Blog Post

Virtualization Is the Trojan Horse to Take the iPad Beyond Apple's OS

Citrix’s (s CTXS) quiet announcement that its Receiver software will allow Apple (s appl) iPad users to run Windows 7 sessions via virtualization has caused some to suggest that the iPad may have much promise as a business tool. But why stop at Windows? The iPad will reach beyond Apple’s iPhone OS and Windows (s msft).

As Citrix vice president Chris Fleck has noted in a blog post:

“It turns out the 9.7 inch display on the iPad with a 1024×768 screen resolution works great for a full VDI XenDesktop. Windows applications run unmodified and securely in the data center, and even multiple applications at once. The advancements that were made for the Citrix Receiver for iPhone will carry over to the iPad, however the iPhone restrictions of screen size and small keyboards are overcome with the iPad. It’s a beautiful thing!”

One of the primary details to note there is that multiple Windows 7 applications can run in a session on an iPad via Citrix Receiver and Xen virtualization. Of course, it’s also important to note that Fleck is describing applications housed on remote servers — not running locally. Apple has already announced that it will have its iWork applications available for the iPad, but why won’t many Windows 7-centric users and businesses want access to Windows applications that they can run concurrently as well? Doing so could eliminate multitasking limitations inherent to the iPhone OS, and a larger screen than the iPhone’s will only help encourage such usage.

PC World’s Randall Kennedy argues that the iPad’s limited connectivity and lack of a keyboard and a mouse will keep many business users from adopting it, even if it does Windows 7 sessions. I, too, have expressed my doubts about whether Apple will even market the iPad toward business users, and many Windows 7 users may favor Windows tablets over the iPad. Still, the more I think about it, the more it seems inevitable that the iPad, through virtualization, will reach out to other operating systems featuring myriad types of applications.

Also, why stop at Windows? Many businesses run on Linux platforms with robust virtualization options. Lots of Linux users are used to running Linux in conjunction with other operating systems, and they may reach for virtualization as a way to extend what their iPads can do, too. Despite its cloud-centric focus, users of Google’s upcoming Linux-based Chrome OS may end up wanting to add virtualized sessions to their iPad arsenals, too, especially because of the strong security it promises to have.

Years ago, virtualization implied performance hits and other problems that made it impractical for many users, but that has changed. Even though the iPhone OS doesn’t include it natively, the writing is already on the wall that other players will deliver virtualized solutions for the iPad. They’ll be available for free, too. One of the key drivers for all of this is that, as always,  rich applications are what solidify the future of hardware devices. For that reason alone, the iPad will reach out to other operating systems — and apps for them –whether Apple likes it or not.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub req’d):

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  • 39 Responses to “Virtualization Is the Trojan Horse to Take the iPad Beyond Apple's OS”

    1. Ta-da – now that is the meaning of the word NET in netbook. I can already access my Linux, OS X and windows desktops via VNC from my iPhone. The iPad offers a properly sized screen, more RAM and a faster CPU making the recieving client much more effective. Now an optimised client and server setup like Citrix offer will be brilliant! This could be with VDI desktops through Xen, or VMWare, or access back the users physical desktops, and this stuff is trivial to set up even at home really, especially with Linux. With OpenSuse my desktop is connected to a 24″ monitor and runs at high colour depth with high resolution. On my iphone, I have a much smaller desktop and only 16bit colour. From my laptop, I connect to a higher resolution session. This means it works fine over just about any network. Also unlike XP and OS X, my linux VNC server is setup so that it doesn’t interfere with the currently logged on user. Now if I had a good X11 server and SSH client on iPhone/iPad as well, then I could just run the apps I wanted, and not bother with the whole desktop. Firefox and flash on iPhone anyone? X11 is even better than VNC or remote desktop. All the apps can use the servers window chrome, buttons and dialogs, so they can look like native iPhone Apps. The application on the client just asks for a dialog box with a buton to be drawn.
      This will be brilliant if not killed by all those making money of of ding it the hard way.

