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Windows on iPhone: Citrix pledges to make it reality

With customers clamoring for Windows applications on the iPhone, Citrix Systems' will soon deliver, enabling users to display Windows apps and full desktops on the Apple device.

Windows on your iPhone? VMware Inc. competitor Citrix Systems Inc. has officially committed to delivering just that.

The Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based virtualization provider will write an ICA client, Citrix's proprietary version of the Remote Desk Protocol, for Apple's iPhone that will enable XenApp and eventually XenDesktop customers to display virtual Windows desktops on Apple's sleek and sexy mobile device. Still, while customers have clamored for Windows apps on the iPhone, it remains to be seen whether the prospect will be warmly embraced by IT.

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To some extent, the release of the ICA client represents the outgrowth of ongoing dialogue between Citrix and its customers. On Saturday, Nov. 1, on a Citrix community blog, Chris Fleck, Citrix's vice president of solutions development, wrote on Citrix's decision to heed customer clamoring for Windows applications on the iPhone. "Yes, we are listening, and yes, we are going to ship a Citrix App Receiver client for the iPhone!," Fleck confirmed.

"[Citrix president and CEO] Mark Templeton demonstrated our latest internal build at our Summit event last week and our partners gave us the same enthusiastic response as we are seeing here on the blogs," Fleck continued. "Right now the schedule [sic] ship schedule is first half of '09, but keep those votes and use cases coming and help us increase the priority further!"

We'd be off the BlackBerry platform and onto the iPhone with Citrix very quickly.
IT diretor,
chemical company

The blog entry was an update to a thread that Fleck began in June, just after the Citrix Advanced Products Group demonstrated Windows XP running on an iPhone via XenDesktop at the Citrix Application Delivery Conference in Melbourne, Australia. Fleck began the thread to ask Citrix customers if they would be interested in an iPhone ICA client and how the team would use it.

The thread's participants were overwhelmingly enthused about the prospect.

"I work in Clinical Information Systems, and we utilize Citrix pretty much exclusively," wrote Rod Beckett of Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center in Alamogordo, N.M. "The Doc's [sic] here have asked about it already and at first we laughed and then I got an iPhone! ... We're not laughing any more. ... The docs would love to check [patient] lab results and could request for charts to be printed etc. and perhaps some simple form charting and the like."

A director of IT for a large chemical company indicated that Windows on iPhone offered a lot of possibility for his users. "I have a highly mobile user base -- engineers visiting the production facilities, etc. Currently they are all armed with BlackBerry devices. That's great for email only ... but forget attachments or getting into some of the apps we currently host in a Citrix environment (such as our production scheduling tool). An iPhone client solves these problems. We'd be off the BlackBerry platform and onto the iPhone with Citrix very quickly."

Fleck said that in general, Citrix customers have described two distinct use cases for the iPhone client: (1) for the opening, viewing, editing and distribution of documents and (2) for line-of-business applications such as viewing and updating patient records.

Fleck also said that demand for the iPhone client has come not just from core Citrix IT customers, but from end users themselves. "We've talked to doctor after doctor that is pleading for the Citrix client, and explaining how it will help them better care for their patients," he said.

IT's reticence
But despite end users' love of the iPhone, IT departments have reservations about the iPhone as a business device, said Sean Ryan, research analyst for mobile devices at Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC. Among its shortcomings is the fact that the iPhone is controlled entirely by Apple, that it poses security risks, and it lacks good remote device management features, like those for RIM's BlackBerry devices. Usability is another key concern, said virtualization expert and iPhone user Scott Lowe. "I love my iPhone, and it's very useful when using applications that are designed for the iPhone," Lowe wrote in an email. "But when trying to use the iPhone to access applications that weren't designed for that form factor, it's going to create some real usability problems. Personally, I just don't see a tremendous amount of actual value to be had in an ICA client for the iPhone."

Fleck acknowledged that Citrix has heard those concerns, but that customers want the iPhone client anyway.

Further, the nature of the technology negates many of the enterprise IT's security concerns, Fleck said. "The beauty of Citrix is that it by definition eliminates much of the security exposure that IT is worried about because we're not sending real data, just pictures," he said. "We have complete remote control in terms of what end users access on their devices."

Fleck also said that Citrix would work hard to address usability concerns by developing a client that uses the iPhone's on-screen keyboard and characteristic iPhone "gestures" such as pinching and zooming.

Overall, Citrix's customer base has been extremely responsive to the company's converged virtual desktop strategy and to the iPhone support in particular, said Wes Wasson, senior vice president and chief marketing officer. "Imagine a world with just one copy of Windows, in a giant Pez dispenser so to speak, then show this to [IT directors] on an iPhone, and the light bulbs start to turn on," he said. "To carry that around with you in a portable way is pretty powerful."

Once released, the ICA client will be available for purchase from the Apple App Store, Wasson said and will also support the Wi-Fi-only iPod Touch device. Apple's App Store currently lists one other remote desktop product, MochaSoft's Remote Desktop for iPhone and iPod, based on the open source rdesktop.

For its part, in September, VMware alluded to similar plans at its annual VMworld conference. The company tantalizingly included a picture of an iPhone on a slide discussing the "universal client" and its vClient initiative. But at the time, VMware was not forthcoming about the form the iPhone support would take and when it might be available.

Still, observers have little doubt that VMware will lay out its own iPhone story sooner rather than later. "The iPhone is becoming table stakes on your list of supported devices," said IDC's Ryan. "You don't want to go in to a deal and say 'No, we don't support the iPhone,' because [IT] will turn to you and say, 'Well, our CIO has an iPhone.' It would be a deal breaker."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director.

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