Recently I have been trying to lighten my conference going load. To do that, I have been thinking about ways to do without my laptop and all the accessories for it, which got me thinking about what it takes to completely use such a device; to fully embrace the next generation of end-user computing using gesture computing and smaller devices. Other than the technical hurdles, there are also training hurdles as full tablet computing, today, has some serious limitations with respect to security, functionality, and in some ways capability.  So how does one embrace tablet computing as their next-gen end user computing?

One could say you need to start with virtual desktops, but that is not really the answer, you need to start with requirements first. What applications does one need while using the EUC device, how are those applications presented, how is connectivity handled, will data need to be local as well as always available, how do you currently handle security, and is the tablet the only required hardware?

End User Computing Requirements

Here is an example list of requirements:

  • Access to Collaboration Tools (email/IM/presence)
  • Ability to Read and possibly write Office Documents.
  • Ability to access “legacy apps”
  • Internal Web Access
  • External Web Access

The list goes on and there is one other question that should be asked, how do the tools chosen handle screen real estate. We are very used to using normal keyboards and when keyboards appear on the screen they take up half the screen, which is very difficult to handle when your scrolled all the way to the bottom in a document you are needing to edit.

End User Computing Solutions

For an iPad:
  • iPad Mail Client, TweetBot, Echofon, IM+, Skype
  • Goodreader, Docs-to-Go, Google Docs, View Client
  • iSSH, View Client, Ericom RDP Client
  • View, RDP Client
  • Safari Browser
  • Stylus, External Keyboard

For an Andriod:

  • gMail Client, K9, Touchdown, AquaMail
  • Google Docs, open office, quill, tabnotes
  • View Client, HTML 5 Client
  • View, RDP Client
  • Chrome Browser
  • External Keyboard

So what are the solutions?

  • Email: Built-In mail Client for the device unless you absolutely need access to Microsoft Outlook which implies use of a virtual desktop
  • Office Documents: There are a number of tablet based tools, or you could use a virtual desktop
  • Remote Access: Use the supplied Apps (SSH/VNC/RDP App(s)) or the virtual desktop application available for your tablet device. You may need different Apps depending on where you are in the network. For example, you may want to use one client while on the road, but need another client in the office due to other security constraints.
  • Internal Web Access may require access through a VPN or using a virtual desktop.
  • External Web Access use the default web client but perhaps proxy it through one of the security as a service products.

However, each of these choices comes limitations.  Since not all tools we want to use are native to the tablet, full gesture computing would not be available, so a more traditional approach may be required such as using a bluetooth keyboard as the on screen keyboard may take up too much screen real estate. I once wrote 3/4s of a book using Documents To Go on a Palm Pilot using an external fold out keyboard. While it was easy to carry with me (2 pieces: keyboard + Palm), it was difficult to use for editing the book as not all the features where there, the screen was too small, but it was easy to write just about anywhere. Given this experience, I feel a keyboard is a necessity however, a bluetooth keyboard offers hackers a perfect attack surface. One from which they can sniff credentials before they make it into the system. To that end, if a keyboard is in use as part of your EUC desktop replacement, you may need to add some additional security training.

At no point in time should credentials or anything considered to be private be entered into the table via a bluetooth keyboard.

This one simple precaution will help your security quite a bit, but it requires training your users to switch from off-screen to on-screen keyboard mechanisms as required.

Pointing and other gestures are pretty natural to us and work as expected, however, once more we need to consider legacy applications that only respond to right or left mouse click. Since our finger is the mouse we may need to add additional gestures for the different clicks. For some tools, you have to activate the keyboard before use for an external keyboard to work.  Another option is to use a Stylus and tablet apps that perform handwriting recognition, however, most of these need more power than a tablet can provide and put your data into the cloud where it may or may not be protected.

Conclusion

I think we are very close to being there, combining gestures, stylus, and external keyboards brings us to a middle ground in end user computing, we are on the cusp of doing everything using a new model, but we have quite a bit of legacy tools we must use that get in the way and bring their own baggage.  Will the cloud help us get past this, only if the legacy applications can be rewritten for the cloud, else we are bolting on something before the application to interpret our gestures so we no longer require keyboards and the like.

Is it possible to go 100% tablet computing while on the road? Yes, but you will need some sort of way to present your legacy applications to the tablet, such as a virtual desktop and for that you need connectivity!

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Edward Haletky (384 Posts)

Edward L. Haletky, aka Texiwill, is the author of VMware vSphere(TM) and Virtual Infrastructure Security: Securing the Virtual Environment as well as VMware ESX and ESXi in the Enterprise: Planning Deployment of Virtualization Servers, 2nd Edition. Edward owns AstroArch Consulting, Inc., providing virtualization, security, network consulting and development and The Virtualization Practice where he is also an Analyst. Edward is the Moderator and Host of the Virtualization Security Podcast as well as a guru and moderator for the VMware Communities Forums, providing answers to security and configuration questions. Edward is working on new books on Virtualization.

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1 comment for “End User Computing: Using just a Tablet

  1. December 18, 2012 at 12:02 PM

    100% “but you will need some sort of way to present your legacy applications”? – I don’t think that’s always the case.

    If you consider the tablet as a complimentary device (which is often what it is) especially if you consider how users need (or indeed want) to be presented with their data, you can move to a 100% non-legacy environment.

    Indeed, I see that if you look at a number of job functions you can completely redefine and streamline how people work and interact without the need for legacy applications at all: using tablets with native or web based customised applications.

    But some are still sadly shackled to the past like you Ed ;)

    Here I think the Ericom’s Access Now HTML 5 work is useful. Citrix’s SDK for ICA and their work with Cloudgateway and data/application management & intergration of Zenprise is going to be an interesting play. Its not just about gestures (which in themselves are under HCI scrutiny(http://ewic.bcs.org/content/ConWebDoc/43351)) but security, screen real estate and data availability.

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