A roundup of the desktop / application vendors at VMworld 2008 (Part 1: A-M)

VMworld was a ridiculously huge conference.

As I wrote last week, VMworld was a ridiculously huge conference. Although I was overwhelmed at first, once I realized that most of the vendors didn't have anything to do with the application or desktop space, it was easier to handle. In fact, in many ways I felt that I was at a 3000-person, 30-vendor VDI conference that just happened to be taking place at the same time as a gigantic 14000-person, 200-vendor virtualization conference.

I probably spent most of my time talking to vendors in the exhibit hall. This article is a quick summary of the 30+ vendors I talked to who are relevant in the application and desktop virtualization space.

I met some new vendors with some very interesting products, and I have several calls and demos lined up over the next few weeks to take a deeper look at some of these products. If there's anything you'd like to see more in-depth, let me know in the comments.

(Note: Even limiting the vendor coverage to the desktop and application space, there will still too many vendors for one article. Today's article covers the first half of the alphabet, and tomorrow will cover vendors whose names begin with N-Z.)

The Big Four

Remember I used to talk about the Big Three--Microsoft, Citrix, and VMware--but now that Symantec has a hypervisor I think they could be a major player in the VDI space moving forward. (And if you're looking for a sense of scale, Symantec's market cap is about the same as Citrix's and VMware's combined!

  • VMware. Obviously this was their show and they made several major announcements in the desktop space. I covered these briefly last week, and I'll dig into each of the six components more in-depth this week and next.
  • Microsoft didn't have anything particularly interesting to say with regards to desktops or apps, although they did have a cool guerilla marketing campaign where they hired a bunch of hotel employees to pass out $1 casino chips with a card that said "Looking for your best bet? You won't find it with VMware." There was a link to vmwarecostswaytoomuch.com. A lot of people thought this marketing move was childish and shameful, but I thought it was awesome. Needless to say, words were exchanged, the Microsoft people were escorted away, and who knows whether they'll be back next year?
  • Citrix announced some cloud thing, but in the desktop and application space, there was nothing really new. There were a TON of Citrix people there, though, and in a lot of ways, this event felt like Citrix iForum (except about 5x more people).
  • Symantec just used VMworld to talk more about their "endpoint virtualization strategy" that they launched last month. Nothing too special--just blending together the security + management + SVS + AppStream + nSuite stories.

For the rest of the desktop and application vendors, let's step through them in alphabetic order:


AppSense was talking about Version 8 of their management suite. Probably the coolest new feature is that Environment Manager 8 will have a "user personalization" capability where you can just say "let this user personalize xxx application." Then when that application runs, the AppSense agent shims the executable and redirects file and registry activity to a cache location separate from the real locations. Then when process ends, those settings are immediately sent up to a central database. When the process is launched again, the settings are brought back down. This is kind of like using the Flex Profile Kit, except you don't actually have to figure out which registry keys are important ahead of time.

Another cool feature about Environment Manager (in Version 7 and 8) is that you can "lock down" specific applications. For those of you who've used reshacker before, imagine something just like that, but that can be controlled at the policy level instead of by physically hacking EXE files. In other words, you can create policies to disable menu items, remove things from the toolbar, etc. And since these are controlled via policy, you can build a very granular set of rules that dictate which options are available within the applicaiton. (And via some scripting, you can even tie these rules into Citrix's Advanced Access Control. Just imagine... if a user connects from an untrusted device, maybe they can still use the application, but the "save" button would be disabled. Very cool!

Actually, you can trigger the rules based on almost anything, including a session disconnect or reconnect. So you could make one policy that stripped down the user interface of Word to its very core. Then you could apply a rule that only enabled that policy when the screen resolution was less than 800x600. Then you could trigger that rule to evaluate whenever the user started a new session (logged on) or reconnected to a disconnected session. This would have the effect of "shrinking" the Word UI when you connected from a small-screened device, but as soon as you connected from a real computer again, Word would be back to normal!

(Full disclosure: AppSense has been an exhibitor at BriForum in the past, and they recently commissioned me to create a training video for them.)


For as much as we talked about Desktone in the past, this conference was the first time I actually put my hands on the service. For those who don't know, Desktone is a company created by a bunch of ex-Softricity people who wants to create a desktop with the simplicity of a dial-tone. (In other words, a "Desktop-as-a-Service." The idea is that you pay some amount of money per employee per month, and your users get remote RDP-based access to their desktops running in Desktone's datacenters. Desktone handles all of the backend hardware, licenses, technology, etc.

Desktone is a real product today, although it's offered as a "white box" service that other vendors resell and brand as their own. Right now Desktone is powering the DaaS offerings for Verizon and hp, among others.

The service was cool enough and easy to use, although today it's RDP-based, so there are certain limitations on what you can and cannot due with it. (Desktone did write their own Flash accelerator which snaps on top of RDP. I saw side-by-side demos, and I must say, their Flash thing is cool, if not too limited.


Remember them? This is the one vendor on this list that I didn't actually talk to live, but even seeing them was a cool blast from the past. Last I checked they made blade-form factor servers that could actually be grouped into single super servers. It seems that's what they still do today.


