InstallFree Nexus: open Dropbox files via real windows apps in a browser. No desktop, no setup!

I've been playing with the beta version of InstallFree's Nexus product recently, and it's awesome.

I've been playing with the beta version of InstallFree's Nexus product recently, and it's awesome. (Check it out nexus.installfree.com.) If you use Dropbox, click "sign in with Dropbox" and you're redirected to Dropbox's site to grant access to InstallFree, and then you're sent back to InstallFree's site where see all of your Dropbox files.

Then if you click on a document in Dropbox, you can launch an HTML5-based web connection to a remote copy of the real Windows app for that file type. (So you can open a Word doc in remote Word 2010, delivered via HTML5.) The experience of using the actual remote Windows app is similar to Ericom AccessNow, except it's all tied to your cloud-based file storage system. The remote app actually connects back to Dropbox and opens the doc you clicked via the remote system.

The whole thing is HTML5-based. You don't need any clients or apps installed, and the beta is 100% hosted by InstallFree. Just hit the site and go. I've used it from my desktop and iPad without problems. In fact using Word doesn't feel that bad (in terms of performance), though I don't love that I have to use my finger as a mouse clicker.

But here's the thing. While this is cool for editing Word docs, I really love that I get the "real" version of Word. If I want a simple touch-based way to edit my Dropbox documents, I'm going to use a device-native application like QuickOffice. But sometimes I need to do more and I don't have Word installed on the device I'm using, and that's where Nexus shines.

How it Works

When it comes to the actual HTML5-based delivery of the remote Windows apps, Nexus feels like AccessNow or any of the other HTML5 clients, so nothing special there. What's unique about Nexus is that the remote Windows apps are NOT each running in their own sessions. Nexus is not VDI or RDSH.

We all know InstallFree as an app virtualization company (with a technology that's similar to something like App-V or ThinApp). For Nexus, they're using their own app virtualization to run multiple isolated instances of the remote Windows apps on a regular host. It's a Windows virtual appliance with a bunch of separate virtual instances of their apps. So they can "launch" a remote app as quickly as Windows can (i.e. no separate Windows logon, etc.), and they can get much more density than even RDSH since they're not running a whole Windows session per user.

The whole thing is a server-only solution, and it will work with any Windows application you can virtualize via InstallFree. They also have a bunch of different data connects for Dropbox, SharePoint, Live, etc. (and they're working on Mozy, Google, and others). All apps are launched via a URL, so it's easy to create custom bookmarks on any client.

And as I said, Nexus will be available as a virtual appliance. Scalings will be as simple as building another virtual appliance with the apps you'd like to provide installed. There's no user profile management, no RDS, and no client. You'll be able to host this yourself, through a provider, or (for SMB), directly from InstallFree.

Why Nexus is cool

The huge potential of Nexus will be using it for your "long tail" Windows desktop applications. The beta of Nexus only includes a few apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Visio, Project, Paint and some other viewers). The real power will be when InstallFree releases this and you can hook in your own Windows apps. If you're using a supported storage provider, you can set the whole thing up in an hour and your users are able to work with their data anywhere via any device. It's just so much simpler than XenApp or a full VDI solution. Just install your app into the virtual appliance and be done. No profiles. No sessions. No disk cloning or connection brokers or backend databases. Just the app. Done.

This is the future.

Screen Shot 2012 04 10 at 3 41 11 PM

Screen Shot 2012 04 10 at 3 41 36 PM

Screen Shot 2012 04 10 at 3 42 26 PM

What about licensing?

[UPDATE April 11, 9:23am] I've received a bunch of questions via twitter asking about how licensing works. For Nexus, licensing is no different than delivering a remote Windows desktop application via RDSH / Terminal Services. So you need an RDS CAL, plus whatever license your app requires. I know that Nexus doesn't actually use RDS, but Microsoft is clear that if the solution runs on Windows Server and the user experience is a graphical interactive UI, then that's covered with an RDS CAL regardless of whether it actually uses RDS.

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