Here at Citrix we’ve recently added a significant user experience and design team, and I think you’ll agree, it shows. I’ve been with Citrix now for 7 years (yes I joined right out of high school) and XenDesktop 5 is the first product I’ve managed where we had the freedom to design from a clean slate. Both the end user and administrative experience for XenDesktop 5 are new from the ground up, and both dramatically simplify desktop virtualization.

Simplification of the end user experience primarily came from making the user interface (UI) easier to use and understand, introducing emotion to various stages of the interaction, and making the experience consistent across all platforms. The Administrative experience however required a completely new approach. XenDesktop 4 leveraged the XenApp administrative model heavily, and while that is right for app publishing, it did not always fit well into the desktop virtualization world. So, to design the right administrative approach for managing desktop virtualization environments, we started by talking to our customers.

Customer Driven Design

We interviewed almost twenty customers that had XenDesktop in production, and at scale. And when I say interview, it was more like study. We actually went on-site (where possible) and sat with their Admins for days to understand how they managed their desktop virtualization environment, and their existing distributed desktops. We looked for tasks that were common across all customers, and ranked those in order of frequency. We also studied what data the Admin’s relied on to give indications of system health, how they carried out common workflows (such as updates), and how duties were segregated across different groups in IT.

What was most interesting to me during this process was that in many cases we discovered customers had built their own Admin UI. More interesting still was that these UIs almost always contained more information than anyone limited to only two eyeballs lacking independent movement could fathom. What we learned from this was that customers were still grappling with what was important for a desktop virtualization administration console. And that it was our responsibility to get this right, not our customers.

The second most interesting part of this process to me was that we did not start drawing possible UI solutions until well into the process. My inclination from the beginning was to grab a marker and start drawing buttons on a white board. It was weeks into the process before we got to the ‘wireframe’ stage. And the wireframes were created around aggregating the most important data, and exposing access to the most frequently performed tasks. Below are some of our very early wireframes and the final designs:

We created wireframes and showed them to the customers we had interviewed, as well as new customers, partners, and began iterating on these designs. It was not until we had thoroughly validated the design that we started coding.

The result, we’ve been told, is spectacular. I had the pleasure of previewing both Desktop Studio and Desktop Director during their development and every single time customers would ask “when can I get that?” Well its available now, so go download XenDesktop and tell us what you think!