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Microsoft and Citrix mix 'n' match fake desktops

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Citrix Systems and Microsoft are co-mingling some of their virtual desktop technologies. But Redmond stopped short of endorsing the XenClient bare-metal PC hypervisor that chip maker Intel and Citrix are working on for delivery later this year.

Announced today at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans, the virtual PC stew the two companies are cooking up will use Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager to manage hosted PC applications running atop Windows back on the servers that are streamed to clients - which can be full-blown PCs or thin clients - using Citrix' XenApp (formerly known as Presentation Server, in case you think this software has anything to do with the Xen hypervisor, which is only does obliquely). Citrix is actually creating the XenApp plug-in for System Center Configuration Manager, which it expects to be available sometime in the first half of 2010.

The ability to manage XenApp-style applications from System Center Configuration Manager is more important to Citrix and to Windows shops than it is to Microsoft, which has its own application streaming and sandboxing technology for PC clients called Application Virtualization, or App-V for short. App-V is not just a licensed version of Presentation Server, but rather technology that Microsoft bought in July 2006 when it acquired Softricity for its SoftGrid application server and client that runs applications on PC clients rather than back on host servers. Anyway, sometime next year, Windows admins will be able to manage the different XenApp and App-V desktop virtualization approaches from a single console.

Microsoft also agreed to allow any App-V enabled application to run on the Receiver client from Citrix, the client side of the Delivery Center software stack that Citrix is trying to peddle as the be-all, end-all of PC operating system and application management. Basically, customers can now have the App-V server do the application pitching and the Receiver client do the catching, if they so choose, or use a mix of Receiver and App-V clients of that suits their needs. The ability for Receiver to catch App-V apps will be delivered before the end of the year, according to Citrix.

Delivery Center includes XenApp, XenServer (the server virtualization hypervisor and related tools for managing it), XenDesktop (the hosted PC tool, sometimes called virtual desktop infrastructure, for hosting whole PC images from servers), and the future XenClient bare-metal hypervisor. Delivery Center also includes the Receiver client, which was announced back in January when Intel and Citrix announced that they were working on the "Project Independence" bare-metal hypervisor for PCs. At that time, Citrix also debuted a graphical front end called Dazzle for streaming applications using various underlying technologies to clients. (Think of Dazzle as an iTunes store that IT shops set up with their desktop apps, masking all the underlying complexity of where and how those applications run, and you have the right idea). Citrix plans to be able to serve up App-V applications via the Dazzle interface sometime in the first half of 2010.

Microsoft did not say that it was going to adopt the XenClient hypervisor, you will notice. The company will continue to sell its Virtual PC hosted hypervisor (also called a type 2 hypervisor and not running on bare metal, but rather atop Windows) and rely on the Virtual PC-derived Windows XP compatibility mode to do virtualization of a sort with Windows 7.

Citrix and Microsoft have also apparently worked out some licensing arrangements for Windows instances running on XenDesktop using what are called VDI Suite licenses. These VDI Suite licenses will be announced later today at the WPC09 event in New Orleans and will be available in the fourth quarter of this year. More details were not available at press time. ®

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