As I was reading Michael GartenbergerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s column on SlashGear titled Ã¢â‚¬Å“Two Weeks Of Travel, Ten iPad LessonsÃ¢â‚¬Â the idea occurred to me, what we need is a cloud-based virtual desktop solution. Virtual desktop is the new term for something previously known as thin client computing and network computing. In reality the concept is even older because its true roots are in mainframe computers and terminal emulators.
A virtual desktop runs Windows on a server and sends the display to another device like the iPad, iPhone, netbooks, etc. It requires server software to host the virtual desktops and client software on the device to display and communicate with the virtual desktop. The end result can be a computing experience that is nearly as real as working with a personal computer.
Citrix is the leader in virtual desktop technology, with its XenDesktop product accessible from a variety of products including the iPad. You will find the free Citrix Receiver in the iPad app store which I am using to run Windows 7 and Office 2010, thanks to the nice folks at Nasstar, who provided me a trial account to their hosted virtual desktop service over the weekend.
Windows 7 Display On My iPad With Apple Wireless Keyboard
As you can see in the picture below, I wrote this post using Word 2010 on my iPad. All of the software is running on NasstarÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s servers in England and I am accessing it via the Internet from my home office in Michigan. There is a slight lag in cursor movement and character display as I type, but nothing that is unworkable. As you can see, the iPad display in landscape is perfect for displaying 100% of the page in Word. The display is equally as good for Excel and PowerPoint.
The Citrix Receiver extends the stock iPad on-screen keyboard with a toolbar to provide Ctrl, Esc, and Tab keys, and there is a separate arrow keypad for moving the cursor. I am writing this with the Apple Wireless keyboard, which the Citrix recognizes. You have to initiate the keyboard from the Citrix ReceiverÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s slide down menu, but fortunately the on-screen keyboard does not display. Unfortunately, the Ctrl, Tab, and cursor keys on the Apple wireless keyboard are not recognized by the Citirix Receiver.
As you know, Windows is pretty dependant on a mouse, and the iPad does not support a mouse. Citrix has come up with a great work around if you own an iPhone. You can connect the iPhone to the iPad & Citrix with Bluetooth and use the iPhone as a touchpad. Hopefully Citrix can expand this functionality to other smartphones.
The Citrix Receiver for the iPad has one major limitation; it does not send output to the iPad Dock to VGA Adapter, which is necessary to display PowerPoint presentations. My understanding is that developers need to enable their programs to send the display out the connector, so hopefully that is something that Citrix will add in a future update to the software. Imagine traveling with just the iPad and being able to run a PowerPoint presentation by simply connecting the iPad to the projector.
Because you are running a full Windows desktop in the Citrix Receiver for the iPad, you can run Flash videos. In a brief test of playing video from Wine Library TV, I found the play back not very good with a lot of stuttering.
Video playback notwithstanding, I found the overall experience of using the Citrix iPad Receiver to run Windows 7 to be very good. If you already work for a company that uses Citrix, you will be in luck. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of options for consumers, though I did find a few companyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s that provide hosted virtual desktop solutions that you can sign up to use for a monthly amount.
Without a hosted solution, the Citrix Receiver is not a useful application. An alternative is LogMeIn Ignition, which is a $29 iPad application that provides a virtual desktop like solution by providing access to a home PC. The downside to LogMeIn is that it requires the PC to be continuously running, and if you forget to leave it on you are out of luck unless you can get someone to turn the PC on for you. I plan to test and write about LogMeIn for a future post.