Yesterday I wrote about Google's announcement of their upcoming Chrome OS, a "browser running on bare metal" that will just be used for web apps. I predicted (like many others) that as web apps evolve into true rich internet apps that can run locally, leverage rich 3D graphics, and work offline, they'll slowly replace Windows apps as the de facto "desktop" apps. (If you don't believe this, jump into the conversation around yesterday's post.)
I also pointed out that even when we hit the point where most (or all?) new apps are these new-age rich web apps, we'll still have a lot of legacy apps to deal with. I mean sure, web apps will be able to replace the simpler Windows apps like image editing and office productivity and stuff, but there are a lot of complex Windows apps with millions of lines of code that aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
And it's that future where terminal server / XenApp / remote Microsoft Windows apps will really shine.
Remember the Terminal Server of 2000?
Back in the late nineties & early aughts, Terminal Server's sweet spot was delivering seamless Windows apps to full desktops. (Sure, there were lots of thin clients out there accessing MetaFrame-based full Terminal Server desktops, but those were the minority. Terminal Server's rule up through just recently was as an app server.) This worked well and Terminal Server proudly filled that niche to the tune of almost 100m users worldwide.
But then something happened and we got all hopped up on VDI. VMware started talking up the benefits of VDI and downplayed Terminal Server (even though VDI & TS are both just alternate forms of datacenter-hosted desktops and share about 90% of the same benefits & disadvantages). So while I personally still feel there are many great use cases for Terminal Server today, it's almost like we're forgetting about it in the VDI / desktop virtualization hyper bubble. Everyone is all about how desktops can be dynamically assembled and delivered, and Terminal Server feels like yesterday's news.
Let's face it: Even though we know Terminal Server has a place today, in the world of desktop virtualization Terminal Server is an old afterthought with all the sexiness of a floppy disk. In fact many companies are doing away with their Terminal Server environments altogether, deciding that it's easier to deliver VDI-based desktops for their central desktop needs since they then only have to support a single OS platform.
But all is not lost! If the browser-based OSes and cool web apps we discussed yesterday catch on, then Terminal Server (and by extension Citrix XenApp, Quest vWorkspace, etc.) will actually become more popular than ever!
Why? Because in today's world we don't need Terminal Server as much since most of us run Windows locally. But once we move away from Windows on our clients, then terminal server will be our lifeline to the Windows apps that we'll need for the next ten years until all the apps move off Windows. So don't throw away all those old terminal server books yet! By 2020, all Windows will be terminal server!