Since launching Windows XP, Microsoft has released an amazing array of OS versions based on the XP code base, including Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005, Windows XP Starter Edition, and most recently Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs. Like other members of the XP product family, Windows Fundamentals targets a specific market and provides a unique set of benefits and features. Here's what you need to know about Windows Fundamentals.

A Use for Legacy PCs
A decade ago, companies such as Sun Microsystems, Oracle, and Microsoft pushed a concept called thin-client computing. This concept created a new client-server model in which clients were low-end PC-like devices that had permanent and volatile storage and only a small amount of local processing power. Thin clients used applications that were stored on large central servers and delivered over the network—thus the involvement of traditional server companies such as Sun. However, thin-client computing took off in only a few niche markets.

The PC market moves quickly, and today's PCs are more powerful than models sold just a few years ago. In educational institutions and businesses of all sizes, legacy PCs are gathering dust. Windows Fundamentals lets organizations repurpose those PCs as thin clients by using established remote desktop technologies that have shipped with Windows Server for years, such as Terminal Services and Remote Desktop Connection.

Available only to Microsoft Software Assurance customers, Windows Fundamentals is based on Windows XP Embedded (XPe) Service Pack 2 (SP2). Thus, PCs running Windows Fundamentals aren't very useful on their own. But they can run remote applications that are stored on Windows Server 2003 by using XP's Remote Desktop feature or a third-party solution such as the Citrix ICA Client.

The benefits of Windows Fundamentals will be obvious to businesses that have legacy PCs that can't be upgraded to XP. This solution lets businesses achieve security advantages similar to those of mainstream PCs running XP SP2 and do so on hardware that can't effectively run XP. But there are limitations. Windows Fundamentals PCs are limited to running general-purpose office productivity applications, such as Microsoft Office and Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE), and can't be used by workers with specific needs, such as graphic artists, animators, and Web developers. Because it's available only through Software Assurance and requires a managed server environment, Windows Fundamentals won't help the cash-strapped small businesses that you might expect would benefit most from this sort of system.

Recommendations
Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs is a great idea that could help many organizations make better use of their resources. But because the initial version is available only through Software Assurance, some of the organizations that could benefit most can't use it. For Software Assurance customers that have legacy PCs they'd like to repurpose for standard knowledge-worker use, however, Windows Fundamentals is an intriguing idea that they'll want to evaluate.