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Linux VDI desktops are a niche in a niche

Moving to Linux VDI desktops could save you from Windows licensing headaches, but there aren't many enterprise situations where virtual Linux setups fit. For the most part, Linux VMs only suit a small number of virtual desktop users.

Now that we're moving apps more toward the Web, is there a more viable use case for Linux VDI desktops? Not quite yet.

For years we've looked at VDI software that support Linux as very niche options that are only appropriate for a very small subset of virtual desktop users. And virtual desktop users are already a subset of regular desktop users, so it's a niche within a niche.

Back in August, Citrix released a Tech Preview of Linux virtual apps and desktops delivered from XenDesktop and XenApp. This offering now joins Citrix with companies such as NoMachine and Virtual Bridges. VMware has yet to support Linux in Horizon View, though there are people running it as a nested virtual machine (VM) -- Ubuntu in VMware Player, running on a Windows 7 VM, running on vSphere.

Moving your VDI desktops to Linux would free you from the nightmare that is Windows Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) licensing while still allowing you to use the existing desktop virtualization infrastructure and protocols that you're used to. Still, Windows is so ingrained in our lives that there are a few things we should think about:

If you don't need Windows apps, why have desktops at all?

The only reason you're running Windows now is to run applications that require Windows. There's no more blunt way to say it. If you didn't have Windows apps, you wouldn't spend the money on Windows.

If you've managed to get to a point where you no longer have to worry about Windows apps, then you don't need Windows desktops. And if you don't need Windows desktops -- presumably because everything is browser or mobile-based -- then why bother with any desktops at all?

The answer could be that the users still need some sort of aggregation point for the data, apps and services they access, and in that event it makes sense to deliver a desktop. In fact, this is probably true for most people.

If you find yourself in this enviable position, though, at least go through the thought exercise and decide if it's worth the effort of delivering virtual desktops at all, regardless of the OS.

Most of us won't be able to part ways with Windows

Very few companies don't need to support Windows apps, so we'll need to keep Windows around. Because most Windows desktops are physical, any massive changes in their deployment and management centers on making them virtual. If you're just getting around to that, you're probably not thinking about getting off of Windows at all.

In situations where we have to keep Windows desktops, the only reason to consider delivering Linux desktops is if there are desktop applications that require Linux to run. In that case, you're stuck with managing two OSes per user.

If you virtualize Linux and run it as a virtual machine, that doesn't necessarily make things easier. All the rules of VDI still apply, after all.

Once a niche, always a niche

It seems that as long as Windows is in the mix, the number of candidates likely to move to Linux VDI desktops is pretty low. You'd either have to have a mission-critical, Linux-only application or essentially zero reliance on Windows for it to make any sense at all.

I don't see a more viable use case for Linux virtual machines in the near future. A few companies will be able to put Linux VDI desktops to use, but it will simply be for a small number of workers who already use Linux on enterprise desktops -- just like it is today -- rather than a mass conversion of Windows users.

Even with the licensing cost savings, the fact that you have to change the apps and retrain users and IT support staff is more than enough reason for most companies to continue doing business as usual.

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