After months and months of work, a preview version of Citrix’s ICA client (err.. “receiver” in their new nomenclature) is now available as a 0.9 version for free in the iPhone App Store. (iTunes link)
The new client, which works on an iPhone or iPod Touch running OS 2.2.1 or newer brings Windows apps running on XenApp 5 and newer directly to the devices.
After watching the demo video from Citrix.com, it appears that Citrix did a great job with this client. Once you enter your credentials, you’re presented with an iPhone-specific menu of published apps that you can access. (Think of this like Program Neighborhood Agent for the iPhone—it’s a specific application enumeration and selection interface designed specifically for that device.)
Citrix also did a great job making this thing “feel” like a real iPhone app. For example, they integrated the “gestures” capabilities of the iPhone, so you can swipe your finger to pan the screen, you can pinch and spread your fingers to zoom in and zoom out of the display, and you can tap and hold for a right-click.
And of course, if you turn the phone on its side, then the orientation of the remote app session will automatically flip from portrait to landscape view.
Citrix Doc Finder
In a related announcement, Citrix is also releasing a free new application called the “Citrix Doc Finder.” This is a Windows application (download link) that you install on your Citrix XenApp server that is then published to your users. The Doc Finder is essentially like a slimmed-down version of the Windows Explorer with a user interface that looks and feels like an iPhone app.
The idea with this is that iPhone users use the Doc Finder app to browse their My Documents or their home drives or whatever to select their documents, and then assuming that the proper apps are also published for them, then can then click the document and view or edit it via the same remote ICA session.
The bigger picture: Is this Windows apps on a mobile device?
The release of an ICA client for the iPhone is actually a pretty big deal, because this is a good indication of what Windows apps might look like on mobile devices.
I’ve written quite a bit in the past about how important Windows apps are to the business world, and that cloud apps or web apps or rich Internet apps or whatever are not really going to take off any time soon since that would mean that Windows apps would have to be rewritten. (Case and point: Java) So if the business world needs Windows apps, and business users demand those apps on their portable devices, maybe this is the stop-gap solution until all our apps are rewritten in ways that can intelligently leverage non-standard devices?
After all, this isn’t the first time this was attempted. Ten years ago a company called AppSwing (holy moly: they’re still in business!) tried to solve this by converting win form applications to HTML forms on the fly (even leveraging terminal services in the background and taking investment money from Citrix). And of course who can forget Citrix’s own attempt at this with Project Vertigo? But both of those efforts suffered due to complexities with translating apps-designed-for-Windows into apps-running-on-the-web. In other words, they had both app compatibility and layout problems (as well as being maybe a decade ahead of their time).
And then of course Rove Mobile has been selling an ICA client for the Blackberry for what, five years? And let’s not forget Citrix’s own Sybian and Windows Mobile ICA clients that have also been around for years.
But to me, this current Citrix Receiver for the iPhone seems different. Maybe it’s because of the Mac halo effect, but it really seems that Citrix put some good effort into making this client as good and appropriate as possible for the device. (And credit for that should probably be split between Citrix’s time spent and Apple’s effort to make a great device.)
The bottom line, though, is that Windows apps aren’t going anywhere, and so if you want to access your apps and data from a mobile device, I think I’d choose the Citrix Receiver and the Citrix Doc Finder via the iPhone over any of the other device/software combinations that have been tried over the past ten years.
What do you think?
So what do you think? Will you use this? Was this time well spent on Citrix’s behalf?
People are definitely talking about it, as Citrix’s blog post asking whether people want ICA on the iPhone was their most commented post ever, receiving over 200 comments.
Ironically (and totally unrelated to this announcement), I actually put my personal Verizon telephone through the washing machine today, so I finally caved and ordered an iPhone. I’ll check out this app for myself in a few days. I use one of those web-based file syncing services to keep the “My Documents” folders on my laptop and my work desktop in sync, so I’m planning on syncing that folder with my XenApp server too and leveraging the Doc Finder. I’ll report back in a few weeks.