Thursday, December 4, 2008

Virtualization returns to the desktop

The Wall Street Journal has reported that "IBM says it has created a 'Microsoft-free' virtual desktop -- a complete suite of applications that run on a backroom server and don't require Microsoft software or costly desktop hardware." The basic idea is to deploy desktops with virtually no locally installed software. All of the tools the user needs are installed on a server which reserves memory and processing power for each logged in user. The user experience is similar to a conventional desktop, including the ability to store preferences. However, the desktop PC can be a very low-end machine.

A few years ago, I had set up one of my clients with Linux desktops and a terminal server connection to a Windows platform. Users had all of the benefits of Microsoft applications, like familiarity and compatibility, but the company could easily get by with sub-$500 PC's, including the operating system. We shifted the budget in favor of high-end screens, which thrilled the users. More sophisticated users took advantage of the locally installed Linux O/S to install cookies from websites (which we restricted on the server-side).

Kyle Vickers, CIO of the American HealthCare Association, has long used a Citrix environment with dumb terminals on the desktop with great success. His team has no software on the vast majority of user desktops.

So IBM isn't -- by far -- the first to come to this party.

There is, however, one very simple reason why this has not gotten widespread use: Portability.
The virtual desktop simply does not yet work for the mobile user. It's coming, for sure, but we're not quite there yet. Until the executive user can connect her laptop to the corporate server from an airplane, this extreme desktop virtualization will remain a true rarity.

WSJ Article: IBM Creates 'Microsoft-Free' Desktop

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