    2. @ Martin Ingram — well said. I agree that the accessing device will become less and less important the the remote apps and services will increas in importance, for the most part. I also think dual-boot systems where more than one OS is local, and ready for local apps, will increase in popularity.


    3. Martin Ingram

      Over time the accessing device will become far less important than the applications and services that user access.

      We still live in a world where many people think all applications run on the machine in front of them. You can see that in some of the comments to this article where people assume that Windows would have to run on the iPad itself. In our minds there is a tendency to think of web applications as somehow different. Already many of the types of applications we would think of as locally installed are being delivered as web applications – we only need to look at the hosted version of iWork announced with iPad to see this. But HTML + HTTP are not the only ways to deliver remote applications and Citrix’s ICA, along with protocols from other vendors, have numerous advantages. The key point here is that applications can be easily delivered into many types of accessing device already.

      Where we are heading is a world where the applications we use will be delivered to any accessing device we use from many different sources, personalized in the ways we expect (mass customization will be important here). With that comes a lot more freedom on what the accessing device can be; maybe it is a mobile phone, maybe a traditional PC, perhaps an iPad. It really need not matter from the perspective of delivering the application. Of course, the implications for those who manufacture only traditional PCs are less rosy.

      Martin Ingram (AppSense).

    4. One very useful business application for the iPad would be a system for processing all the digital paperwork that executives and managers need to read, edit and approve every day. The iPad takes up little space in a briefcase, and, unlike smart phones, the screen is big enough to read even letter-sized documents.

      Unlike a multi-use laptop where documents can easily get misplaced, it could be dedicated to that one purpose, with software that takes care of prioritizing and managing the flow of documents in and out. With the 3G model, work could go on almost anywhere. Easily held in the hand and with a fifteen-second startup time, even a few minutes in a cab or waiting in line at an airport could become productive time.

    5. @Sean, you make a good point that Mac OSX may be the OS that iPad users want to virtualize or use remotely. And, yes, I’ve seen the LogMeIn Pro remote control app for the iPhone. No reason why it won’t work on the iPad, and then you can run remote apps on other operating systems whether your business facilitates it or not.


    6. We’re forgetting that most of the early adopters are going to be Mac users anyways, so why would they virtualize windows (unless they’re trying to access corporate work files). Thus, they’re going to want to run full OSX and the first app I’ll be uploading to my new iPad is LogMeIn Pro. It was built to virtualize OSX on the iPhone with touch and all, and with the bigger screen, I’m saying game over.

    7. @instig8r — remote support via an iPad is an interesting scenario.

      @ Lida Tang — You’re right that virtualization isn’t strictly necessary. Ulteo, for example, offers the OpenOffice productivity apps online and you can just go to them via a browser. Lots of hosted apps could take place for the iPad, many of them outside of Apple’s control.

    8. Constable Odo

      Knowing how corporations work and how the loyal Microsoft IT managers are, I’d say Apple had a snowball chance in hell of getting businesses to use an iPad to run Windows 7. They’ll just choose some cheap HP or Dell tablet or netbook and use that instead. They’re not going to be forking their money over to Apple.

      Dell and HP are already set up to service their shoddily-built corporate desktops, so why bother to go with Apple that has nothing in place for corporations. This makes no sense whatsoever. Microsoft has corporations locked down for life. Even if a few executives and employees wanted to change to Apple products, IT wouldn’t let them because they only believe in the total Microsoft experience on Microsoft-certified hardware. Besides, corporations do everything on the cheap for employees and any extra money goes into the CEO’s and upper management’s pockets.

      This Citrix VP is dreaming. He needs to wake up to reality. Any old tablet will do. No Apple products will be allowed in corporations.

