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Citrix's XenDesktop can fly you to the moon

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There are a few software makers out there who are excited about desktop virtualization - damned excited. And sometimes that excitement takes us into rather confusing territory where jubilation overpowers technical reality.

Confused? Yeah, e were too when Citrix announced XenDesktop last month. The company told us flat out that customers could tap XenDesktop to "dynamically assemble operating systems, applications and user profiles". That dynamic assembly bit meant a user would log on and have his usual desktop software shoot out from the data center onto a client device. Citrix's approach here is of particular importance as it has the potential to save big time on back-end storage costs, since the desktop images are being made from the same pool of software rather than individual OS and application copies.

So, here's the thing. XenDesktop can do dynamic assembly. Citrix, however, wasn't terribly clear - or we weren't terribly thorough - about defining what can means. Because you really need another piece of software - either XenApp from Citrix or Microsoft's SoftGrid - to actually have applications move from the server room to the client. XenDesktop just works as a type of broker facilitating the magic.

"There are three key components of a desktop," Sumit Dhawan, head of the desktop product marketing group at Citrix, told us. "One is the operating itself. Then there are the applications and the profiles, which contain things like a user's background or start menu.

"With XenDesktop, the dynamic assembly of the desktop takes place for every user in a manner so that all three are combined at the time the user logs on."

So, it sounds like XenDesktop handles the application assembly on its own, right? And so that's what we wrote last month when the product was announced. A number of publications did the same thing.

And even Citrix got into the game in its press release.

With the release of XenDesktop, Citrix is redefining the desktop virtualization market with a groundbreaking new solution that dynamically assembles each user’s unique personal desktop from new, pristine components each time they log on. By separating applications from the desktop OS and provisioning them independently at runtime from new master images, end users get a fresh new desktop at each login that is fast, secure, personalized and free from the corruption and conflicts that plague traditional desktop solutions.

If, like us, you swallowed Citrix's initial line then the $275 price for the high-end version of XenDesktop seemed like a decent bargain. In reality, however, you need to pay between $450 and $600 more to get XenApp and actually have applications go from the data center to the desktop. (VMware pitches its VDI at $150 per concurrent user and newcomer Qumranet is offering Solid ICE for $200 per concurrent desktop.)

According to a memo seen by The Register, Citrix plans to introduce more "attractive pricing for application delivery" tied to XenDesktop down the road. So, it's aware of the issues at hand.

We hope Citrix wasn't trying to be misleading here through its vague language. To the company's credit, Citrix will answer the deeper questions if you ask them. But its verbiage around XenDesktop is rather free and loose to begin with, which makes some of the deeper questions tough to locate.

After all, saying that XenDesktop performs the dynamic assembly of applications feels a bit like saying a laptop lets you fly, if, er, you have the laptop on a plane.

All of that said, XenDesktop offers some nice features. For example, Qumranet pitches the storage savings through dynamic assembly as well, although it can only do this on a template level. So, a number of users must share the same image. XenDesktop, by contrast, provides the individual user approach, which allows Citrix to cater to the broadest possible set of customers.

The whole XenDesktop mess is a bit silly since Citrix used to hawk the software with a little less fanfare under the Citrix Desktop Server brand. The transition to XenDesktop was meant to have Citrix combine more of its products into a single package that really thumped VMware and others on price.

We don't think Citrix has achieved that goal just yet, although it sounds as if the company will cut customers a pricing break at some point with the application add-ons.

Hopefully, this story goes some way toward setting the record straight and correcting our past mischaracterizations of XenDesktop.

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