XenApp is Back, and Citrix With It

Citrix’s new CTO for desktops and applications, Gunnar Berger, has made the most important announcement about Citrix of 2014. Yes, even more important than the news that CEO Mark Templeton is returning to the hot seat.

In a Wednesday blog post, Berger admitted in public what many inside and outside Citrix have known for years: “we over rotated and SBC* became a second class citizen to VDI.” He followed up with the almost joyous shout:

“No more! XenApp is back!”‌

And rightly so. Citrix’s decision to focus on VDI was, in many respects, understandable. VMware, playing to its strength in operating system virtualization, had already introduced VMware View, delivering a full desktop operating system from the data center, a direct threat to Citrix’s lifelong dominance of the desktop in the data center business. Egged on by Gartner’s proclamation of gold in them thar desktops, a 2009 Gartner report titled “Worldwide Hosted Virtual Desktop Market to Surpass $65 Billion in 2013,” it was entirely understandable that Citrix would react by prioritizing XenDesktop above XenApp.

This was not the right thing to do. There’s no doubt that it needed to unify XenApp and XenDesktop. Maintaining two product lines when one could do the job benefited no one, certainly not Citrix, but it also increased cost and complexity for customers and created an opportunity for VMware to break into Citrix accounts. The mistake was the positioning of XenApp as a mere adjunct to XenDesktop. This was not smart. Not only did it play into VMware’s hands by sending the message that desktops were more important than apps, but it confused many XenApp customers, who felt that Citrix was no longer focusing on their needs. Citrix, which had successfully led its customers through four previous name changes—from WinFrame to MetaFrame XP, to Presentation Server, to XenApp—failed to convince when XenApp became just a feature within XenDesktop.

Now, though, according to Berger, XenApp is back.

Berger may be right in claiming that XenApp is back in pole position, but it looks as if the rest of Citrix is still trying to catch up. The old Trade-up to XenDesktop program is still in place, and you can still get a XenApp license as part of a XenDesktop purchase, not the other way ’round. Maybe that will change in time, but it doesn’t have to. As Berger says:

“The real story is that Citrix’s emphasis on XenApp, as a brand, is back. Reviving the brand is kind of like raising the flag on a battlefield; it’s the call to arms, it rallies the troops and sets the direction. XenApp is a brand to be proud of, it’s a rallying flag for engineers, executives, consultants, and partners to stand behind. If the flag stands then the product lives. I can assure you, the flag is standing high.”

Last month, I asked Citrix why has there been so little effort to develop a Windows Application as a Service platform for the cloud. With Azure RemoteApp about to launch and Citrix Workplace Services coming out the door in the near future, an app-centric Citrix is ripe to deliver that service and in a much stronger position to reignite its old relationship with Microsoft.

*Server-based computing

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