VMware won't be the first vendor to bring virtual desktops to the Apple iPad, having been beaten to the punch by rival Citrix.
But with VMware's marketing and product development resources, it will surely be a potent force in the drive to turn the iPad into a device worthy of business customers. VMware still isn't saying exactly when its desktop virtualization software will be iPad-ready, but the company did show a preview of VMware View for the iPad on the keynote stage at last week's VMworld conference.
Like Citrix Receiver for iPad, VMware's forthcoming technology will extend existing desktop virtualization software to the hot new Apple device, letting users access server-hosted desktops over a secure connection.
But VMware says it is still fine-tuning the user experience so that it takes advantage of the iPad's unique capabilities, and the company is not yet revealing a release date. The VMware View Client for iPad, as it is tentatively named, was not included in version 4.5 of VMware View, which was released at VMworld.
The iPad is "one of the key devices we have to support," says Raj Mallempati, director of desktop product marketing for VMware. "We want to get this as early as possible."
Since VMware's iPad technology isn't ready yet, the company is recommending that customers use VMware View in conjunction with Wyse Technology's Pocket Cloud, remote desktop access software available for the iPhone, iPad and Android.
"Right now, if somebody wants to access a virtual desktop from their iPad, the recommended solution is Wyse PocketCloud," Mallempati says. "Obviously, it's not VMware technology, but we worked with Wyse to make sure PocketCloud is integrated with View 4.5."
VMware briefly showed off its in-development iPad client during the VMworld keynote address, including the ability to have a desktop "follow" a user from one device to the next. That means a user can log into a desktop on a PC, then shift to an iPad, and then move to a laptop, and the user state and settings will remain intact each time the user switches devices.
Mallempati says he already uses the iPad to access e-mail and business documents at home.
"I don't have the iPad at work but that's basically my primary way I do work from home," he says.
VMware View iPad users will click on an icon that brings them to their full desktop, but with the iPad's touchscreen interface, including a virtual keyboard and touch-based mouse. Adapting regular desktops for touchscreens takes some time, VMware says.
"You can't take the typical PC interface, put it on the iPad and expect people to want it," VMware spokesman Christian Bateman says.
In addition to the iPad, VMware plans to support virtual desktops on Android tablets. VMware is also working on what it calls "Project Horizon," a hosted subscription service that will let partners deliver software-as-a-service applications to all types of user devices.
Although VMware has fallen behind Citrix on delivering virtual desktops to the iPad, Mallempati argues that VMware's approach will prove to be the superior one because it will include secure access to SaaS applications, in addition to Windows desktops.
"The big difference between us and Citrix, is we are looking at a world which is not just Microsoft," Mallempati says. "So that implies it's not just a diversity of devices, it's a diversity of applications."\
Citrix would beg to differ with that statement, however. One of the key parts of Citrix's desktop strategy is "Dazzle," a self-service storefront that is reminiscent of iTunes and gives users direct access to business applications, including the software-as-a-service tools supported by their IT department.
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