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Presentation Layer Management

The third supporting process is the Presentation layer management process. Because improved user experience is one of the goals of the IT Model for Service Points of Access, it is important to identify the technologies and systems that define the Presentation layer.

Defining the Presentation Layer

Recall that the Presentation layer is the interface layer; for users, it most often means the desktop. For IT, it means the administrative interfaces for all PCs, servers, and services.

Desktop layer ownership focuses on three owners: users, IT, and the corporation. This means that the desktop must be divided into specific areas, or zones of ownership. But before these zones can be designed, several principles must be defined.

Reduced Training Costs

Providing a common desktop for all PCs uses the same principle that made Microsoft Office so popular. If the basic desktop interface is exactly the same for all users, retraining costs as users move from position to position within the corporation are greatly reduced.

Windows XP brings the power of desktop design to bear with a new interface that is completely customizable to organizational needs.

Principle 1: Default Corporate Desktop

The default corporate desktop should offer a single, unified interface to all users. This desktop should be the default desktop created at any new logon—when new users first log on to their PCs, or when current users use another PC, they should be presented with a desktop that meets every basic requirement and that provides access to all of the productivity components12 of the SPA kernel.

Windows 2000/XP has the capability to store an editable default desktop and generate it for every new user. Corporations should update this default desktop with their own customized versions before deployment.

Principle 2: Personal versus Corporate Zones

Because the PC is a corporate asset, it belongs to the corporation. The corporation needs to keep a measure of control over it. But because users are people and people have a sense of propriety toward their tools, users also need to have control over some portions of the desktop. Negotiations for this shared ownership are performed through extensive communications programs outlining the reasons for this division of responsibilities.

Communications Program

Chapter 8 discusses the specifics of a communications program.

Principle 3: Virtual Desktop

Using Windows 2000/XP's Active Desktop technology,13 corporations can create and present virtual desktops to their users. In addition to conventional components on the desktop (icons, tool bars, menus), users can have direct access to intranet components based on who they are, which department they belong to, and which IT role they occupy.

Every department in the corporation can design a standard desktop page that includes tools, news, information access, and more, and have it directly displayed on each user's desktop when he or she logs on to his or her system. The desktop is deemed virtual because the content of these pages can change at a moment's notice and be automatically updated on all targeted desktops at the next automatic refresh sequence.

Now that you have the basic principles in place, you can begin the desktop zone design process. This process should aim to cover the following requirements:

An example of the corporate tools zone.
  • Corporate tools zone: The desktop should not be cluttered. Because Windows 2000/XP includes other, more practical areas for the location of shortcuts, only the most basic shortcuts should be on the desktop. These should include My Documents, My Computer, My Network Places, and Recycle Bin.

  • Personal tools zone: Users should have the right to place additional shortcuts on the desktop because these are stored within their own profiles and do not affect others. But they should not be able to destroy any of the corporate items placed on the default desktop.

  • Common application access menus: The Programs menu in the Start menu should be as clean as possible. Software tools should be grouped into types, and shortcut folders should be redirected during installation to these tool-type menus. All extraneous shortcuts, such as Uninstall or Register Now, should be removed. The menu should be clean because its role is to give quick access to common tools and stored access to utilities.

An example of the corporate tools zone.
  • Quick Launch area: Next to the Start menu, Windows 2000/XP offers the Quick Launch area. This area provides one-click access to the tools for which it stores shortcuts. In addition, because this area is stored within the Windows taskbar, it is always available. This should be the preferred method of access for all the tools located on the system. For users, the Quick Launch area should include access to productivity tools. For IT staff, it should provide access to administrative tools.

As you can see in Figure 4.11, tools located in the Quick Launch area are grouped according to usage. First come the desktop, exploration, browsing, and research tools; then come office automation tools in order of usage; and finally come productivity tools that are required infrequently.

FIGURE 4.11 A productivity Quick Launch area

  • Wallpaper and screensavers: Wallpaper is an area in which there is a lot of contention between corporate standards and personal taste. Dozens of companies have built their success on the production of wallpaper and screensavers for all tastes, good and bad. Corporations should provide some leeway for users here. Wallpaper and screensavers are something that users like to personalize, sometimes every day. But they are also something that the corporation needs to control in a certified network if PCs are to remain stable. A central bank of approved (for stability purposes) screensavers and wallpaper should be made available to all users.

