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Microsoft plots to derail VMware's VDI plans

Microsoft and Citrix have sharpened their virtual desktop story and are ready to take down VMware. Who will win?

Last week, Citrix and Microsoft renewed their vows to each other in the desktop virtualization market. In a day filled with announcements, one thing became clear: It's Citrix+Microsoft versus the world. And in all practical senses, that means VMware.

Microsoft typically proceeds cautiously in new markets until it feels it understands them. Then, the company enters with vigor and undercuts everyone else until it wins.

And that's what it looks like Microsoft is doing in virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI): It didn't have a strong story around desktop virtualization, and its licensing policies were expensive and confusing -- but the previous week changed everything.

  • Microsoft removed the "VDI tax," meaning that if a customer already has a client covered under Software Assurance, it no longer has to pay an additional license to use it for desktop virtualization.

  • Microsoft created a new Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) license for non-Windows client devices to replace Virtual Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD). The new VDA license is much more flexible in allowing users to connect to central Windows VDI desktops from multiple clients. Previously, a separate VECD license was required for each client device a user wanted to connect from.

  • Microsoft partnered with Citrix to create a website to promote the two companies' desktop virtualization software and to remind people how well they work together.

  • Microsoft and Citrix announced a joint "View Rescue" program in which they give free Microsoft VDI Suite and Citrix XenDesktop licenses to current VMware View customers in order to "rescue" them from View.

  • Microsoft and Citrix announced a joint "VDI Kick Start" that provides all the Microsoft and Citrix licenses you might need for only $28 per device for up to 250 devices.

  • Microsoft announced a major enhancement to Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) called RemoteFX, which will allow the full Windows Aero Glass, multimedia-rich experience to be remoted to fat, thin, and ultrathin clients. Citrix announced that it will modify HDX so that it also supports RemoteFX.

  • Microsoft announced a VDI-specific enhancement to Hyper-V called "dynamic memory" so that it will be able to dynamically manage the amount of memory that each desktop virtual machine uses.

Phew -- all these announcements in a single day!

Any one of these on its own would indicate Microsoft is thinking about desktop virtualization more seriously, but seven at once suggest that Microsoft is ready for a serious fight.

More on Microsoft's announcements

Microsoft overhauls VDI licensing strategy

Microsoft dives in for the kill on virtual desktops

Microsoft, Citrix lure VMware customers with cutthroat promo

"Bring it on!" pretty much sums up VMware's response. VMware has pointed out that it has been successful in the growing VDI market so far in spite of Microsoft's arcane licensing policies, so the death of VECD will just help it even more. And VMware bloggers explained that Microsoft's RemoteFX sounds pretty much identical to their own PC-over-IP technology, with the key difference being that PC-over-IP is a product that's actually shipping. And Hyper-V's "dynamic memory" is something that VMware ESX has had for years.

As I've mentioned before, Microsoft is not without challenges of its own.

At the end of day, there's something of a philosophical difference between the two companies: VMware claims to understand virtualization better than anyone else, while Microsoft claims to understand desktops better than anyone else.

Who will win? Tune in next year.


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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