Companies that have remote desktop demands for both Unix/Linux and Windows have another option that I recently had a chance to learn about: OpenText Exceed TurboX. As limited as a use case as a cross-platform remote desktop and applications platform might seem, there are no fewer than seven or eight players in the market. Most recently, Citrix and VMware have both released Linux VDAs for their VDI platforms. Those join other products from HP, Leostream, RedHat, Nimboxx (which acquired Virtual Bridges VERDE), and NoMachine that all aim for the one-platform-to-rule-them-all approach.
If you haven’t heard of some of those platforms, it’s undoubtedly because all but Citrix and VMware started their journey into the conversation from the Unix/Linux side. As Windows admins go, the only product that ever really hit our radar that supported Unix was MetaFrame for Unix. Even in my 20 or so years of doing this, I’ve only ever deployed that one time, probably back in the 1900’s.
OpenText Exceed TurboX started out that way, which is to say they built their product to be better than the de-facto standard in Unix remote desktops: VNC. That’s a mighty low bar, because while VNC might work all right on the LAN (assuming you have your settings just right and are using the proper client and security), on the WAN it suffers greatly. I cringe when I hear the name, thinking of clicking the View menu and selecting refresh at even the slightest whiff of latency or packet loss.
Over time, OpenText has turned Exceed TurboX (which was originally called Exceed On Demand) into a rather robust platform as the do-it-all platforms go. The user experience isn’t quite that of XenApp or Horizon, but it can hold its own over the internet or WAN much better than VNC, and it comes with a lot of the features you’d expect from some of the other products. They have clients for Linux, Mac, Windows, and iOS (for iPads). They also have a deep set of policies that can tweak things in the user environment from obvious stuff like copy/paste and file transfers to more obscure things like window managers and the default terminal shell. You can shadow users for support, and users can even shadow other users for collaboration purposes.
I tried their demo site, and found that user experience was acceptable for Windows. With Linux, the performance was fantastic, probably owing to the fact that TurboX uses the same ThinX protocol from the server to the remote client. With Windows, communications from the client to the gateway is done via ThinX, but from the gateway to the host is RDP. I’ve never seen that kind of translation have a positive effect on the user experience, and while there’s no fooling anyone into thinking this is RDP, HDX, or PCoIP, it’s still ok.
It’s interesting to me that there are so many of these platforms available now since I rarely run into someone that wants one platform for everything. On the surface, it makes sense to have one type of network optimization, one approach to security, and one kind of client, but only if you get great results for each of them. Looking at it from the perspective of a Windows guy, it looks like Citrix and VMware are in the driver’s seat because they’ve already got Windows taken care of and "only" need to focus on their Linux VDAs. Then again, that only applies to organizations with use cases that are primarily Windows-oriented. Other organizations in the technology, banking, defense, and energy sectors very likely have a larger Unix use case than a Windows one, so they could benefit from products that have pedigrees that are more Unix-focused. The good news is that there are options, and the user experience with those options is getting better each year no matter which way you go.