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Amazon cloud desktops get browser support with WorkSpaces Web Access

Users can access their cloud desktops and applications from any PC through a browser with the new Web Access feature in Amazon WorkSpaces, the company's DaaS platform.

Business users can now access their Amazon WorkSpaces apps and desktops through a web browser, but some features don't stack up to competing DaaS offerings.

With the new Amazon WorkSpaces Web Access, the browser on a PC becomes the client for cloud-based virtual apps and desktops, giving employees more options for accessing corporate resources. Amazon's main competitors in desktop as a service (DaaS), VMware Horizon Air and Citrix Cloud, already offer browser-based access, and Amazon lags behind those when it comes to mobile and browser support.

Amazon WorkSpaces Web Access is available for Windows, Apple Mac and Linux PCs -- not mobile devices -- and it only supports the Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox browsers.

"That could be a deal breaker for lots of folks who don't have the ability or rights to run those browsers," said Matt Kosht, an IT director at a utility company in Alaska.

In comparison, both VMware and Citrix support Chrome, Firefox, Apple Safari and Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer, and they work on Windows, Apple macOS and iOS, and Google Android and Chrome.

Browsers bring drawbacks

WorkSpaces Web Access provides users with a URL where they can access their Amazon cloud desktops and apps. Users visit the Amazon WorkSpaces web portal and enter their user names and passwords after IT sets up their accounts. They do not install anything, and nothing is saved locally. The Amazon Web Services cloud hosts the virtual desktops and apps, allowing IT to offload some management and maintenance tasks.

Being able to go on the web to access apps is more of the norm. We are used to this now.
Robert Younganalyst, IDC

Browser-based virtual desktops may cause a downtick in performance, however, because they can't rely on CPU power from the endpoint as they typically would with VDI.

"Traditional VDI leverages compute power from the client side, and you can't do that in a web environment," said Robert Young, analyst at research firm IDC. "The performance usually takes a hit. You won't get the same type of fast performance you would on typical VDI when on HTML5."

Amazon cloud desktops can also take a hit when it comes to bandwidth.

DaaS gets flexible

With browser-based clients such as Amazon WorkSpaces Web Access, users can access their virtual content without being at a managed workstation. For example, a user could log in from a family member's computer at home or work from a public library.

"This is great for unmanaged devices," Young said. "There is no plug-in required and no download on the device itself."

Modern end users have grown accustomed to accessing apps -- Microsoft Office 365 applications, or collaboration tools, such as Slack or Box, for example -- through browsers.

"Most folks want to use their own device," he said. "Being able to go on the web to access apps is more of the norm. We are used to this now."

Remote workers, such as telecommuters, and temporary or part-time employees, such as consultants, can especially benefit from Amazon cloud desktops, said Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst at ZK Research in Westminster, Mass.

"It's not for everyone, but for these types of people it's of high value," he said.

Amazon Workspaces also this week rolled out a new set of licensing bundles that include Windows 10 desktops. IT can now activate cloud-hosted Windows 10 desktops through the Amazon Workspaces Management Console. Windows 10 Workspaces are not available yet for Web Access but are available for all client applications. 

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