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DaaS is not the way to deliver Windows apps to mobile devices

DaaS has a lot of practical uses, but using it to deliver Windows applications to mobile devices is not one of them. Combine a DaaS tool with app refactoring, and now you're talking.

IBM Mobile launched a DaaS product based on Citrix Workspace Suite. Ordinarily, I'd say that's great news, and validation that DaaS is here to stay. But in this case, the offering is for the sole purpose of delivering Windows desktops and applications to mobile devices.

"What's the problem with that?" you might ask. Have you ever tried to use a Windows desktop or app on a mobile device? It's a great party trick -- and quite handy in a pinch -- but for day-to-day use, accessing Windows via a smartphone or tablet is like trying to paint a wall with a spatula. It looks like it might just work, but it's the wrong tool for the job.

The ability to run Windows on a device that was never intended to do so might tempt you to laugh at the desktop gods. But no matter how much work went into creating the client, how many gestures it supports, or how aware it is of applications that are running, eventually you'll become frustrated. It might be with pinch zooming, or soft keyboards, or offset mouse cursors, but eventually it will happen.

Mobile devices are just not meant to support daily use of Windows desktops and applications. Period.

It's not all doom and gloom

That's not to say that a desktop as a service (DaaS) product from IBM Mobile is a bad idea. Placing applications and desktops (when needed) in the cloud for use on more devices is a smart move. It doesn't even have to be in the cloud, frankly; on-premises application and desktop virtualization deployments are fine, too. It's just not enough.

To make a truly effective offering that lets mobile users interact with Windows applications, IBM (and other companies attempting the same thing) must add some sort of app refactoring angle. There are several companies that do this. PowWow, Hypori, Capriza Inc. and Reddo Mobility all have products that can refactor -- or transcode -- Windows apps running in VDI or Remote Desktop Session Host into mobile applications on the fly.

Accessing Windows via a smartphone or tablet is like trying to paint a wall with a spatula.

Each tool works differently, but the high-level explanation is that Windows apps go into the refactoring product, and mobile interfaces to those applications come out. Think of it like mapping fields in a mobile app to fields in a Windows app, adding in the ability to re-do the layout and workflow to make it more intuitive.

Combine a DaaS offering such as the one that IBM Mobility announced with app refactoring and you have a complete way to provide mobile users access to the applications they need without re-writing the applications.

Without app refactoring -- and this goes for anyone thinking about using desktop virtualization alone to support mobile access to applications -- you've got nothing more than clunky product that makes for a good demo and not much more.

Next Steps

Choosing between app virtualization, refactoring tools or in-house development

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Would you be more likely to buy into a DaaS offering if it had app refactoring?
Let's face it - this question is a bit of a sidestep. Using refactoring to bring apps - especially ones on the Windows platform - is a bit of a fools errand.To say the least, the results - and these are the experts writing the code - have been decidedly clunky. It is much better to simply create more general types to allow for more code sharing. In that way, everyone benefits. Cheers!
Hi Hilary, thanks for the comment! In what way do you think refactored applications are clunky? Are they still difficult to use on mobile devices? And when you say that it's better to create more general types, do you mean general types of applications? Looking forward to your response!
Software is always best when designed form the ground up with a single project engineer's overarching vision. Refactoring inevitably muddies the situation and almost always results in an inferior - clunky, if you will - product. For better or worse, we are stuck with this situation since refactored products are usually far less expensive to create and can be brought to market in significantly shorter time periods.
I’m always a little suspect when I first hear about something like app refactoring, having seen too many instances where a legacy application was “appified” with less than favorable results. Users found the features they used in the legacy apps and wanted in the mobile apps were either not in the app or did not function as well as the legacy counterpart, so they stopped using the apps. I think they key to success in this approach of combining DaaS and app refactoring will be in the ability to re-do the layout and the workflow to give the users a new and positive experience and avoid turning a legacy app into a mobile app.