A flare-up on twitter yesterday around Linux and VDI between AppDetective (@AppDetective) and Mark Lockwood (@_mlockwood) got me thinking a little bit more about the idea. Their conversation started because VMware recently announced that they will be building Linux support into Horizon View, which is not usually the kind of thing that gets old-school Windows guys-turned-bloggers all worked up. It is, however, something that the industry can support. For years the likes of Red Hat, Virtual Bridges, and NoMachine have been selling solutions based on delivering Linux VDI. There’s a market even though it’s a niche of a niche.
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In August, Citrix released a tech preview of Linux Virtual Apps and Desktops delivered from XenDesktop and XenApp, which conjured up memories of my one foray into MetaFrame for Unix way back in ought-two. In that project, they had an IDE that was running on Solaris and weren’t getting the performance they wanted through X11 sessions. They had to use Unix because they had an app that required it, and so they needed an answer to their problem. Was MetaFrame for Unix mainstream? No. Was it helpful in specific situations? Yes.
Of course that product is no longer around, and I doubt we’ll see a Unix-specific desktop virtualization solution ever again, but the spirit lives on with these platforms that support Linux. There are two types of potential Linux desktop virtualization proponents: the cheapskates and the people with real business needs. The cheapskates look to Linux because of favorable licensing, and the most ambitious of them can even do it for free. Windows licensing is expensive and that’s a mighty big line item to remove from your IT or VDI budget. The people with real business need are those that are running Linux already simply because they have to. Only one of these types of people will be successful.
If you’re solely thinking about moving to Linux to avoid paying Microsoft any licensing dollars, boy do you have your work cut out for you. Odds are you still have Windows apps, and to support Windows apps you need…Windows. (Don’t try to sell me on Crossover, it’s a non-starter in most enterprise scenarios.) So if you’re trying to move to Linux VDI just to get away from Windows licensing, you’re also going to have to move your apps. Good luck with that. If you don't have any Windows apps and you're switching to Linux just to save licensing, do you even need a desktop? (And who are you, anyway? You lucky, lucky person.)
Those with real business needs for Linux applications aren’t concerned about cost. They’re concerned about meeting their goals, be it more reliable GUI remoting, accessing apps from anywhere, no data on the client device, or any other old-school benefit of desktop virtualization. These are things that probably can be done today with various tools, but require more work to implement and support than they’re worth. Packaging up desktop virtualization solutions for these users is just what they’ve been waiting for.
Citrix and VMware are entering the space not because they think it will help the community. They’re doing it because they have customers asking for it. Even though Linux desktop virtualization exists, those customers don’t want to have to support multiple platforms, they want to support a single system that can deliver both Windows and Linux apps without having to make sure that end users have both clients, that both holes are poked on the firewall, that both gateways are operational, and that both brokers are configured.
The conversation about whether or not there should be Linux desktop virtualization is irrelevant. If customers are asking for it, it should exist. Should you use it? That’s up to you. If you’re just trying to circumvent licensing, then no, probably not. The real way to decide whether or not to use Linux desktop virtualization is to look at your applications. Do you have a need that supports putting them in the datacenter? If so, you should look into it. If not, carry on.
Nobody is making strategic decisions anymore about which OS to deploy company-side. You’re not a “Linux shop” or a “Windows shop.” You make the determination on which OS you use based upon which applications you need. If you have Linux apps, deploy Linux. If you have Windows apps, deploy Windows. If you have both, guess what? Deploy both.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a niche of a niche. If you need it, go get it. There are a number of solutions, and with Citrix and VMware jumping in they’ve brought with them an infusion of energy. As for @AppDetective’s statement that we don’t care about it—it’s just not in our wheelhouse. Clearly there’s a need for it, and there always has been to some degree, but we’re hardly ever asked about it. My opinion, and I think I speak for Brian, too, is that any desktop virtualization is good, and if you have Linux apps and desktops you need to virtualize, we’re all for it. The vast majority of the activity in this space, at least when it comes to operating systems, is around Windows, and that’s where we exist. This stuff is interesting, though, so we’ll keep an eye on it.