I recently discussed Internet Explorer and Firefox storage of bookmarks and labeled the IE method as superior because it uses individual files for each bookmark where Firefox uses a single file database to store all of the bookmarks.  This makes it easier to synchronize bookmarks as an automatic function of user profile management.

What was missing from this is that storing the bookmarks inside the profile and relying on the profile management system to copy the bookmarks to and from is not nearly as cool as putting the bookmarks in the cloud.

Side note: That was fun, using “in the cloud” in something I’m writing.  I would really have preferred to title this post with “to the moon”, but I couldn’t find a good reference for Jackie Gleason.

The better solution

You can roam your bookmarks via Profile Manager, but it is much more convenient to use a browser plugin to have it do the roaming for you.  My personal favorite for this is xmarks.  XMarks will sync your bookmarks and even sync them across browser types, so you can set a bookmark in Firefox and then it shows up in Internet Explorer.  Awesome stuff.  Google browser sync also popular here and none of this is news because each of these services have many millions of subscribers.  The only gotcha on the later one here is that it isn’t available any more; apparently we should all switch to Chrome, which presumably has this built in, but I don’t like things that are too new so I’ll wait a year or so for this Chrome fad to quiet down.

Putting profile knowledge into the app

All of these tools work by placing an addon into the browser and then having that addon do bookmark, cookie and even password synchronization as a function of launching, running and closing the browser.  For XMarks at least, set a book mark in one machine, it shows up on the other in a matter of seconds and this is EXCELLENT stuff.

I set up LOTS of computers and format them constantly, so this off-site storage of bookmarks is a most welcomed tool.  Set bookmarks when at work, they show up on home machines by pure magic and no effort.

Security

None of the above is fundamentally sanctioned by my employer.   Nobody is saying “no”, but nobody is helping it happen either.  Bookmarks are one thing, but passwords in the cloud!  You must be completely out of your head!  This is why we have Citrix Password Manager.  Oh wait, renamed; I meant, Citrix Single Sign-On!

Settings in the cloud

Profile Management systems can do things to sync files and registry to/from on logon/logoff from numerous computers.  We do and we do a good job at it, but do this as you might, it is way better if the app is “cloud aware” and can itself place it’s settings into the central store, itself.

There are two places where this goes.  In the first, applications become “aware” that they will be used on numerous computers and the applications themselves then take action to make settings move from machine to machine with no assumptions of dependence on the profile management system.  The application then takes action to transfer things at the right time based upon what the data is, and none of this can be beat by a general purpose solution.

Dreaming of a Utopian future

The second place this starts to head is moving the entire user profile to the cloud “in-mass”.  Would that work?  Well, in some ways all profile management systems already do this.  Citrix Profile Manager uses UNC path references to file servers to store stuff to/from, so this doesn’t cloudize too well, but it really isn’t any different. Could it be stored across HTTPS or via a private protocol?  Sure.

Where is the central store?

AppSense is closer here.  They have a database on the network that holds settings and when applications ask for things, settings, AppSense issues a query to the central store to get the information and then provides that answer to the app in a form that the application expects.  This is high per-app knowledge and it’s good stuff.

Speed

BUT – Expand that concept to having the whole profile “far away” and things likely get slower.  Citrix Profile Manager just in time population would help, less stuff to transfer at logon, but anytime you go “far away” to get something that the application wants “now”, you’re going to hit a situation where applications get slowed waiting for some “cloud settings storage” to provide the answer.  End result is that logon will be slower and application launch and close will be slower.

I can dream of neat scenarios here.  Personal scenarios, company scenarios and even merging it all back onto a single computer for BYOC.  If my guesses are right though, the traditional corporate IT shop isn’t going to be real excited to move company data outside while the majority of the computing is inside.

As cloud service providers are engaged, this will change because there is a level of trust in the provider.  But in these cases, the profile management central store can again be “local” so there’s nothing to gain by cloudizing.

Still fun to ponder moving the whole profile to the web.

Joe Nord

Citrix Systems Architect for Profile Manager