View Desktop Template Building Notes – Nothing is Easy

This week I have been working on updating our VMware View template for our public terminals (those are kiosk and lab systems).  As always, simple things have become difficult, and time has disappeared like cookies at a preschool party. Here are some resources that were useful to me in cleaning up the reference system:

Default User Profile Settings:

Why must this be so hard?  Under XP, you used to be able to tweak the Default User profile to within an inch of its life, then copy it.  Easy!  But MS maintains that this “caused problems” of some vague nature, and so the process is now not possible.  Instead, we are supposed to use the “CopyProfile” action in the unattend.xml file used by sysprep to trigger copying of the “Administrator” profile to “Default”.  However, this operation does not copy all settings… aargh!  And the settings that are excluded are not documented… double aargh!  And if you have any profile traces left over on your system for any user other than “Administrator”, sysprep will fail miserably… triple aargh!

Fortunately, there is help available:

I found especially helpful the following post on managing Windows 7 Taskbar links:

Ultimately, I used a variation on this script to pin items to the Win 7 taskbar:
(I’ll post the final script I developed separately.  I could not find a fully functional script on the internet.  I had to do some significant mods to the scripts in the above post to get something that does everything that I want.)

Hey, would it not be nice if there were an Group Policy Preference for “shortcuts” to have “taskbar” as a target location?  Yes… yes it would.

Configuration Manager Client Preparation:

I understand you are not supposed to clone a system that has the SCCM client installed on it.  MS documents steps that should be taken to remove the fingerprints of an existing SCCM client prior to cloning… what, so script?

I did some digging and found that the OS Deployment Task Sequences include a step that is supposed to do just this.  After more digging, I determined that the tool for this step is embedded in the SCCM OSD Capture Media.  I generated an OSD Capture Media set, extracted the contents, and found a small executable named “OsdPrepareSmsClient.exe”.  Perhaps this is what I was looking for?  I will test it and find out.

User Profile Cleanup:

Some of our lab admins used to use the profile cleaner utility from MS to erase user profiles from Win2000/XP on logout.  That utility is gone, but you can now use Group Policy to force deletion of all non-Administrator profiles on a schedule.  Unfortunately, this only happens on system restart.

I have settled on “DelProf2.exe” as a replacement:
This excellent freeware utility by Helge Klein will delete all profiles that are not in use, and will clean up the ProfileList registry entries as well.  You can exclude specific named profiles as well.

Java Update… make it stop! :

Unofficial Mozilla Builds for Windows:
(Includes “BlueGriffon” installers that do not embed the obnoxious “iminent toolbar”.  Kudos to Glazman for this excellent basic HTML editor.  Boo to the invasive toolbar installer.)

VMware View – Implementing Idle User Auto-Logout

We are going live with out first public VMware View terminals this week (Wyse P25 “zero-clients”… nice units).  I had what I expected would be a easy list of “little jobs” to be completed before going live. Famous last words…

One item on the list was implementing an “idle user logout” process.  This process would detect when a View session had gone idle, and would disconnect the session automatically (preferably after prompting the user).  This disconnected session then would be logged out by View Manager after a fixed amount of time.

This proved rather more difficult than I had predicted.  I tried several solutions before arriving at one that worked.  Among the failed solutions:

  • Using Group Policy to configure Remote Desktop Session Manager idle session limits.  The View configuration documents imply that this should work, but it does not.  I expect that the policies would be effective if you were connecting to your View desktops using RDP, but PCoIP sessions just will not disconnect automatically (at least, they would not for me).
  • Using the Windows Task Scheduler to configure a disconnect script that will trigger on idle.  This did not work for two reasons.  First, the Task Scheduler only evaluates for idle conditions every 15 minutes.  Second, for the Task Scheduler, “idle” means not only that the user is not directing mouse and keyboard to the computer, but that the CPU also is not doing anything.  As a result, we could not get consistent auto-logout times.

The solution that we settled on involved the use of a custom screensaver developed by the “Grim Admin”.  “ScreenSaver Operations”:

This is a great little utility that accomplishes what the “WinExit” screensaver used to for Win XP.  (WinExit cannot easily be used on Win7, and is a bit hostile to 64-bit Windows).  Screensaver Operations has a well-written README describing the use of registry entries to control the screensaver globally (i.e. for all users on the computer).  I set these registry operations as Group Policy Preferences, and we are in business.

Two slight complications… since the screensaver is 32-bit, you need to use the “sysnative” filesystem redirector if your want the screensaver to trigger 64-bit executables.  In our case, I wanted the screensaver to launch “tsdiscon.exe” (to disconnect the View session), so I had to use the path:
Additionally, you will need to specify the full path to the screensaver in the Group Policy dialogs (i.e. %SystemRoot%SysWOW64Screensaver Operations.scr).  If you fail to do so, the screensaver will appear to be configured in the Control Panel, and you will be able to preview it by clicking the “preview” button, but the screensaver WILL NEVER START.

Ashamedly I will admit that this little challenge too much longer to accomplish than it should have.  No wonder lab managers burn out so easily.

Evaluating Windows 8 Tablets – Samsung ATIV SmartPC Pro (700T)

The journey continues…

The boss approved purchase of a Samsung ATIV SmartPC Pro (the “700T” model).  I wassoooexcited… this was the tablet PC I had been waiting for.  Thin, light, and fully convertible from Ultrabook to slate.  Stylus included, 1080 high-definition display, full Intel i5 processor.  So much to love…

First impressions were really positive.  The build quality seemed really high… solid magnesium case, good keyboard response, fast boot, very responsive Wacom digitizer stylus.  As a tablet, this thing is awesome. And while it is expensize compared to an iPad, it is very cheap compared to the Tablet PCs of yesteryear.

However, I quickly ran into trouble.  When typing with the SmartPC on my lap, the keyboard would frequently disconnect from the display.  It would not fall off, but the tablet component would lose electrical connection to the keyboard, causing typing input to stop.  Sometimes this would happen as often as five times in a single line of text.  Awful!

There were other problems as well.  Like the HP Envy X2, the screen does not tilt back far enough to allow comfortable use of the keyboard on a countertop.  The 1080p display, which is very crisp and bright, is inconvenient to use for remote desktop connections to Server 2008 R2 and earlier hosts (the fonts do not scale for remote desktop sessions, leading to comically tiny print size and rediculiously small buttons and window controls).  The system did not include a TPM chip (that is only available on the models that ship with Win8 Pro… something that was not clear when ordering the device).  And finally, Samsung does not bundle drivers for the SmartPC in any way that is convenient for business deployment.  Re-imaging the systems would be a pain.

It also is worth noting that Microsoft decided that in-place upgrades of retail versions of Win 8 to volume license editions woudl not be supported.  If you want simply to install Win 8 Enterprise over the factory-shipped consumer edition of Win8, you are out of luck.  I also experienced this problem with the HP Envy X2.  For corporate users, volume license installs are strictly a nuke-and-repave operation.  Booooooo!  This is not Samsung’s fault, but the lack of support for business deployment (i.e. driver bundles or driver repository building tools) is a killer for the SmartPC in the enterprise.

I really wanted to love this device, but I really just have to return it.  Consumers seeking a top-performance tablet may love it, but it does not work for this sysadmin.  I am hoping that the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix will work out better.