VMware, Linux ISVs Launch Alternative Desktop Models

*EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is the first in a weeklong series on the future of Microsoft's fat client and alternative desktop technologies that enhance or discourage the adoption of Windows Vista.

As Microsoft prepares to tout Windows Vista's advanced management features at a summit this week, VMware and Linux desktop competitors are banding together to push alternative desktop technologies.

VMware on Monday unveiled a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) Alliance with IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, Citrix Systems and other ISVs to develop joint virtual desktop solutions. As part of the alliance, VMware and its ISV partners will create preintegrated products for customers, said Jerry Chen, director of enterprise desktops at VMware.

Each solution will be announced when it's ready for market, Chen said. But he affirmed that IBM will offer a virtualized Linux desktop solution and Citrix will use VDI to provide end users with their own operating system and desktop applications in isolation. Those users currently share one operating system and set of applications delivered to their desktops.

VDI is a server-centric computing model that borrows from the traditional thin-client model but is designed to give administrators and end users the best of both worlds: the ability to host and centrally manage desktop virtual machines in the data center while giving end users a full PC desktop experience without limitations.

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VMware's enterprise hosted desktop, highlighted at its user conference last fall, enables desktop hosting on VMWare's flagship ESX server. VDI is the next evolution of that desktop solution, Chen said.

One VMware customer, Prudential of the United Kingdom, has deployed enterprise hosted desktops to 900 call center workers in India since 2002. And last year, VMware and IBM launched IBM's Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure, which delivers, for example, full desktop functionality to any client from IBM's xServers and BladeCenter servers.

Other ISVs in the VDI alliance include Altiris, Apstream, Ardence, Atos Origin, Check Point Software Technologies, ClearCube Technology, Devon IT, Dunes Technologies, Fujitsu-Siemens, Hitachi, Leostream, NComputing, NEC, Platform Computing, Propero, Provision Networks, Route1, Softricity, Wyse Technology and Zeus Technology.

Meanwhile, at the Linux Desktop Summit this week, the Free Standards Group (FSG) and key Linux backers IBM, HP, Red Hat, Novell, Intel, Dell and RealNetworks are slated to announce LSB (Linux Standard Base) 3.1, an enhanced, integrated Linux desktop and server standard.

The FSG also said Monday that Red Hat and Novell--the two leading commercial Linux distributors, which are readying new Linux desktops--will certify their operating systems to LSB. Other Linux distributors supporting LSB include Ubuntu, Turbolinux, Red Flag, Xandos, Linspire and Debian.

An FSG spokeswoman said previous LSB standards have included specifications for X interfaces, but those have not been widely used by desktop developers for more than a decade. LSB 3.1, in contrast, contains desktop libraries in use today and desktop-specific application behavior, she said.

LSB 3.1 is the first version of LSB to offer support for portable Linux desktop applications and incorporates the recently approved ISO standard known as LSB Core.

While those desktop models are touted for reduced desktop management cost and improved security, VMware and the FSG are going up against the entrenched desktop leader, Microsoft, which still owns more than a 95 percent share of the desktop market.

VMware's virtualized desktop will go up against Microsoft's Virtual PC Express, the software giant's desktop virtualization offering that will be bundled into the Windows Vista Enterprise client.

Still, desktop virtualization technology will likely encourage more Vista migrations, as well as Vista license sales, industry observers say.

VMware's enterprise hosted desktop is synergistic with Windows and Linux, according to Chen. "They are almost always Windows desktops," he said. "But you can expect Linux desktops being virtualized. It's a nice way for enterprises to move if they want to."