The desktop is an application

Had a brief discussion on twitter the other day where people (@simoncrosby, @joeshonk, @RichCrusco) were saying that we only need to focus on delivering applications and NOT a Windows 7 desktop. I completely disagree. In fact, we should be treating the desktop interface as an application. Of course the desktop-haters immediately came out saying “No, the desktop is not an application.” This was pretty much what I expected.

Unfortunately, trying to explain my point in 140 characters wouldn’t do it justice but a blog is a start.

The key point is that we need to focus on the users. When you look at how users work with these systems, you understand what they need in order to work effectively. We look at the applications as a way to get to the data. We decide if the user needs access to the application, and it is either granted or denied. If we ignored the desktop interface, things would be much easier. I already have a desktop interface, so why do I need another. My local desktop interface has my own applications, so simply let me subscribe to virtual applications. This would alleviate the user-installed application challenge. If you only focus on the applications, you are missing an important aspect because this model doesn’t work for everyone. Let me give you some examples for and against having the desktop interface delivered:

  • iPad: I don’t want to use the Windows desktop interface on my iPad as it doesn’t feel natural (Windows 8 might change this, but will wait before deciding). On the iPad, I just want to get to one or two of my applications. So in this case, I want to ignore the desktop interface.
  • Work-shifting: I work remotely on my company-owned laptop (Windows 7). If IT only gave me applications, things would feel unnatural. They could populate my start menu with my apps, but it wouldn’t feel right. I would need 2 Windows Explorers (one on my personal desktop and one for my virtualized environment). I would need two browsers (one for my personal and one for my virtual). Which one do I use? I’m not on the internal network, so I need to make sure I use the right one. Not user friendly and very unnatural. In this case, the Windows desktop is a requirement as it makes the user experience better.
  • BYO: A user brings their device and uses it at work. From a technical perspective, delivering virtualized applications would work fine. Unfortunately, we aren’t looking at the user perspective. A user will not want corporate applications on there. They don’t want those applications to consume hard drive space, nor do they want it polluting their start menu. Virtualizing the applications could overcome these issues, but the user’s perception is that the applications are local. Even training the users about application virtualization would not be enough as many users believe big brother is still watching. Plus, there will be confusion of having the corporate web browser and your local web browser (I hope you are using the right one, or you might get into trouble). Users in a BYO program want to use their own device, but still be given a “Corporate” environment to work on.
  • Local Corporate Device: You have a physical desktop (running Windows 7) located on the corporate WAN, so why do I want to deliver another desktop interface on the one I already have? You probably don’t, so simply deliver applications.

We love to talk about being able to do all of these cool things with virtualization and what the future will hold, but people tend to ignore the typical user and their perspective. This perspective and the comfort of using the system are what makes things succeed or fail. If the solution doesn’t feel natural, it won’t work. And I say that only focusing on applications and ignoring the desktop interface, you are ignoring the user and only thinking about some pie in the sky utopia.

If we treat the desktop interface (XP, Windows 7, RDS) as an application, you must assess the need for the interface using the same criteria you use for applications (end point device, user usage requirements, location, etc). If you treat the desktop as a desktop, you will surely go down the road believing the desktop interface is irrelevant only to find that users are unhappy with the application virtualization solution, thus killing user acceptance.

Not everyone requires a corporate-delivered desktop interface, but many do and we cannot ignore this need.

Daniel – Lead Architect
XenDesktop Design Handbook


When is RDS/XenApp not enough?

When working on desktop transformation designs, many start with the VDI (personal) model. I tend to go for the RDS (Shared) model. There are many reasons why, but mainly it is because

  1. Scalability: Most agree that a shared desktop environment achieves better scalability than personal desktop environments.
  2. Storage: Due to the shared operating system, the impact on storage is mostly a non-issue
  3. Security: Although a desktop can be secured, I typically find that people do a better job securing desktops in the shared model

Like I said, I usually start with the XenApp model, but as we all know, one size does not fit all. There are occasions where the personal desktop model is required. Every time I say this, I get many questions asking what for the user requirements that XenApp cannot provide. Here is a start:

  1. Reboot control: Can you imagine if you let users reboot a XenApp server. Talk about a great way to tick off your coworkers
  2. Admin rights: I hate to say it, but some users require admin rights. Doing this on a shared desktop will cause many issues.
  3. Specialized hardware: Some users need powerful graphics cards or sound cards. It is often easier to do this in a personal (VDI) model
  4. Backgrounds: Many users want a picture of Homer Simpson on their desktop background. Silly, that can be done with shared or personal. This is NOT a valid requirement to go to a personal desktop.

Of course, I’ll save the most common one for last…

  1. User Applications: Certain users need to install their own applications. Doing this on a shared model is scary, but on a personal model, makes a lot of sense.

What other areas do you see are viable user requirements that would dictate the need for a Personal (VDI) desktop instead of using the Shared (RDS) model?

Daniel – Lead Architect
XenDesktop Design Handbook