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How Apple's iPad could fit into desktop virtualization

Citrix's screenshot of an iPad with Windows 7 could be a sign of things to come. See how the new device could change desktop virtualization.

By now, you've probably heard of Apple's soon-to-be-released iPad. Regardless of whether you think you'll love it or hate it, the reality is that you're going to have to deal with the iPad at work because (a) your boss will want one, (b) your users will want one, or (c) you want one.

However, all is not lost because the iPad could be a very cool device for accessing your virtual desktop environment -- and, by extension, your corporate Windows applications.

Citrix shocked the world last month when it released a screenshot of an iPad with a Windows 7 desktop on it. While the blogosphere exploded with questions like "How'd they get Windows installed on the iPad?" readers of can guess how Citrix did it: The company didn't get Windows to run "on" the iPad; it used an iPad to access a Windows 7 environment.

Some people argue that the distinction is minimal, but the reality is the iPad has potential to be an amazing thin-client device. Since it will run the same operating system as the iPhone and the iPod Touch, all the current applications out there will instantly work on it. And while the App Store is littered with useless novelty apps like " iBeer," it's also host to the Citrix Receiver (for accessing remote XenApp and XenDesktop environments), Wyse Pocket Cloud (for accessing Microsoft RDP and VMware View sessions) and a plethora of other apps that have actual business-use cases.

"Who wants to access a Windows desktop or Windows apps from the tiny screen of the iPod?" This statement sums up the sentiment of the world at large. But now that the iPad with its 1024x768 screen is near, users can view images in resolutions that make sense for Windows apps. Throw in the fact that the iPad can work with a full-size keyboard and that the multi-touch screen can be used like a mouse, and you have a legitimate thin client.

Actually, you have a really versatile thin client. Imagine what the iPad could mean for corporate health care environments where a doctor or nurse needs to access real apps for patient management while moving from room to room. Previous solutions either involved a desktop in every room or a laptop, which was difficult to use while standing up. But the iPad, complete with its Wi-Fi, on-screen virtual keyboard and ability to connect to back-end Windows apps, might flood the halls of every hospital.

The iPad is also self-managed (managed by the user), so IT won't have to worry about them -- other than making sure that users don't lose them.

Laptop-looking and mobile thin clients have been around for a long time, but Apple's iPad has the potential to outsell probably all of these combined. And if that means that more people will have the opportunity to access their virtual desktops via an iPad, then that can do nothing but help us after all.

Read more from Brian Madden

Brian Madden is an independent industry analyst and blogger, known throughout the world as an opinionated, supertechnical desktop virtualization expert. He has written several books and more than 1,000 articles about desktop and application virtualization. Madden's blog,, receives millions of visitors per year and is a leading source for conversation, debate and discourse about the application and desktop virtualization industry. He is also the creator of BriForum, the premier independent application delivery technical conference.

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