Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Media Center 2005 vs. Domain Support

One of the most common newsgroup questions relates to Media Center 2005 and domain support. Why is this? Let's provide a bit of background.

When Media Center 2002 (code name Freestyle) was released, Media Center was a complete superset of Windows XP Professional. This meant that Media Center could join domains, and cache credentials, along with all of the other good stuff that Windows XP Professional could do (Remote Desktop, Encrypting File System, etc). When Media Center 2004 (code name Harmony) came out, things remained the same.

Prior to the release of Media Center 2005, Microsoft made the decision to remove support for domain joining and cached credentials from this release. Why? Primarily for two reasons which were:

  1. Feature differentiation between the Windows XP Media Center and Windows XP Professional so that a new price point could be created.
  2. Support for Media Center Extenders required Fast User Switching, something that could not be done when a computer is joined to a domain.

By removing domain join and cached credential support, Microsoft was able to offer Windows XP Media Center 2005 to OEMs at a lower price compared to Windows XP Professional. By lowering the price point, Microsoft was hoping that home users could get most of Windows XP Professional's features (i.e. everything except for domain join and cached credentials, which arguably are not features that are used by home users anyways) at a lower cost, and grow the Media Center platform in the market segment where it was destined to have the most growth... in the home market. Comparatively speaking, while one could envision scenarios where Media Center could be used in a business setting, it was clear which choice had more immediate upside.

Given the growth of Media Center sales over the last year or so, this decision, in light of the above factors, seems to have been the right one.

With Media Center Extenders first appearing in the Media Center 2005 time frame, the current Extender platform required Fast User Switching to be enabled on the Media Center host computer. By not supporting domain joining in Media Center, this would have been one less scenario for Microsoft to have to deal with.

In reality, people have been able to find ways to have their Media Center 2005 machines have domain joining and cached credential abilities. Here are three ways to do it, each with differing levels of support from Microsoft:

  1. Upgrade from a Media Center 2002/2004 machine that had previously been joined to a domain. This upgrade path is available from either discs provided by your OEM (i.e. HP, Sony, and other MCE 2002/2004 manufacturers offered this for a limited time) or from MSDN discs. This method of having a Media Center 2005 machine joined to a domain is supported by Microsoft; however, once the machine is removed from a domain, domain join ability is removed (e.g. if you manually remove the machine from the domain).

  2. During the Media Center 2005 setup process, if you have a network card that is supported by the in-box drivers, you are given the option of joining a domain. Why is this? The Windows XP Media Center 2005 setup is essentially the same as Windows XP Professional, with the difference being determined by the product key that is entered. When a Media Center product key is specified, the specific Media Center bits are installed (you'd be prompted for 'Disc 2'). It appears that Microsoft either missed this networking prompt, or felt that fixing that issue might have introduced potential issues such that it was not worth fixing (as the Media Center specific bits come after this prompt). As such, there seems to be tacit support from Microsoft for this method. Note that if you remove the machine from a domain, you will not be able to subsequently join a domain again.

  3. Enterprising people suspected that there was a way to 'fix' this issue via a hack. They were correct. By changing some protected registry keys, it is possible to permanently bring back domain join/cached credential support. There is a certain procedure to get around the protection on these registry keys, for more information about this, details are available at this site. This method is definitely NOT supported by Microsoft. While the site claims that Extender support works, I suspect that the person testing it did not have both the extender and a local user logged in at the same time (as that definitely would require Fast User Switching support). I would advise people using this hack to avoid using Extenders, as there are some interactions that are not within the realm of support.

With the impeding release of Windows Vista, the issue of having both domain support and Extender support is resolved. As I mentioned my 'Media Center and Vista Editions' blog entry, there will be two Windows Vista Editions with Media Center features. Windows Vista Ultimate will have both domain support and Extender support, while Windows Vista Home Premium will not have domain support (it will; however, have Extender support). Home users who don't need domain support would likely go with the lower priced Home Premium SKU, while Business/Power Users who need domain support would have the Ultimate SKU.

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Anonymous said...

You can use the "join during install" method even if the MCE CD/DVD doesn't support your Nic - just add the drivers: follow these instructions

Jason said...

That's a pretty good workaround to add drivers to the mix (sure beats integrating it directly into the install).

Thanks for the link

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice... thank you. I'll attempt it tomorrow morning when I try to hook up to the domain. Thanks for you reply.

Anonymous said...

Does Media Centre have IIS installed? Thanks. Dmitri

Jason said...


See here
IIS in Media Center 2005 (or earlier)