Opinion

Why I chose a Windows 8 tablet for virtual desktop access

In my last journal entry, I was telling you about my personal endeavor to virtualize my PC. Once the virtual PC infrastructure build was under way, I started to look at what I would replace my device with for on-the-road virtual desktop access.

Oh, the choices! Tablet or phablet, laptop or desktop, thin client or zero client, Android or iOS. And what about Windows 8? Where does that fit?

Like most people today, I started by thinking of a tablet. I had settled on zero clients at home and for the office, so my device only needed to do a few things:

  • Provide a mobile platform for my virtual desktop access
  • Have a local email client that can cache mail so I can read and draft when I am away from Internet access (aka on a plane)
  • Provide some form of cached access to my personal files

Of course, I also had a few wants: the ability to run my video-editing software, access to Netflix, occasional gaming and native applications for common Microsoft Office file formats.

Considering Android vs. iOS

I began my device search by looking at operating systems. I am a longtime Android user, but I love Apple iOS products too. Those devices are stable and make a nice platform for virtual desktop access. Unfortunately, I'm not crazy about the mail client, and my preferred video editing application isn't supported. So, iPad and its merry band of multicolored accessories was off the table.

More choices for virtual desktop access

Options for zero-client hardware

Quiz: What do you know about VDI hardware?

Review of Windows 8 tablets

From there, the next obvious choice for me was Android. Here's the thing: I haven't found an Android tablet that has everything I want yet. I want a tablet, but I like a real keyboard. I like apps and widgets, but a full OS that can run my video editing application is important. I love the Google cloud, but I don't want to be owned by Google.

I tried several Android tablets. The Asus line of Transformer tablets gave me the keyboard option I wanted, but I found it to be really unstable. It froze a lot, and the charging and discharge of the tablet vs. the keyboard was really strange. So, back to the store it went.

Then I ordered the Google Nexus and thought that was a nice device. However, it didn't have nearly enough storage for my needs and I wasn't crazy about the processor (kind of slow). Like a stray dog, I found this tablet a home with a loving person who didn't have a tablet yet and was willing to paper-train Google.

Winding up with Windows

In the end, I realized that I really did want a Windows operating system. You might be wondering, "If you wanted Windows, then why virtualize your desktop at all?" I virtualized for several reasons, the least of which was to get away from a Windows endpoint. I don't care what the OS is, I just want to be productive. If I want apps that behave like Office, why not use Office? If want a full OS that will run my video software, what about Windows?

So, back to the store I went to check out Windows 8 devices. I started with the obvious Windows 8 tablet: Microsoft's Surface Pro. I can't figure out who this is for. It's kind of heavy, slow, and doesn't have wonderful battery life. Also, by the time you get the one with the most storage and add the keyboard, it becomes really expensive. Take note that I looked at the original Surface Pro, and the Surface Pro 2 has addressed some of these issues. Either way, I put the Surface down and moved on.

From there, it was the Lenovo Yoga Windows 8 convertible. This thing looked cool in the store. However, like so many Hawaiian shirts, it wasn't so great in the light of day. First, the Wi-Fi was terrible; they've put a cheap wireless chipset in the unit that has a lot of compatibility issues. A (slow) search of the Lenovo forum showed a bevy of upset users complaining about the same issue.

Second, the Yoga has what I consider to be a serious design flaw. Imagine opening your laptop, and then just continuing to fold back the monitor until it's flush to the back of the computer. That's how the Yoga works, and that means the keyboard is now the underside of your tablet. I have to imagine that the first time your soda spills on the table, your keyboard will be destroyed.

Finally, Yoga sounds too much like Yoda. It was the first thing my wife pointed out when I got home. That's just unacceptable.

In the end, I settled on a Dell XPS 12 convertible. This Windows 8 tablet is far sturdier than I imagined, and has excellent wireless, a solid-state hard drive, all the USB ports a guy could ask for and plenty of horsepower. Plus, the Windows 8 VMware View Horizon client in the Metro interface is really cool on it. I have seamless access to my VM and my local device with the swipe of a finger. My only complaint about the device is the battery life.

Sadly, as happens with technology, something better came along within a month of my purchase: the Dell Venue tablets. They have 10 hours of battery life (18 if you attach the hard keyboard) and similar specs to the XPS 12. If I did things over again, I would get the Venue because it also has a dual-monitor-capable docking station for $99. I could put that on my desk at home and in the office, and have a single portable device for all my computing needs.

By the way, I wrote this article on my virtual desktop. I accessed the VM from five different devices in eight locations, including a Wi-Fi enabled plane -- as we were taking off! In every case, VDI made my user experience uniform regardless of my device or location. A guy could get used to this.

This was first published in January 2014

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