Coming out of this holiday season there will be many who got new, more versatile, mobile devices and will want to use them to access information from work. In the nearly 15 years since the introduction of the two way pager, mobile device manufacturers have been trying to build a platform for business applications to take on messaging as the next “killer application.” Virtual Desktop Clients may be the application that finally steps up to the task.
The success of the messaging client on mobile devices has been due to the fact that it provides nearly the same features as a full desktop client. With full access to multiple address lists, calendaring, and spell checking, working on small form factor devices does not take away from the user experience of the application. Providing the same experience for other applications has not been as easily achieved and usually either requires the user to relearn the application in a mobile version or the features are stripped down where it only provides the bare minimum to function.
SmartPhones and enhanced web browsers have given application developers a more robust platform to work with, but with such diversity the challenge now is how to create and support applications for so many different platforms. Remote protocol clients provide access to company hosted applications and desktops, giving the user more options to run those critical business applications from anywhere.
Major vendors such as Citrix and Wyse have developed feature-rich clients that give users secure access to applications, data, and desktops from their mobile devices. The cost of such clients range from free to about $30.00USD, and depending on your infrastructure and devices in use, there is a client to meet your needs.
Form Factor Problem
Applications specifically tailored for mobile devices efficiently utilize the screen real estate and leverage the capabilities of the device hardware such as a trackball or menu system. The user interface of hosted applications delivered with a remote protocol client do not dynamically get rewritten to fit the device or handle special device hardware; it is up to the client delivering the application to accommodate the user. Users find themselves panning back and forth or having to zoom far out to see the applications in full screen. At that point, are they really that useful? If delivering a single application experience is already a challenge then delivering a desktop is even more difficult.
Who are the Users?
Polling IT folks about a remote desktop client, you get a lukewarm to very hot response. The ability to get to a domain controller’s desktop or administration tools to handle a support call without having to fire up the laptop is very compelling, even “cool” by some respects. But polling the lay-person the response is much different. Email, Calendar, Texting and Social Networking are the primary apps, with an occasional web lookup. When asked, a Product Manager from an Education Marketing company said “I couldn’t imagine using Microsoft Word or Excel on my iPhone. It would be impossible to type anything on it. Isn’t that what a Netbook was made for?”
As the list of available mobile applications increases on a daily basis there are very few that appear to rise above “cool” to “killer app” status. IT administrators are going to find mobile remote access and management apps are going to make their jobs out of the office easier, but the end users are going to be more compelled to stick to their laptops or netbooks to access corporate applications and desktops.
For those interested in evaluating what the mobile clients can offer, I have included a links to some available downloads:
Citrix Receiver for Mobile Devices
Microsoft Mobile RDP Client
WYSE Pocket Cloud