How to set up a "program server" on a home network.

Hello all. I've got a question and a half for you.

Is it possible to set up a program server on my home network with Windows 7? If so, how would I go about it?

I have 5 desktops on my home network. 3 are running 64-bit Windows 7 and 2 running 64-bit Vista. I would like to have one of the computers act as a server for the others. I'd like to install all the programs on this computer and be able to open them locally on the other PCs.

Is this doable with Vista/Win 7?



Noob Whisperer
For programs to run locally they must be installed locally.
Even doing something similar using Remote Desktop or other such product would likely violate EULA restrictions, unless you had licenses for multiple copies of the program.


Windows Forum Admin
Staff member
Premium Supporter
Trouble is generally correct. However, there are some things you may want to look at for this:

App-V Enterprise Management with Microsoft Windows Enterprise

This is similar, and likely, not up to par with:

VMware ThinApp for Application Virtualization: Get Ready for Windows 7 Migration


VMware End-User Computing Platform, Virtual Desktops, Mobile Desktops

VMWare offers two very specific virtualization products designed for desktop PC users in mind. ThinApp allows for programs to be isolated from the operating system completely when run.

The VMware End User Computing Platform (Horizon) allows you to deploy entire virtualized systems across a network.

Microsoft offers a product similar to VMWare ThinApp, as listed above, which would allow you to tailor applications so that they operate in isolation of the host operating system. These solutions are difficult to explain, not exactly what you are looking for, but are likely your only alternative.

It is possible to acquire Terminal Services licensing for Windows Server and use the primary systems as dummy terminals. This is an old terminology, but the concept of a remote desktop GUI is new. Clients could remote connect into the server and access their server account, performing all work functions on the server, and having all programs installed on the server. This comes close to having your program being installed once on the server and accessible to all users.

A cost-effective way to manage an office environment where the preservation of the core operating system on every workstation is important can involve locking down workstations that are on your Windows network using a primary domain controller, Group Policy, and Active Directory. You can also configure Roaming Profiles to ensure that Windows accesses and writes all user profile data, documents and non-program resources from the server itself.

Your goal of having Windows run programs off the server that are only installed once on that server cannot work just yet. But using some ingenuity, virtualization, and server controls, you may be able to engineer a convincing end result that stores a large brunt of user created data on the server itself. Windows Server is often utilized for this purpose in office environments. Virtual appliances like ThinApp are genuinely used for cross-platform support, or to simplify how programs are distributed to systems. However, you may run into difficulties, as setting all of this up does not come easy.

The short answer from Trouble is 99% correct. It just is not feasible, and having multiple systems and users accessing one program installation very likely violates software licensing agreements. It is also difficult because even if you can pull off Terminal Services and allow users to run their entire account from Windows Server, you still have the problem of whether or not the program can be installed once or requires multiple installations and/or licenses.

Your best bet would be to really think of a way to better use server resources. I suspect server disk I/O, even if this were possible, would go through the roof and bottleneck the server. To the contrary, many well written programs allow for a server and client deployment. For example, Symantec's business line of security products contains a robust deployment method to all systems on a Windows domain and a central management terminal that can be accessed with the proper administrative credentials from any computer, or the server upon which the service resides. Basically, we are talking about server to client interactions, whereas the client cannot operate without a functional database and interface on the server. Database creation and data entry software like FileMaker operate in this way: the server operates as a centralized repository for a database and access controls can be granted to individual clients. The server will be protected from data loss whereas the client computers don't necessarily have to be. This type of arrangement is often termed as installing a "thin client" on your workstation which then accesses a server resource on a local server or over the Internet. One example of a functional thin client that access server resources is your web browser.

Not to confuse or obfuscate the subject too much, what you are requesting is not generally possible, but there are alternatives that allow you to directly control and manipulate the Windows desktop experience directly from the server. The products I have listed above allow you to do this, but in nearly every case, software installation is required.

The installation of programs across a Windows network is possible, and is made especially easy if the program is accessible on a network share and contains a .MSI installer. You can program Windows Server to go ahead and install the software in verbose or silent mode, usually when the client restarts their workstation. You can even force a remote restart of workstations using Windows Server. So while it is really impractical to run programs directly off Windows Server that Windows 7 clients will access, it is very practical to configure a controlled environment for your Windows 7 client machines. All it takes is some research in Group Policy and Active Directory management and implementation, as well as some knowledge on using netlogon scripts and so forth. The easiest way to have all client systems using a centralized database or server resource is to use a product designed for this purpose.

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