The future is going to be….

The future is all about tablets, smartphones and mobility! No wait,the future is all about SaaS based apps and HTML 5 etc will rule the world with everything delivered from the cloud. Yes, but…. Windows apps are so engrained that we will never move away from them. Of course Windows will also evolve to that cloud thing that people spend endless hours tweeting about and I wonder how they ever get any time to think.

These debates I am sure will continue to be played out in our industry in 2011. Will there be a clear winner in 2011? I tend to think not, and believe we will end up with a mash up of application delivery options with even more options emerging. Take for example the upcoming Mac OSX Lion from Apple. It extends the concept of the app store to the desktop and innovates on a new set of user experience capabilities designed to delight the end user that I am sure many developers are salivating to take advantage of. Apple themselves will take advantage of it by disrupting the distribution chain once again.

As I ponder what this could mean, I think the concept of self service will start to become even more important for the enterprise user as I blogged about here. But self service of what? With the luxury of some down time today I sketched the following:

Devices everywhere

The first trend here is that there are multiple form factors that have reached mainstream acceptance. I have multiple devices and pick what makes sense based on travel schedules and what I have to do. I find myself switching between devices all the time. So gone are the days of just looking at my PC, now all these devices are competing for my attention and I have to pick what’s most efficient for the task at hand. I like the ability to make that choice as it let’s me decide how best to accomplish my goals for the day.

What a wonderful world it would be

I wish the entire planet had wonderful network connectivity. The reality is that like our planet, networks are still very diverse. Even when there is adequate connectivity, sometimes I just prefer to work natively on my laptop because I feel like it and have the apps and security posture that enable me to do so online and offline. My other devices without connectivity are of limited business use to me and purely entertainment devices for the most part.

Scary security guy let me get to my content

Then of course there are the apps themselves. I can get to all my corporate apps via a hosted desktop or application running Windows applications with HDX providing a great secure experience over many types of networks. With Citrix Receiver I can consume my corporate app on other OS’s like Android as well. My data remains secure in our data centers. However if I prefer to use my local copy of Office and just transfer files up to dropbox so I have a backup for my next presentation just in case, in addition to an encrypted USB stick I can no problem. I’ve done this many times since I end up in many locations with various rules and I need multiple options to get to my content. I remember one case in particular. Customer information security guy told me that I could not plug my laptop in anywhere, even if off the network and I used my 3G card. My presentation on the USB stick was also unacceptable as corporate policy did not allow any external storage devices to be plugged in period without first going through some ridiculously painful and time consuming process. So I just pointed one of the guys to dropbox on a corporate laptop, pulled the file in with my credentials, did a virus scan etc, logged off to prove to scary security guy that there would be no data leaving and he was ok. I am however sure he has since blocked the dropbox url, but I digress…..

One size does not fit all and cloud hype

It’s a multi dimensional world out there and a one size all approach is not going to work. Dare I say it, I think there is way too much hype around cloud in the industry. Sure there are fantastic scale economics, the benefits of elasticity are numerous. I could go on and harp on about the gaps, but the point I am really trying to make is there are loads of developers who are out there writing native applications for a specific platform focused on delighting users by taking advantage of the platform capabilities. A simple example is an online banking app experience that is native for the iPad vs. the web version. I know which one I prefer to use as an end user. I’m not trying to dismiss the fact that web apps will get MUCH better, but I bet native apps will also get MUCH better and developers, OS software companies, semiconductor producers etc all have a vested interest to keep that eco system very healthy. So lot’s of local compute used by native apps and cloud delivered apps is a sure thing IMHO.

If I was to write a mobile app, how could I make money?

I’ve wondered about this question for a while. On one hand I understand that Android is exploding, it’s open, a growing community of developers, strong interest in the emerging markets etc. That all makes sense to me, but can I make money easily without a freemium model of some sort? Even there, fragmentation would be a big concern, especially if I have to write enterprise applications. I’m happy to be corrected, but to date, I see limited revenue attainment. Perhaps that is just a function of time. On the other hand I look at the Apple eco system. Many apps well organized working across many devices. I am sure that holiday sales for Apple based apps were far more profitable than Android equivalents. Again perhaps just a function of time. However with the pending addition of Mac OSX Lion those same developers now have three clearly defined and proven form factors to build native apps for and an app store to serve them from.

It’s not just for Apple fans

This blog post is using Apple as an example but of course there is plenty of action in this space. What will MS do? Good video here with the head of Windows phone 7. Despite the hostile interview some really interesting thinking about how Microsoft can evolve the phone experience to be smarter with data. Also some good conversation on what could happen with Tablets. Will Windows 8 have a tablet spec that get’s OEMs to build a new class of Windows powered tablets? It will be interesting to see what is announced at the Consumer Electronics Show next month. That’s just Microsoft, I am sure there will be a swirl of activity around the other device manufactures and plenty of buzz around 4G LTE enabled devices. However in my mind without a solid application delivery story and robust ecosystem, how can one possibly attract developer mind share and win? Surely developers want a robust eco system to develop for. Something that I will be thinking about when I attend next month.

The enterprise cloud app store

I sit here wondering what the enterprise will do? I certainly have friends and customers who tell me one model or the other is going to dominate and things will be much easier. Perhaps. However, a heterogenous device world is well accepted. Clearly the same is happening to apps in the consumer world. Why not business? Will it? I expect it will over time. Certainly there is evidence of traction. As this trend takes hold, users will demand more choice. More self service for the apps and tools they need, whether that is a Windows application, native device OS application or some cloud service offering. The consumer market is training a whole generation of consumers and developers this way. Enterprise IT will have to find ways to deal with this. The ignore it, or it’s not our policy attitude is surely dead or close to irrelevant this decade.

At Citrix we are actively working to enable enterprises to embrace this diversity. This started with Citrix Receiver to enable secure enterprise business application access from many devices. We then added the first enterprise application store giving the users the power to select the apps they need, and are taking this even further with Citrix OpenClould Access to enable seamless delivery of SaaS and enterprise web apps. These are just some of the innovations that are part of XenDesktop 5 which is a far broader vision and solution set than just plain old vanilla VDI desktops in a data center.

I would love to hear any thoughts about how you may be thinking about this space in your world. How will you deal with the diversity of applications in the future? The desktop of tomorrow is going to be far more diverse than just a distributed PC, and that will mean some great opportunities. Looking forward to an exciting 2011 and wishing everybody a happy and safe new years.