Citrix just announced the new Citrix Receiver for iPhone. And a companion utility was also released called Citrix Doc Finder. As one of the creators of this utility, I will explain some of the history and rationals behind this product.
The leap from no access to access anywhere
Together with Receivers for other mobile devices, Citrix technology now allows you to access applications not available to mobile devices before.
You may wonder how usable the applications designed for desktops are going to be on small screens. It is surprisingly usable especially on the iPhone with the relatively large screen and multi-touch capabilities. Give it a try yourself. It certainly beats not having access at all.
The challenges with fitting desktop applications in a small screen
But can we do better? Certainly. Take windows file explorer for example. Although powerful, the interface is not ideal for mobile devices. For instance, the fonts are too small and especially not good enough for my fingers. I wouldn’t blame my finger being too fat As the result, opening a file takes too much scroll, zooming and panning than necessary.
One solution “re-skin”
What if we modify the user interface to optimize it for mobile devices? Many web sites have mobile sites. But I am not aware of any good existing examples of mobile version of windows applications yet. Are you?
Why file explorer?
There are many windows applications we can “re-skin”. Given that most people are likely going to want access their corporate documents on mobile devices, it seems logical to create a mobile version of windows explorer as the first example.
Why not implement Doc Finder as a native iPhone application
Yes, it is possible and I’ve given it serious consideration.
I can think of two possible approaches of a native iPhone implementation. Both have the advantages such as utilizing the iPhone graphics, animation etc. Both have their drawbacks though.
- Download files to iPhone and open it natively.
Cons: Poses additional security risks since files need to leave corporate network. And iPhone’s capability to handle many file types is still lacking
- Download directory and file information only and use XenApp to open selected file.
Cons: Requires a web service which needs to be accessible outside corporate network. May require changes to core XenApp product. It seems more complex than simply deploying another modified application on XenApp.
More importantly I would like to help non-iPhone mobile users as well. Implementing Doc Finder as a windows application hosted on XenApp gives me the advantage of serving a broader mobile user base with a single code base.
Since I know windows development pretty well already, I can build Doc Finder quickly. It would be a daunting task to build a separate application for many different mobile platforms.
My development experience.
It took me only a few days to come up with a functional prototype. And it proved so useful and it was productized in a very short amount of time.
Where to find more information
Here is a demo video of Citrix Receiver and the Doc Finder. Doc Finder section starts at around 5:20.
Here is the complete video demo.
Doc Finder is featured in the free demo at CitrixCloud.net. Please give it a try. For more information and to download it, please visit Doc Finder community site. Your comments and suggestions are appreciated. I encourage you to use this user forum for Doc Finder related discussions.
But wait, similar type of optimization should be possible to many other types of applications as well both windows applications and web applications. I will leave that subject to another blog.