I have to admit that it came as a bit of a surprise to see Ericom beating Citrix, VMware, et al to the punch last week by shipping the beta release of its HTML5-based RDP client, before any of the bigger vendors opened up their offerings to public scrutiny. I’ll be looking at the operation of Ericom’s HTML5 client in more depth next week, but first we need to understand why anyone would be interested in deploying a HTML5-based remote desktop client at all.
Regardless of the size of an organization, endpoint management has always been a challenge. Even organizations with the most comprehensive desktop management solution have difficulties in assuring 100% coverage at all times. Despite the best efforts of vendors and IT organizations alike, this problem is getting worse rather than better. The increased adoption of remote working and advent of BYOD programs make it harder to provide comprehensive awareness of all endpoints. At the same time, the increasing diversity of endpoint operating systems, especially on mobile platforms, make it harder for software vendors to synchronize client release schedules and maintain feature parity across all platforms.
Enterprise IT organizations are increasingly deploying mobile device management solutions from vendors such as MobileIron, Odyssey, and SOTI, or updating enterprise management systems from BMC, CA, HP, Novell, Symantec, etc. to take on the challenges of supporting mobile devices. Most recently, Microsoft announced that System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2012 will include support for iOS, Android, Symbian in addition to the currently supported Windows Phone 7 (but not yet, Blackberry OS, QNX or WebOS), and has already made available beta 2 of SCCM 2012 for download. That is a lot of vendors, and a lot of products, but as with SCCM 2012, they all share any common weakness in that is day are all patchwork solutions. No single vendor offers a management platform capable of managing all likely mobile endpoint operating systems. Just look at Sybase Afaria, which Market Researchers IDC reported came out on top of their Worldwide Mobile Device Management Enterprise 2010–2014 Forecast and 2009 Vendor Shares report with a 19.7% share of the market. Even at the high end of the mobile device management market, Afaria offers no more than a patchwork of incomplete capabilities, unable to deliver a complete set of features on any platform. With that background the likelihood of being able to provide assurances that has every endpoint is appropriately managed looks bleak.
With that background, it is inevitable that any potential universal application execution environment will be looked upon with great enthusiasm. In the past both Java and Adobe’s Flash have been put forwards as offering a potential fix for client deployment woes. However, despite the best efforts of many in the IT industry, Apple’s dogmatic position on Flash and Java ultimately put paid to both as the best hope for a unifying application execution environment. Leaving HTML5 as the only potential solution that is all major vendors are backing. This is not to say that HTML5 is home free. The HTML5 standard is still under development and as yet no two rendering engines support the same subset of HTML5 features. (Wikipedia provides a comprehensive breakdown of the current level of HTML5 compatibility for the layout engines used by all popular browsers here).
Ericom manages to skirt around most compatibility problems, but does take pains to call out that on some browsers the mouse pointer does not fully reflect the remote desktop state until the mouse is moved and the mouse pointer icon refreshed. More significant problems associated with the browser rendering engine include the presence or lack thereof of support for “Full Screen Mode “. For those browsers that do not support this capability, the remote View desktop is displayed within a browser tab. Hardly ideal from a user experience perspective, and a limitation that will be difficult to sell to the majority of end users. Other rendering engine limitations include limitations on support for interaction with local microphones and WebCams (supported in Android Honeycomb, but not as yet Safari), which will make supporting VoIP applications problematic to say the least. Limitations such as these mean that, for the time being at least, HTML5-based remote desktop clients are best viewed as a universal catchall for unmanaged endpoints rather than as something that can supplant OS-native clients throughout the enterprise.
For all its current limitations, a HTML5-based RDP client for View or any other VDI platform is a major step forward for ubiquitous access and its significance should not be overlooked.