Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Desktop Virtualization Is Here (And For Now, It's Free)

I could cry. I had a brilliant idea last week. But I lack the resources (money and staff, mostly) to pull it off. Then I learn it's already been done. At least I was on the right track.

One of the managers of an organization that supports mine has an iPad 2, and works through a virtualized desktop. I've seen him using Windows on his iPad. Last summer, our CTO asked him and some of his people to demonstrate desktop virtualization during a "brown bag". We were supposed to have CTO brown bag lunches every month, but so far that's been the only one.

I love the idea of desktop virtualization. I've already started to migrate to web apps as much as possible. I don't miss the bad old days when Windows crashed and I had to reinstall, then spend days installing all the software I needed. Now I reformat, install a few programs I need (iTunes, VLC Media Player, Chrome, and Diablo II) and pick up where I left off. I'm tempted to not install MS Office next time Windows crashes. I only use Word and Excel on my home computer. Outlook has gotten to be about useless.

In desktop virtualization, Windows is running on a server somewhere. You log in through a client (could even be your browser) and it loads Windows. The solution described at the brown bag I attended involved a clean installation of Windows every day, so any worms or malware you've picked up are gone. It then migrates your profile in. Most users will never notice. They'll get the same desktop every day. I like this idea because it's platform agnostic. You can buy any device you like, or go anywhere. No more lugging a 15" laptop around.

I wrote a paper for a class I took proposing the use of desktop virtualization to reduce printing costs and enable telework. I've been meaning to post it here since last week.

Recently, a friend commented that he was having trouble with malware corrupting a profile on his laptop. He's my IT Jedi Master, so I know he knows what he's doing. That's when I got the idea to offer virtual desktops to consumers. I thought it would be a brilliant idea. But I lack the staff or money to pull it off.

It turns out, I don't have to. TUAW has a post about such a service. It also mentions a few others. This technology has been around for quite a while, but hasn't been able to gain traction. Back in 1999 and 2000, when I was an Intelligence Specialist in the Navy Reserve, I had access to a Windows NT 4 Citrix desktop. Of course, it was slow and painful and only had 5 MB of storage, so I never used it. Somewhere between 2005 and 2007, I found another virtual desktop service. I created an account, but it must not have impressed me because I forgot about it.

So now there's OnLive. And DAAS. And many others. According to TUAW, this stuff is about to get real in 2012. I'm looking forward to it. I will be reporting on developments here on my blog. I also plan to redact specifics from my paper and post it here as well. I've thought about trying to get it published so I can get paid for it. I'm not quite sure how to do that though.
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