Why I chose a Windows 8 tablet for virtual desktop access

A CEO reviews a number of tablets as he tries to choose the best option for on-the-go 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 last published in January 2014

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This is one man's personal preferences for his particular requirements in Desktop/Mobile PC use. It has no relationship to what anyone else's needs or preferences are , or what may be a better choice for any organization or business It is therefore superfluous and appears to be only a plug for Microsoft and Dell.
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@wanderson Thanks for your comments. Yes, this article is part of a diary-like series that chronicles one person's move to an all-virtual environment. It's a case study, so won't necessarily apply to everyone's situation but has value in its overview of available clients and reviews of those. As for vendors, we do not plug products, so any mentions are simply part of the author's personal experience with them.
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Ms. Wood,
It would be of more interest, from an insightful and informative technological point of view to readers if TechTarget did a comprehensive," objective" comparison of several (vendor) choices in the general type of requirements that were the subject of the personal anecdotal experience article referenced.

And while TechTarget "claims" that it does not "plug products", that result is inevitable if the vast majority of the media's tech articles are"article writers with personal preference of Microsoft only. I am fully aware that Microsoft is the dominant choice for the “PC” marketplace and small business computing. However when the majority of TechTarget articles in this age of very diverse and different technologies in use and interest cover almost exclusively Microsoft preference in "Mobile" computing, and noticeably more articles on Microsoft Cloud Computing and Microsoft Virtualization, when these two particular vendor technologies - while growing, do not represent the industry leaders and innovators or largest in demand, then it becomes clear that vendor propaganda is in play.

Please also understand that this position is widely shared amoung dozens of professional and expert technology colleagues, in organizations like Linux Foundation, IBM Partner World, Software Developer Networks, a few prominent technical Universities and more.
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@wanderson, on SearchVirtualDesktop.com we do our best to cover the diverse technologies and vendors, with most of that coverage being about the desktop virtualization leaders, Citrix and VMware, as well as plenty of other options for customers. Some examples:
http://searchvirtualdesktop.techtarget.com/tip/Vendor-options-for-VDI-deployment-sans-Microsoft
http://searchvirtualdesktop.techtarget.com/feature/Lower-cost-VDI-platforms-arent-a-myth
http://searchvirtualdesktop.techtarget.com/essentialguide/Guide-to-VMware-Horizon-View
http://searchvirtualdesktop.techtarget.com/feature/Comparing-Citrix-VDI-options-XenDesktop-vs-VDI-in-a-Box

And if you are looking for product reviews, check out TechTarget's review website: http://www.technologyguide.com/review/
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But Mr. Todd Knapp, if that is your real name, which I know that it is, what about the Asus transformer that runs Windows 8.1? I have ordered one and I hope that it is not as buggy and freezy and unstabley as the Android one that you tried. In a bizarre case of apophenia, I actually stumbled across this article while googling for "use tablet to access desktop" and found it to be quite helpful - unlike a pointless article of clothing, like the Hawaiian shirt you mentioned, or, for example, a pair of leather pants.

WHEN WOULD YOU NEED THAT?

I'll let you know about the Windows 8.1 Transformer. I hope it turns into a tape player.
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