2X ApplicationServer

In July of 2006 Microsoft released a stripped down copy of Windows XP that can be run on old hardware. It’s called Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs (WindowsFLP). The main difference is that some of the applications would not be run locally. The processor intense applications would be run off of a server. The server would be another, more powerful computer running Windows XP. I think that was a great thing for Microsoft to release. The problem is that they didn’t release it to the general public. It is only available to Microsoft Software Assurance customers.

The good news is that 2X Software has a server and client application that you can use to achieve this called 2X Application Server. With the free version you can tunnel up to 5 applications per server onto remote desktops. You can serve applications out to Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows or Linux clients. This is something that WindowsFLP cannot do. To be fair, this does require a machine running Windows Server with the Terminal Services component installed. WindowsFLP only requires another machine with Windows XP.

After installation it was very easy to push out an application to my old Windows XP laptop that has 32 MB RAM and a 200 Mhz processor. I chose Aptana (a web development IDE) as my test application. I installed the client software on the laptop after I had set up the server. In the client application I saw Aptana and double clicked on it to launch it. You can also choose to put a shortcut on your desktop. Aptana started up and looked as though it was starting up on the local machine. I was able to then use the application as if it were installed on the local machine. Though, when you’re accessing files it will bring up a dialog for the drives on the server. On Windows, if you have mapped network drives it will show those in the “My Computer” area.

The Linux side of things was a little more difficult. The 2X Server Client software for Linux is command line only. It took me a few minutes to correctly enter the syntax but I was finally able to pull up the Aptana application on my installation of Fedora. It seemed a lot slower on Linux than it did on Windows.

For you Mac fans out there you should be happy to know that they also have client software for the Mac as well. It works really well. I was able to launch Aptana without any issues. It does look a bit odd on the Mac, though. If you want it to look seamless you might install a program that changes the look of Windows to that of Mac OS X.

2X ApplicationServer for Windows Terminal Services

Article update: Tuesday, September 30, 2008: I have updated this article with screen shots of the latest version.

A lot of updates to the application have been made. It looks different and there are many more options. Instead of just a single application at a time, you can now also publish a group of applications. This allows you to group items in a folder. This is sort of like grouping items on the start menu. You can publish a desktop which gives the user access to their remote desktop without having to use another remote desktop client. You can also publish predefined applications (Windows Explorer and other built in components of Windows) and documents.

The latest Mac and Windows clients work really well. Unfortunately, the Linux client is still command line only. I think if there was a GUI version for Linux it would make it easier on the IT staff and the employees who aren’t technical.

Windows Terminal Ware

About Wtware & Reasons For Use

If your business has an assortment of old computers that are planned for removal, you may want to re-consider that plan once you learn more about Wtware. What is it? Wtware allows you to take a really old computer and turn it into a Windows terminal workstation, with very little effort and nothing to install on the client workstation. The only requirement is that you have a Microsoft Windows Server (2000 or 2003) that has Terminal Services Server installed.

Once you get your server set up for accepting clients, you can then insert a CD, floppy, USB thumb drive or use your network card to boot onto the server and use it as a normal workstation. There is nothing to install (unless you want to) and the only thing the computer is doing is displaying to you the desktop on the server.

The beauty of it is that you've saved money by reviving old hardware and the added benefit of only having one machine to install software & updates on. Also, since the machines are now running off the server they will be much faster and to make them faster you will only have to upgrade one machine.

Problems I Had

Unfortunately I ran into problems while I was testing out the software. The first problem arose when I tried testing the software out on my laptop. My laptop is quite old. I do have a PCMCIA network card installed in it, however, Wtware cannot detect my network card during the bootup process but that is the case with almost any other operating system I have had on it, even Windows.

The second problem I came across was with the other computer I have that I tried it on. It did detect the network & video cards without any problems. However I could not get it to accept a default configuration, it seemed as though it wasn't happy with any of the configurations that I chose. It kept asking me to go through each test for the video card again and again even though I had already entered the information into the configuration file on the server for the specs of the machine I was trying to boot from.

Successful Test

Fortunately, I did have a successful test of the software. I opened up Vmware server and created an empty virtual machine. I booted the virtual machine using the Wtware ISO image I had made and previously burned to CD to try and boot the other two machines. This time it worked. I was able to configure everything correctly and in a short amount of time I was booted onto my server.

Easy to setup

Wtware is fairly easy to set up. All I had to do was to install the software and then create a boot disk. You'll follow a wizard to enter DNS & DHCP information. Once you do that you'll burn the ISO image to a CD, take it to the computer you plan to use as a terminal and run some tests to see which settings will work best on that terminal. After that, you'll return to the server and make a configuration file (the name of the file will be that terminals MAC address). You'll enter a few settings in there, return to the other computer and you should be able to boot that computer onto your terminal server, very quickly.

Gripes

Although I think this is a great application I do have a few gripes about it. The first gripe that I have is that the license you purchase can only be used on ONE network card, one MAC address. That means it is tied to that network card, forever. The license is $20. If I'm going to spend $20 on something I should be able to use it on any machine I like and move it to any machine I like. Now, if the license was down in the $1 or $2 range, I might not care. This is one case where I think they should charge a fee for their software ($20 maybe) and then charge a much, much lower rate for the licenses ($1-$2).

The free version also has banner ads that are obtrusive. I realize that they need to be able to get people to upgrade to the paid for version, but why does the ad have to be obtrusive? They are marketing their free version to libraries and schools who can't afford their software.

Free Alternative

After my gripes section above a thought comes to mind. Would I actually pay for and use this software? No, I probably wouldn't. Why? Whenever I need to connect to a Windows terminal server and the machine I am using does not have an operating system already; I would probably simply insert a live Linux CD (DSL, SLAX, Puppy, Ubuntu, etc) and simply use the Terminal Server Client software that is already pre-installed and connect to the remote server. Granted, this process is not as fast as Wtware, but it would work and you could use this alternative on as many machines as you like, without banner ads.

Learn More

Now, I realize even though this program isn't for me that there is truly a market out there for it. I can see businesses that are needing more computers but can't afford brand new computers using this. It is honestly a lot better than waiting on a live Linux CD to boot, then connecting to the server, every time you need to use it.

Windows Terminal Ware