They keep talking about how they have 10 million (or 20 million or 40 million or whatever the number is) users. While that's technically true, the vast majority of them are for Ericom's terminal emulation software, and I can't help but roll my eyes a bit when I hear about these millions of users in the same sentence as Ericom VDI. That said, they do have a decent VDI product which they guarantee will work with any current or future hypervisor, and they also have a free product that runs on top of Windows Server 2008 that should solve the needs of most small SBC deployments. These free products should be a huge deal, although no one really seems to know about them. (Full Disclosure: Ericom was an exhibitor at BriForum.)


InstallFree is an application virtualization product that is (from what I can tell), almost exactly like VMware's ThinApp product. One cool thing that InstallFree can do is bundle user settings into the application package, so users can still customize the apps even when the machine is locked down.

Virtual Strategy Magazine recorded this demo of InstallFree at VMworld:


Leostream is perhaps the last remaining independent connection broker. Their message is that they support and manage incoming connections to any backend platforum (VDI, TS, whatever). They're competing with companies like Quest Software, Ericom, and visionapp. Probably the coolest thing about Leostream is that they allow connections over the product's native protocol. (i.e. Connections brokered by Leostream to Citrix back-ends would still use ICA.)

All-in-all is seems cool enough, although I really wonder whether an indepedent connection broker can survive moving forward. It seems that their best chance would've to have been bought by someone like Symantec... so I don't know, is there anyone else out there who needs a connection broker? Leostream's stuff is cool, it just needs a home.


NComputing makes hardware and software products that let multiple users share a single Windows workstation. When you buy the product, you get some virtualization software that converts the host into a virtual desktop host, and you get one more more thin client devices (either direct connect or Ethernet) that give the other users a desktop-like experience. This stuff is really popular in schools and other places with very limited budgets and little-to-no IT staff.

The only real problem with NComputing is that it appears, from what I can tell, to not be legal under Microsoft's licensing terms. If you ask NComputing about what MS licenses you need, they basically say something like "Hey, that's between you and Microsoft, so you need to ask them."

I guess (maybe?) if you make sure that you buy a full workstation license for each thin client node, you'd be kind of okay, although that's still technically breaking the agreement.


MokaFive is a cool desktop virtualization software company with products that wrap around and manage VMware Workstation installations. They give you things like offline support with syncing delta diffs back up to the server, a simplified player app, thin provisioning capabilities, and launching VMs from a USB stick. It's really awesome, really great stuff.

The problem is that at VMworld, VMware basically announced (and previewed in the lab) just about every feature that MokaFive can do. So once the VMware stuff hits the street, life will be really challenging for MokaFive.


That's it for today. I'll finish up Part 2 of this article tomorrow and cover the rest of the vendors.

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Brian - too bad you didn't join Michael Keen in the walk through of the Microsoft booth. We showed him a demo of MS Enterprise Desktop Virtualization, which is in beta. This is technology we acquired with Kidaro. And we were showing the just released App-V 4.5 in the booth. We were showing the goods ... I guess next time we need to hand it out with a $1 casino chip ;-)

The Hyper-V product does not have the management feature maturity and therefore can only compete on price.

MS knows know shame.......kind of like our politicians. Marketing, Sales and Politicians are often one and the same.

Hey Brian did you hear anything about this session: VD2345 Going Deep on Capturing Applications using ThinApp?  I saw this blog posting: http://rtfm-ed.co.uk/?p=606#more-606, and am very interested in what Mike Laverick is calling ThinDesktop.  He didn't mention much about it, and I haven't heard any other ThinApp anouncements besides this.  Was there any mention of ThinApp into the "View?"
Actually the link should be: http://www.rtfm-ed.co.uk/?p=606
Have you used SCVMM or are you just talking to hear your own dumb voice?
ThinDesktop was cool. It was kind of Mac Spaces/virtual shell with user applications already installed for the user. So user could switch between the real desktop and the 2nd virtual deskop on the same XP instance.
How about Microsoft buying Leostream?
when hell freezes over
So you are saying that the other desktop uses the same OS running instance, it's not a "VDI" running on the same or seperate host?  Was this a new ThinApp feature, or something entirely new that VMWare could posibly start selling as a seperate product pretty soon?

Is Desktone some how significantly different from an ASP that delivers full desktops?  Which, of course, is nothing new.

Well apart from that none the original ASP's ever worked.. or survived (as ASP's) ....Telecomputing, Futurelink, ESOFT Global + 50 other Citrix resellers... interesting that some of those guys were once Platinum sponsors at Citrix events.. looks like Citrix kept some of their money and put it into Desktone.. So how can Virizon manage desktops..? The term fish out of water springs to mind...   

There are some small ones still running around, but that said I was part of one the didn't work.


Hey Brian if you think VMWorld was huge, then you should try attending the NAB show where they got over 105,000 people this year.  See here: http://www.blendernation.com/2008/05/01/nab-show-2008/ or http://www.nabshow.com 

they're riding the buzz around cloud computing with a simple broker which is offered to service providers to use for delivering desktops as a service.  Brian wrote about about their flash acceleration which is nothing but redirection that requires Wyse TCX MMR - very limiting. Whatever happened to their "best fit protocol"?  Problem for Desktone is that barrier to entry is low and for DaaS to work, they need more than RDP. A lot more. Nothing unique.
Last I checked you can also disable controls within applications via AutoIt Scripts, although then you have to figure out all of the policy stuff, which is probably more complex then the AppSense management tools.