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Citrix ports to Unix, Linux, aims at telecoms, devices

Nobody will say it flat-out, but MS-free version of Citrix is looming

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Analysis Despite studied nonchalance on the part of company execs at its iForum event in Florida last week, it now seems inevitable that Citrix is poised on the brink of a major break from dependence on Microsoft. The execs still talk happily about the importance of "adding value to NT terminal server," but under the covers Citrix is working feverishly on Unix and Linux ports of MetaFrame server, and strengthening links with Redmond enemies such as Novell and Sun. It'll be a good trick if Citrix can pull it off, seeing its initial commercial USP was making NT applications available to thin clients, but all of the components for the Microsoft-free version of Citrix are starting to click into place, and some of them are going to cause its old 'ally' severe discomfort. Citrix's 'technology demonstrations' provided some useful signposts, as did the appearance of Novell CEO Eric Schmidt, and the unveiling of a new 'pay as you go' licensing strategy. The use of Solaris as the server software for some of the demos (related story) might have been talked down by Citrix VP Dave Weiss as something that would only go commercial if customer demand existed, but privately Citrix staff conceded that Unix and Linux ports were going ahead. Project Charlotte, due for formal announcement later in the year, provides one of the mechanisms for cutting the apron strings to Microsoft. It introduces the concept of a "Program Neighborhood" which allows a Citrix client to access application servers in a Citrix server farm. These could still be Win32 apps running on an NT server, but Citrix's choice of Notes running on Solaris made it clear that it wasn't going to be a case of just Win32 for much longer. The Palm demo used another forthcoming technology, Vertigo, again with a Solaris server. Vertigo aims at ultra-thin clients by keeping the UI objects at the server end, so it's particularly applicable to pocket computers and mobile phones. Again Citrix envisages these devices accessing server apps via a Program Neighborhood model, and although it claims to be agnostic about the OS on the application server, there's no obvious reason why the sort of custom apps that will be required in these situations have to be NT ones. Citrix founder and chairman Ed Iacobucci reckons we're heading for a world where it doesn't matter whether you're on Microsoft's DNA or Sun's Enterprise JavaBeans, but says Citrix is going where the developer expertise is. That means the company's Win32 commitments aren't going to go away (there are a lot of Windows developers), but also means increasing commitment to Java, and that Linux is something Citrix reckons it can't afford to ignore. The new licensing model meanwhile looks set to undermine Microsoft's NT Terminal Server licensing approach, and to improve Citrix's chances of striking deals with very large telecoms and wireless outfits. These fall into the Network Service Provider (NSP) category of Citrix's new iBusiness Application Service Provider programme. Citrix quotes typical licence fees of $15 a user, falling to $7.50 for more than 1,000 users, but NSPs who bite are clearly going to have a lot more users than that. Iacobucci failed to respond when The Register asked where the fees would go for, say, 100,000 or a million users (perfectly feasible considering the size of cellular companies' customer bases, but it's clearly going to be a great deal less. So Citrix seems headed into a world where the client devices aren't Windows (too cumbersome, licences too expensive), where the servers probably aren't Windows either (too expensive again, and BackOffice requirements for Communicators and Smartphones will be, if anything, niche), and where MetaFrame in available on multiple server operating systems. And what about Novell? Eric Schmidt's keynote was well received, but that's scarcely surprising as his blatant sales pitch for NDS was particularly appropriate for a Citrix audience. As Schmidt pointed out, if you use NDS you can set up new users on the network easily, you can log on from anywhere, using different devices, and still get the same desktop - basically, this is an extraordinarily good fit with the agnostic, 'anywhere to anywhere' computing model Citrix is currently pushing. So a forthcoming alliance? Iacobucci, as always, wasn't telling - but you read it here first. ®

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