Touch to Kill the VDI Star?

Businesses today waltz with the end of the PC. AppSense’s Jon Rolls wrote an interesting blog post on how the Windows desktop has not ceased to be  in the post-PC era. For many businesses the corporate PC and the corporate laptop are increasingly supplemented by a personal tablet, personal laptop, personal smartphone. Perhaps if corporate IT moved faster (or depending on your viewpoint, businesses were willing to invest more in IT), then the rising reality of users believing they must bring in personal devices to be productive would halt, possibly even recede

Other touch capable OSes and screen vendors are available
Other touch capable OSes and screen vendors are available

Yet, even if the organisation can wrest control back from tablet-wielding users by providing appropriate devices, given consumer device trends today those devices will very likely be touch capable, and this trend will increase. I attended an Intel event recently where the speaker reported that at a recent innovation environment held at a school, 99% of the submissions from the innovative teenagers expected any IT interaction to be touch/gesture control rather than a keyboard; not voice either—you can tell Star Trek hasn’t been on TV for a while. Kids today, eh?

Virtualised desktops have one fundamental advantage over physical desktops: they can be transferred between devices. Every other value point for VDI (availability, manageability, security) has a counter point with a physical desktop. For many, transference is a significant productivity benefit, especially if that transference is to a personal device.

If the interaction interface changes so dramatically, if your tablet virtual desktop experience is poor because that interface isn’t designed or can’t accommodate touch, will that hamper VDI dominance?

Could it lead to an early demise?

Touch and VDI
Not all access methods are suitable for VDI

Then again, is touch that important? Not all operating systems support touch. For virtual desktops, the operating system should be immaterial from the user perspective. Virtual desktop delivery is less about the OS and more about application delivery; it’s about data. From a “maintain the facility to deliver Windows applications” point of view, virtual desktops – be they hosted desktops (VDI) or a shared desktop (RDSH/SBC) – can help you maintain that Windows environment required to host Windows applications and present it to non-Windows devices (appropriate licenses permitting).

Indeed, of those Windows apps, the significant majority were not designed to be touch capable. There is a valid argument to say that in many instances, a touch interface offers less business benefit than a traditional keyboard.

So, should VDI be bothered with touch? Supporting the interface of the device the user is using is key. Touch capability suggests a the context you’re in and what you need to do. And indeed, the problem is beyond simply “touch”; it is also “is that device appropriate.” There are tools to add functionality to applications for VDI use. Citrix, for example, has an impressive Mobile Application SDK allowing developers to enhance apps hosted on XenApp and XenDesktop. Just because you can deliver to any device doesn’t mean you should. Consider the exec who wants to review / present on their full or mini-tablet and realizes it’s a much smaller screen now; that many tabbed spreadsheet is hard to read.


Death by Blunder?

BYOD and mobility drives present show difficulties for virtual desktop deployments where the device has an interface beyond a keyboard and mouse. Large and small screen resolutions can add complexity. Different form factors mean that delivering on “work is not a place” can be complicated.

Virtual desktop deployments scale very well in a standard screen/keyboard/mouse environment. Beyond the workplace, an ability to deal with the interfaces of a variety of devices is key. Windows applications will indeed remain in place for a good while yet. HTML5 client support will open up the delivery of applications to a wider variety of devices, but there is more to making those legacy applications available than simply displaying them. Their value comes from interaction.

The capability for touch, in itself, won’t kill VDI. However, the key point in a VDI implementation is to understand the requirements and set expectations of what can and cannot be delivered correctly.  If VDI is to have an increasingly significant touch point over natively installed environments, get that right. 

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