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As more and more non-Windows applications continue to crop up, VDI shops must be aware of how to accommodate them or users will bypass IT and use whatever it takes to get their jobs done.
The days when Windows applications were the only game in town are in the past. Many applications are now web-based, which puts a very different load on VDI deployments.
There has also been a resurgence of non-Windows applications that run on different platforms, whether it is a Linux-based mapping system or computer-aided design (CAD) application, an application that is only available on Apple macOS, or an application that is mobile-first.
At first glance, web applications appear to be the perfect fit for VDI. All users need is a web browser and they can access all their web apps. In reality, however, non-Windows applications can bring a lot of baggage to a desktop image.
Many applications only work with certain web browsers or require certain plug-ins to work. A few years ago, some organizations experienced significant issues when upgrading from Internet Explorer 6, for example, because many early custom web applications did not work with any other browser. If a user wanted to work with Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, but still needed Internet Explorer 6 to the run a legacy app, IT pros had to install three different browsers on the VDI image.
Another issue is that tools such as Java, a client-side runtime tool for web applications, have their own frequent update cycles IT must contend with.
Mobile-first apps are a real challenge for VDI because they often have web app counterparts that are not as full-featured as the mobile versions.
For example, a bank's website might be harder to work with than the mobile app. As a result, it is not uncommon for users to sit at their desks with a large monitor in front of them while they use their phones to accomplish tasks because the mobile app is easier to work with.
At one point, VDI vendors were developing products where a desktop used Google Android running in a VM in a data center, but these products did not take off. As a result, IT must either run Android in a VM inside a VDI desktop so users can access the mobile versions of the apps on their desktops or embrace users accessing applications from mobile devices.
Graphical Linux apps
Graphical Linux apps are among the non-Windows applications that have had a special place in the enterprise for years because IT pros had to manage them separately from the VDI image because they had no way to support Linux. These apps include the mapping system or a CAD workstation.
With graphical Linux apps, users get a Linux workstation and a Linux VDI client to access the corporate desktop. Over the last couple years, Linux has popped up in both VMware and Citrix VDI products. Alongside VDI support has been VM support for hardware GPUs, which enable both mapping and CAD applications to work well with VDI.
IT can now integrate these powerful Linux applications into a traditional Windows-based VDI deployment. In some situations, it may even make sense to have a VDI client inside the VDI desktop to enable access to the Linux VDI applications from inside the Windows VDI desktop.
The Mac conundrum
Creative teams often demand to use Macs because they can be better suited to visual design work than PCs, particularly with VDI. Usually, IT installs a VDI client on Macs and delivers the Windows desktop to the creative team.
Some non-Windows applications are only available on Macs, and no substitute will do. There is a remote desktop server product for Macs -- Aqua Connect Remote Desktop Services -- that might allow IT to use Macs in a data center rather than giving everyone their own Mac.
The downside is that Aqua Connect Remote Desktop Services does not appear to integrate with any other VDI products, so Mac apps will not appear directly in the VDI client.