XenApp 7.x: Virtual Reality

Back in January when Citrix announced that it would be reintroducing XenApp, many cheered. They were delighted that Citrix was finally acknowledging that virtual applications weren’t facing extinction or playing second fiddle to virtual desktops. After all, XenDesktop had been constantly hammered into our brains by Citrix, and there had been little mention of the beloved XenApp name.

Under the covers, what was done within the XenApp 7.5 release and furthered in the XenApp 7.6 release was 80% marketing and only about 20% technical. Let’s say that you’re a diehard XenApp administrator with no interest in XenDesktop. When you initiate the 7.x installation, you’re presented with two options: XenDesktop and XenApp. Of course, you choose XenApp and click through the installation screens. Little do you know that the installer is the same, as you can see in Carl Webster’s article Installing XenApp or XenDesktop 7.x, Does It Matter Which One You Select? As Webster details, the technical difference lies only in the license that’s applied.

While the administrative interface leads one to believe that one specific option is being installed, it’s 99% marketing. XenApp isn’t real; it’s virtual reality! The pretty marketing bows and ribbons make XenApp attractive to potential buyers and encourage existing XenApp fans to continue their loyalty.

XenApp and XenDesktop were officially married on May 22, 2013, with the release of XenDesktop 7.0. Never more would the two products be separate entities with distinct architectures. The XenDesktop family name persisted, and the maiden name, XenApp, was displaced by the new family name. But it never felt quite right, so the XenApp name reemerged in January of 2014. It was rather coincidental that this was shortly before VMware announced that Horizon View 6.0 would address application virtualization.

While the valid business cases for virtualized desktops are increasing as the associated cost and complexity decrease, a great many organizations continue to find that a one-to-multiple ratio of servers to users makes the best business sense. XenApp and its predecessors were the innovation that started application virtualization and continue to be the leader in this space. However, XenDesktop and similar vendor technologies for the virtual desktop audience have more vendor options, especially as related to ancillary technologies.

What if Citrix had kept XenApp as its flagship product and key trademark and later added XenDesktop as the secondary product? In addition to significant brand recognition, it would have kept its broad customer audience close to the chest, while also offering them virtual desktops as an option. For many, this would have been more palatable, but because feature parity with XenApp 6.5 was not part of the initial product and the XenApp feature enhancement list was slim, that wasn’t realistic. As a result, existing customers that were hooked on XenApp’s shared server resource architecture were unlikely to upgrade and spend more money. Instead, Citrix pushed its customers to embrace virtual desktops when a good number of them really didn’t want or need them. It then shifted back some marketing focus to XenApp several months later.

The reality is that, with the exception of the installation screens, XenApp as a product didn’t actually resurface when XenApp 7.5 or 7.6 was released. Today, XenApp is largely marketing, and its surname really is XenDesktop.

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