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Microsoft’s new server for tight budgets

Microsoft’s MultiPoint Server 2011 helps IT shops with limited funds that need to connect old computers to a central machine.

For years a special segment of the market has been underserved. These are small departments, classrooms, computer labs, libraries or anyone on a very limited budget that needs to let different computers access and view the same session running on a central machine.

There are thin client technologies available that can fill the bill, but they are often too expensive. To serve this niche, Microsoft recently released Windows MultiPoint Server 2011.

MultiPoint Server runs on Windows Server 2008 R2. Its job is to turn many PCs into dumb terminals using a version of the Remote Desktop Connection software that’s built into Windows. While organizations could use relatively expensive and specialized thin-client hardware, organizations with more limited budgets can use repurposed old hardware (those old Windows 2000 and Windows XP machines gathering dust in a storage closet certainly qualify).

In addition, graphics cards with multiple VGA or DVI ports can also be used and each port can be addressed as a separate terminal. Keyboards and mice can be directly attached to the MultiPoint server by USB or PS/2 connections; in most cases a USB hub would be useful here. With thin-client devices and older hardware, keyboards and mice attach directly to the client hardware and are transmitted over the network via Remote Desktop Protocol.

For the instructor or administrator, MultiPoint Server has several clever user interface features. First, desktop orchestration shows the central MultiPoint console a thumbnail view of all connected clients' desktops. Within the console administrators can directly control each connected client by opening and closing programs, blocking it from running applications, cast one station’s screen on another or restrict Internet browsing.

Users get a Windows 7-like desktop experience that they’d expect even though they’re actually using a terminal services session on Windows Server. Additionally, the users have multilingual support for each session,not per-MultiPoint Server machine. Each session gets private USB support so devices are attached to individual sessions and not shared with all connected clients. The server also distributes unique IP addresses and private folders to each user.

Admins who have used the new Windows Server Essentials administrative interface will note the familiar blue console theme and the extensibility that integrated software vendors have when writing plug-ins for servers in this series. The SDK is shared among Windows Small Business Server 2011 (all versions) and Windows Home Server 2011, so one piece of code works everywhere (assuming the platform supports the feature in question).

MultiPoint Server comes in two editions, Standard and Premium. Here’s a handy chart to compare editions:

Edition Number of stations Can join to a domain? Supported via Hyper-V? Price









Premium 20 Yes Yes $817 $79

*Academic/non-profit license for the standard edition is not available for purchase.

Client access licenses are required for each connected station, which range in price from $110 to $139 depending on the agreement.

You can follow on Twitter @WindowsTT

Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker residing in Charlotte, N.C. Jonathan's books include RADIUS, Learning Windows Server 2003, Hardening Windows and most recently Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual.

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