  • Departmental Web zone: This is an active zone. It can display the message of the day and provide access to mission-critical virtual14 tools. This zone is controlled through an intranet Web page managed at the departmental level. Departmental zones vary on the desktop because they are displayed according to the department to which a user belongs.

  • Corporate Web zone: The corporate Web zone includes global messages and access to corporate systems such as human resources, automated document templates, and global intranet research tools. This zone is displayed on all desktops. The Web content of this zone is controlled by IT for the corporation.

  • Project Web zone: Project teams have special requirements. With new intranet-based project management technologies, such as those of Microsoft Project with Project Central, the inclusion of a project Web zone on the desktop provides support for personnel belonging to project teams. The project team is responsible for the management of this Web zone.

  • IT Web zone: The last zone on the desktop is the IT zone. This zone can include several IT-related components such as help desk access, productivity support sections such as FAQs, tools and tips, training program booking, and emergency messages about the system. This Web zone is controlled by IT.

With Windows 2000,15 your corporate desktop can become a very powerful tool if managed properly. The inclusion of Web zones on the desktop is a boon to productivity. With Web technologies, corporations can manage content in real time, and through central policy management technologies, they can choose to activate them at will. Figure 4.12 illustrates a sample desktop design.

FIGURE 4.12 A Sample Corporate Desktop. The corporate desktop is divided into zones. Ownership of each zone is clearly defined. For users, the Active Desktop offers sophisticated wallpaper and screensaver images.

Group Customization of the Presentation Layer

Every single network needs to categorize its users. Most do it for reasons of security. Managing access rights within the network is much simpler if all users requiring the same access are grouped within some type of container. These containers have in the past been limited to user groups, but Windows 2000/XP introduces the notion of organizational units as well. Whichever method is used—and in most cases, organizations will choose to use both—it is important that corporations take aspects other than security into consideration when designing user groupings today.

Microsoft has integrated this notion into Windows 2000 as distribution groups. These special groups are separate from security groups and are used for distribution purposes only. With these types of groupings, organizations can ensure that their central systems deliver specific content to specific groups of users.

With technologies such as Windows 2000, this means that corporations can deploy information to users—information that can take the shape of software products, software upgrades, documents, system updates, and Web content.

When designing the corporate desktop, organizations must take into account the granularity they want for specific content delivery. By determining how finely you want to detail your distribution points, you can determine how many levels are required in your distribution groups.

For example, several corporations have opted to divide their groups of users based on three major guidelines:

  • Department minus 1: Users are grouped by department and by division. Smaller groupings are not determined. This allows for distribution of line-of-business information and toolsets.

  • IT function: Users are grouped by user role within the IT framework. This allows for the delivery of the software tools required to support the function.

  • Project groups: Groups are created for project teams to support their specific requirements.

Remember, groups can be either organizational units or user groups. Use both judiciously. Organizational units are ideal for the department minus 1 guideline because groupings are vertical. User groups are the best for IT function and project groups because both cover the horizontal breadth of the enterprise—both cut across departments.

Managing Web Content on the Desktop

Web content must be managed, so it requires a supporting process. Because Web zone owners are responsible for their content, this process needs to be simple and straightforward. It must also be widely communicated to responsible groups.

Microsoft offers free Web channels. This is an example of the Microsoft Finance channel. It is used to display stock information in real time on the Active Desktop.

An organization that has an intranet has usually provided some form of Web control to each of the responsible groups identified previously. Managing Web content is simply creating and maintaining a special type of Web page: the Web channel. Channels are stored as Channel Definition Format (CDF) files and are displayed within a special frame on the desktop.

On the creation side, a channel is just another Web page. Applying the channel to a desktop is done through a group policy in Windows 2000. This means that a policy enforcing the activation of the channel on given desktops is applied to the group container within Active Directory, Windows 2000/XP's central identity administration environment. Group policies are applied and refreshed on SPA objects (servers or PCs) on a regular basis that can be modified to suit your requirements. (The default is 90 minutes.)

Managing the Web content for the Presentation layer (see Figure 4.13) involves the following steps.

  1. Prepare channel content.

  2. Create or modify target groups.

  3. Target specific groups with a group policy within Active Directory to activate the zone. The zone displays on the desktop.

  4. Perform recurrent administration of the zone.

FIGURE 4.13 Presentation Layer Management. Active Desktop zones are managed as Web pages and are applied to workgroups through group policies.

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