On the road to the virtual desktop
Windows application virtualization and streaming solutions from Microsoft, Symantec, and Thinstall are laying the groundwork for a subscription-based, click 'n' run future. Imagining the possibilities, we put them through a simple SaaS performance test
Click ‘n’ run. It seems like such a simple concept. Surf up to a Web page, select the desired application from a list, and click. Voila! Microsoft Word appears on your desktop. Or Excel, or Adobe Photoshop… you name it.
[ Symantec SVS won an InfoWorld Technology of the Year award. See the slideshow to view all winners in the platforms category. ]
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Previous attempts at Web-based application distribution have focused mostly on kiosk-style computing, using a virtual machine or terminal session running on a back-end server to deliver a “screen-scraped” UI to the remote user. However, with the emergence of application virtualization solutions from Softricity (now part of Microsoft), Altiris (now part of Symantec), and Thinstall, the industry is poised for an explosion of new and potentially revolutionary delivery models.
These three solutions virtualize the interaction between Windows programs and the Windows OS resources they depend on, including the file system and system registry, allowing them to run in isolation from the underlying desktop. (For the differences in how they go about it, see my writeup on application and desktop virtualization in "Virtualization: Under the hood.") Combine the virtualization capabilities with streaming servers, as two of the vendors have done, and click 'n' run, on-demand application deployment is just a step or two away.
What makes application virtualization so compelling is its immunity to the very issues that torpedoed the kiosk solutions. For starters, virtualized applications are modular. Though streamed by default, virtualized applications can be configured for offline use, either through caching or by simply copying the application image to the client. And though isolated from the local system (because the application’s registry access and private file set are virtualized), they can still interact with local resources, seamlessly accessing the PC’s storage and print devices, for instance.