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

Citrix’s quiet announcement that its Receiver software will allow Apple 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.

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.

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