Support for terminal services has often been grudging, not only from Microsoft, but from third-party vendors as well. We've all experienced terminal services problems ranging from the annoying but generally livable (such as terminal clients forced to live by the terminal server's time zone even when it's located across the country) to the severe (slow printing and crashed terminal servers, anyone?). Some tools were—or became—available for these problems, but the resolutions weren't always what we would have chosen. Some new tools might well provide real solutions for these problems. Citrix's MetaFrame XP, which I discussed in the February 14 issue of Application Service Provider UPDATE, has new features that promise to make administrators' lives easier. In this column, I'll look at two other recent additions to the terminal services toolkit that can help administrators: Wyse's Rapport and triCerat's ScrewDrivers.
Wyse Technology owns a significant chunk of the Windows terminal market, but its management tools haven't always been up to the task of managing a lot of clients. A few months ago, Wyse bought Netier, a maker of Windows NT-based thin clients, and started working on a version of Rapport (Netier's tools) that would support both companies' clients. Wyse released the final product earlier this month. The product is significant not only in its current support for grouping client machines and scheduling tasks (see Wyse's Web site at http://www.wyse.com for a complete list of Rapport's features), but in its planned features. At this point, the software supports all Wyse and Netier clients, whether embedded NT- or Windows CE-based and including those that Wyse manufactures for companies such as Compaq and Hewlett-Packard (HP). Longer-term plans include management support for PCs (sometime this year, I'm told), support for other companies' thin clients, and even support for other types of thin clients such as telephones and vending machines. (Vending machines won't run Microsoft Outlook or other user applications, but they're already positioned to be the first widely used smart appliances. Marconi Online Systems also is positioning itself for this market.) Server-based computing will spread this year, and management software that can recognize a wide variety of clients will be key to making this growth possible.
Supporting client-side printers in a terminal server-based environment is a hassle. You have to maintain client printer drivers on the terminal server (hoping that those drivers don't crash the server) and get the print jobs to the client. Spooled print jobs are big—much bigger than the documents they print. Send those print jobs down a WAN link to the client, and you not only have a print job that takes a long time to print but also a slow terminal connection. Bandwidth throttling helps with the second problem—or at least reduces the impact on the client session—but exacerbates the first. Some workarounds involve printing PDFs to files and sending the PDF to the client for printing, but those workarounds don't fix the bandwidth problem and require the client to keep Adobe Acrobat running locally.
Rather than sending a huge spool file across the network or creating a spool file and rendering it to a PDF file, triCerat's product takes a different approach to the problem. When you print to a ScrewDriver printer, the terminal server creates the Enhanced Metafile Format (EMF) you need for printing, then compresses and encrypts the EMF file with the original file to send to the client. (Right now, the system supports only Win32 PC clients.) The compressed and encrypted file isn't much larger than a compressed version of the file you're printing—and printable files tend to have redundant data that makes them compress well. Thus, when the file gets to the client, the system executes it with another Print dialog box. The bottom line is that ScrewDrivers support any client-side printer—quickly—without needing to load client printer drivers on the terminal server and without being limited to LPT and COM connections.
Rapport and ScrewDrivers aren't the only tools that can help terminal server administrators. If you use a tool that's helped you resolve a sticky problem, email me about it; I'll put the responses together in a future column.
By the way, if you're going to Comdex Chicago April 2 through 5, look me up: I'll speak about terminal services and automated deployment tools at the Windows 2000 Technical Track on April 4 and 5. See you there!