Remotely access VMware virtual desktops with WSX and an HTML5 Web browser

The technology works with the latest Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and iPad iOS -- no plug-ins or clients needed

Unlike the early years of x86 virtualization, nowadays when you mention the name VMware most people will probably assume you are talking about ESX or vSphere, VMware's flagship server virtualization and hypervisor technology. But back in 1999, VMware started with a desktop virtualization product called Workstation. Through all of the company's years of success in the server virtualization market, this little desktop product has continued to maintain its usefulness to corporate buyers and the community of end-users. It has been updated along the way, often adding experimental features that would one day become production-worthy and make their way into the ESX code path.

VMware has again updated its oldest-running product on the market with the announcement of VMware Workstation Technology Preview 2012. While this latest release will have new and interesting features worth discussing, one "preview" item in particular really stands out above the rest: an impressive prototype technology currently called WSX but is yet to be officially named.

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What's interesting is that the WSX service allows users to access their virtualized desktop environments remotely via a modern Web browser interface without requiring the addition of any plug-ins, Web controls, or the installation of any thick clients on the PC. It's ready to go, right out of the box, bringing a virtual machine to a tablet, smartphone, or any PC or device using compatible browser software.

WSX currently comes packaged with the Linux version of Workstation. Unfortunately for some, this means that the prototype currently only installs on Linux hosts as it has a dependency on the Python 2.6 binary for it to operate. But according to VMware, expect that to change as it evolves. A Windows version is expected to be released shortly. Had WSX not been packaged and delivered as part of Workstation but instead been released as a stand-alone application, it probably would have debuted as a VMware fling.

How does WSX work? First of all, it's installed as a mini Web server in your network environment. Once installed, the service provides an interface for enumerating and accessing Workstation and vSphere/ESXi 5 virtual machines. In addition to accessing remotely, the interface goes one step further by allowing you to power your virtual machines on and off and suspend them from the Web browser.

"WSX makes use of some modern Web technologies, such as HTML Canvas and WebSockets, along with a small but powerful server to turn your browser into a full-on remote console," explains Christian Hammond, VMware developer and virtualization blogger. "The WSX server talks to your Workstation, ESXi, and vSphere instances and relays the appropriate data up to the client running in the Web browser. With that data, the client can stay updated with the latest changes to the virtual machine and offer a full display of the console. We don't use any plugins, meaning there's nothing to install."

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