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A look at Windows MultiPoint Services role

A Windows MultiPoint Server allows users to have their own sessions while connected to one machine. Here's where it helps, and how it's changing.

Windows MultiPoint Server is basically session sharing without the use of Terminal Services or Remote Desktop gateways...

and session brokers. Picture one machine with a bunch of keyboards, mice, monitors and USB controllers attached to it -- a many-headed server, if you will. Windows MultiPoint Server presents to these devices an operating system that is Windows tried and true and lets these users have their own sessions, like any virtual desktop infrastructure would do, in a much simpler package with many options for orchestrating individual user and device sessions.

Environments to consider

Why is Windows MultiPoint Server a good choice? In the following scenarios, the solution makes a lot of sense:

Lab type setups in classrooms. In educational institutions, training facilities, and even corporate meeting rooms, there are often rows of classroom style tables with a PC for each student or person. With Windows MultiPoint Server, these PCs can be thin clients, all hosted and controlled by a single server machine in the front of the room. For training, MultiPoint can let all of the clients it hosts share a single screen, so each student can view a walkthrough and example of procedures, and then each session can be restored on an individual basis for students to try their hand at whatever task is being shown. Instructors can take control of sessions, too, to show everyone else in the room what one student is doing. For schools, there is also the ability to lock out student input for a period during a work session. This is a really good solution if you are in the education field.

Organizations with limited funds. For nonprofits and other shops that have a very limited IT budget, Windows MultiPoint Server can be an inexpensive way to cobble together a pretty sophisticated network. Assuming you can find the funds to build one reasonably beefy machine, you can use old desktops or laptops -- and I mean really old, as in "as long as they support USB" old -- to extend a decent computing experience to 20 users or more. It basically takes those old PCs and turns them into thin clients, connected over USB to your beefy machine. You can also buy "MultiPoint Zero" clients for $50 or less to serve this purpose. For simple office work, a decent $1,000 computer can serve four or five office workers that are doing email, Web browsing and simple word processing and spreadsheet work. When you factor in that nonprofits can get tech software as much as 90% off from places like TechSoup, the savings quickly make MultiPoint a very reasonable solution for these types of organizations.

Retail stores. Particularly for point of sale systems, MultiPoint makes sense in many ways. First, you typically have expensive POS applications, most of which are licensed per instance -- so you save on licensing costs because you are installing only one copy of the application at a time. (This is not the case for all applications, so do your homework before counting this savings in your calculations.) But even beyond licensing, you can have one properly configured, PCI compliant and secure application with a bunch of dumb terminals and card readers attached to it. It will be cheaper to administer, make the terminal hardware itself disposable and is a better configuration bet since there is only one place you have to worry about keeping payment and inventory data secure.

What's new in MultiPoint in Windows Server 10?

The biggest advantage to MultiPoint in Windows Server 10 is that it is no longer a separate product: it is simply a role you can check to install and, perhaps more importantly, check to uninstall. You still need separate CALs to run the product, like you do with the previous separate edition of Windows, but you can simply install Windows Server 10 and go from there, rather than getting special disks and having a dedicated deployment routine. Additionally, Microsoft has done away with the 20 user limit in previous versions of MultiPoint, so now there is no hard limit to the number of connections you can host with the role.

One point to note: if you play around with the Windows MultiPoint role in the Windows Server Technical Preview, you will note that the desktop experience it shares out is the one from Windows Server 2012 R2 -- you do not get any of the new desktop goodness, the new Start menu or any other improvements that have been made in Windows 10. This is part of the varying rates of progress made as part of the preview, and this will be improved in future builds. The clear finish line will be upon RTM, the Windows 10 desktop in all of its glory will be shared out to thin clients connected to the MultiPoint role.

If you operate in an environment where a solution like this makes sense, play with the MultiPoint role and also take a look at the thin clients available for previous versions -- these will be compatible with the Windows Server 10 role version.

Next Steps

Got a tight budget? Consider Microsoft MultiPoint Server

This was last published in March 2015

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It's not really true that you can have one license of an application for multiple users, if they're using the app at the same time.
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