VMware aims to topple Windows PCs with Project Horizon, SlideRocket

With its acquisition of SlideRocket and the imminent release of Project Horizon, VMware has the tools to banish Windows desktops to the dustbin of history.

VMware has promised for years to make traditional Windows-style computing and desktop management a thing of the past by replacing those paradigms with cloud-based applications and virtual desktops.

With the imminent release of its Project Horizon application delivery and management portal, the company may now have all the weapons to do battle.

VMware has been busy acquiring the tools IT pros need to build and manage cloud and virtual desktop environments for the past couple of years, and added a SaaS-based presentation software provider, SlideRocket, to its cloud portfolio this week. It acquired the Web-based email and collaboration platform Zimbra last year and the online desktop backup service Mozy just last month.

All of the cloud-based platforms VMware acquired can be accessed using a Web browser from any device. To VMware's thinking, this is the way computing will be done from here on out.

"We are in the post PC era, where people aren't tethered to one device and people are collaborating in new ways," said Javier Soltero, CTO of applications at VMware, Palo Alto, Calif. "Everything is converging and everything is accessed using different tools -- iPads, smart phones, netbooks -- in real time."

All will be managed by VMware's Project Horizon, which will become available within three weeks, said sources briefed by the company. Project Horizon is essentially an application portal and management interface where IT pros can manage both on-premise and cloud apps.

"With cloud apps, IT needs to be sure there is the right security and subscription levels, document encryption and sharing rules for who can access cloud-based documents," VMware's Soltero said. "Horizon will be the management tool and application container for all those things, and for the things we deliver via Thin App and View."

Project Horizon will incorporate Microsoft's Active Directory to federate user identities and support single sign on for both on-premise and cloud-based applications. For the initial release, however, Horizon will only manage SaaS apps.

The ability to manage both on-premise and cloud-based apps will be available in future versions. VMware will add new features to Horizon on very short release cycles -- weeks, not months -- so it will be a complete platform within a short time span, sources said. 

Project Horizon will also provide "device aware" management, so IT pros can set policies based on the where and on what end user devices the applications reside.

One IT manager who is installing VMware View labeled Project Horizon a "cool concept." But he said enterprise acceptance would depend on the technology's security and maturity.

"It's the way of the future -- it's the App Store on steroids," said Kipp Bertke, manager of infrastructure and operations for the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities. "But will folks want to open up their Active Directory to federate with the cloud? I don't know. Security has to get much better, especially with government and health care, before they feel okay with that."

VMware's virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) offering, View, will also become part of the Project Horizon suite, sources said.

"As much as VMware wants to move away from the Microsoft dominated market, there is a subset of users that will never leverage what cloud has to offer, so View will remain a huge part of VMware's strategy," said IDC analyst Ian Song.

VMware is also considering developing View as an off-premise hosted virtual desktop service, Song said.

SlideRocket completes VMware's "Office" in the cloud
With the acquisition of SlideRocket, VMware now owns cloud-based slide presentation software, email, collaboration and backup. Together, that portfolio could compete with Microsoft's online version of Office and Google Docs.

VMware will evaluate integration opportunities for Zimbra, SlideRocket and Mozy, but the company doesn't plan to tie those cloud desktop offerings together to the point that customers have to buy all three as a suite, Soltero said. "You will always be able to use each service individually."

SlideRocket, which has over 300,000 users, lets customers collaborate on presentations, integrating video and social media. It can also import documents from both Microsoft and Google, and presentations can be accessed from any device that has an Internet connection.

By investing in another SaaS-based desktop software company, VMware is setting itself up as a serious platform as a service provider, said Steve Brasen, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates.

"Things are rapidly changing in terms of desktop management," Brasen said. "We are moving towards a more service-oriented enterprise, where all elements are acquired from remote services. It will be a slow transition over the next few years, but by getting into this business now, VMware could dominate [desktop services] in the future."

VMware said it will "invest heavily" in SlideRocket and continue to grow the company's paid user base while keeping a "light touch" so that its existing team continues to operate as usual, Soltero said.

SlideRocket is available in three versions: the Lite version is free, the Pro edition costs $24 per user, per month, and enterprise customer pricing is available only on request.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho or follow @BridgetBotelho on Twitter.

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