road of optimising desktops there's a lot to consider. Although it may simplify the role of the IT professional, with easier to manage images and reduced maintenance costs, the approach will change your users' relationships with their PCs.

What used to be a free-for-all where users could install whatever they wanted, often regardless of licences and policies, is more often than not now locked down and centrally controlled, with streamed applications instead of local copies.

Of course, users don't always need to be that tightly controlled. Well-designed desktop optimisation systems can balance control and freedom, keeping things manageable while still giving users the flexibility they want.

With more than one approach to desktop optimisation, from centrally managed images, to application virtualisation, and to virtual desktops, there's plenty of choice in just what solution you deploy, and for which users.

Five types of workers

Microsoft's Windows desktop optimisation tools are designed to support several different types of user, focusing on five scenarios. No matter what type of desktop optimisation approach you use, these scenarios are a good place to start. You can mix and match concepts and solutions based on them, with the aim of reducing both complexity and risk.

The most obvious is the office worker. Information workers rely on their PCs, and any optimised desktop needs to quickly support their needs. That means you'll need to mix control with flexibility, focusing on a defined image and appropriate user profiles.

Application streaming can be used to deliver core applications, and roaming profiles to redirect them to centralised storage, speeding up deployment and recovery while still allowing ad-hoc installations.

Mobile workers have very similar needs and expectations to office workers – though with one key difference. Unreliable connectivity means that you're unlikely to be able to use roaming profiles to handle central storage, and application streaming is only really possible when in the office. Technologies such as Direct Access can improve connectivity, and using policy-driven security tools like BitLocker will help secure their data.

Much less flexibility is needed for task workers. Working in call centres or handling data entry, they just need specific applications and perhaps a web browser. Desktop optimisation means they always have the most current tools need for the task at hand - and you're also able to use the same tools to extend the life of desktop hardware. Why deploy high-end PCs when all you need is a virtual desktop or remote access from a zero-client terminal to a specific application?

Things get more complex when you're supporting contract workers or consultants. They're often bringing their own hardware into your network, as they need access to their own applications - and to applications and services their company's IT professionals have provided.

You won’t be able to control their machine completely, so using virtual desktops to deliver access to your tools while segregating their machines in quarantine networks can simplify controlling their access to your services, while keeping your network and data secure.

You'll need to take a similar approach when supporting home workers – especially if they're using their own hardware. Users bringing their own tools to a job don't expect to have their machines tightly controlled – and the potential of lawsuits mean you need to minimise any form of business risk.

Generally home workers are task workers, so you can use remote desktop tools to deliver application screens to their PCs without having to install software or worry about data on unmanaged disks. Home workers with more complex needs can use virtual desktops – or you could take advantage of Windows 7's ability to boot virtual disks as an alternative to the users' own operating systems and data.

There's a balance to be struck between control and freedom, between over-management and laxity. Economies of scale dictate that you're unlikely to be able to manage this down to the level of the individual user - unless they're the MD - but you can use scenarios that allow you to deliver the right desktop experience at the right time to the right user. ®

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