      • Hi @Constable

        I’m the dreaming VP at Citrix :-) Yes it’s true that Corporations are Micosoft centric and driven by the bottom line. However more and more employees are influencing IT decisions or taking matters into their own hands by buying their own iPhone or laptop to make themselves more productive. Some companies are even encouraging it by providing expense reimburment or a BYOC program.
        The iPad is likely to accelerate this trend because employees will be buying these devices bringing them to work and then asking IT to support them. In the Citrix Reciever senario, IT has a safe way to provide access to apps and data without application limitaions or security issues.
        I will keep dreaming about the day when anyone can get whatever device they want without being shut down by their company… it’s not that far away…

    9. Virtualization isn’t strictly necessary. The important part is the remote display and input aspects. We have an iPhone application that allows users to browse sites through a remote Firefox with Flash and Java plugins. The iPad would be great for remotely controlling OpenOffice or Gimp.

      We are focusing on open source applications to offer better integrations with multi-touch gestures than just a straight remote desktop solution.

      • Windows doesn’t actually run on the iPad, it’s run on a remote virtual machine. I’m guessing it’s something like VNC, but highly optimized depending on the client.

        By the way, the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, AppleTV and Macs all run OS X, just different variations. Each tweaked for their intended purposes.

    10. @ John, yes I know a lot of people who depend on Citrix as a bridge to the tools they use for work. There are a lot of virtualization solutions out there, too, and I could see numerous bridges from the iPad to remote applications taking shape, as well as commercial hosts for platforms and apps that iPad users can access.


      • Why anyone would expect the iEmpire to allow citrix to run on the iPad is beyond me. The iPad is supposed to be an entertainment device that taps content from the iTunes store, thus piping $$ up the return path. Virtualization (including the ubiquitous VNC) subverts the iExperience and digresses from the $$ return path. Bag of hurt, whaddya think?

        • I use VNC on my iPhone to access my iMac all the time. I also have an SSH client on my iPhone to get shell access to my web server running from a virtual OpenBSD machine on my iMac.

    11. @Peter I think you miss the point.

      Most of the REAL work I do happens on remote servers that I access remotely through citrix. If you are a sysadmin and you can’t see the awesomeness of being able to click the device ON (no bootup times) launch citrix… go to remote server and do what you need to do (fix issue… start app whatever) then log off and turn device off. In the middle of the night that is such a sweet thing.

      • Jacob Varghese


        Big question is whether this will push companies to reconsider the whole thin client/terminal services model. I hope so. I was always a big fan.

        • That will happen only when and to the extent that the entrenched player can make (even more) money from the model. If a particular vendor tells ZDNet and its clones to preach the gospel that TS/thin clients are dead, you won’t be able to close the floodgates. Propaganda-driven groupthink at its “finest”.

        • We don’t need a return to a client/server model, we need an intelligent cloud model where applications access cloud components. Applications on these devices are nothing if not a symbiosis between apps and servers. We built our application model as a symbiotic relationship between databases which control content, view and behavior, and the iPhone application which was designed to perform the behaviors and be controlled via databases.

          This is important, because applications require contextual shifts. Lets say you are on the road, Salesforce-like apps should present themselves in a certain way. If I am on a couch, a magazine would present new content, while presenting cached content if I am on the subway. With respect to actual work, let’s say I design a Teacher Edition text that requests certain content and template based information when the teacher is standing versus sitting. Now, let’s say that the teacher can define the interface as needed. I’m in Texas and need TEKS info…

          These scenarios are more dynamic than a fed interface or interfaces. They require a two way street — a cloud of capabilities.

    12. @Peter — While you may be right that IT administrators could stage a backlash against virtualization on the iPad, it seems hard to digest the idea that virtualization is widespread on notebooks, desktops, netbooks and other work devices but won’t reach the iPad.


      • I don’t think virtualization is all that common on laptops and desktops besides the occasional citrix client, server space is where it’s at.

        PS: Loved the old PC Mag, so it’s good to see a familiar face here.

    13. No system administrator in their right mind is going to virtualize Windows 7 on the iPad when there are perfectly serviceable netbooks and laptops that can do it at the same price or less and include USB ports and keyboards. Slow news day? I’m tired of reading about the giant iPod.