Traditionally Citrix has corralled and defined the high def user experience under the brand HDX. HDX certainly encompasses much of the goodness that Citrix has offered to provide the seamless user experience in virtual computing environments. Optimizing the end user demands by leveraging local compute, network capabilities and server side resources is a key component of what makes XenDesktop the industry leading virtual computing solution.
With the introduction of the new XenApp 6.5 Mobile Optimization SDK and new enhancements to the native Citrix Receiver clients however I believe that the HDX definition should perhaps be broadened. The end user experience is indeed significantly improved by these technologies and, in some ways, may have even gone beyond what any user would have possibly expected from a virtual computing experience! Receiver has always provided a unique enterprise workspace and apps store for Citrix end users. It’s through this app store that customers could subscribe to corporate apps and have them seamlessly integrated into their existing desktops (for Windows and Mac users) or quickly and easily accessible from the vast majority of tablets and smartphones. In addition Receiver provides greater flexibility and self-service by also allow end users to request new apps or services (or in some environments, whole desktops) to be seamlessly delivered to any device, anywhere. However, subtly in some cases and more explicitly in others, Citrix has engineered significant native device support in every version of Receiver as well. If an end user is using a tablet then the end user can leverage the native touch commands to move about their virtual apps. Want to delete an app on an iPad? Do what you’d do for any other app: touch and hold and the virtual apps start to wiggle and the end user can touch on the “x” to delete the app. Different touch capabilities in a BlackBerry PlayBook would be reflected in the native Receiver client for the PlayBook. Want to dock a virtual app on a Mac? An end user simply does the same thing that they would do to dock a native app. Is it different on a Windows PC? Yes, and of course Citrix Receiver behaves natively on Windows devices.
Seems like a no-brainer? Well, it isn’t. These native behaviors take additional engineering and design work. More importantly they take prioritization. This is a critical differentiator for Citrix. The complete end-to-end focus on providing the very best end user experience is a priority and an important part of what and how we do what we do. This is also something that’s hard to articulate to customers when they compare our solutions head-to-head against the competitors. Ultimately an IT-centric customer wants to see XYZ app running in XenDesktop versus the same app running on a competitors infrastructure, or, worse, they want to simply see a Windows desktop running on an iPad without any modifications. Why is that worse? Simply put the Windows UI was never designed to run on anything but a Windows PC. Customers are asking for the lowest common denominator in order to compare what Citrix does against what the competition does. However, talk to anyone who has installed XenDesktop infrastructure and runs Citrix Receiver along with the optimized HDX experience and those customers become the strongest and most vocal advocates for our investments in end user experience!
At the end of the day simply moving a Windows app from one device to another or running a Windows desktop on a tablet is the easiest part of the challenge. Making it work in a manner that is optimized for real productive work — making the experience seamless and intuitive — is the true heavy lifting. Unfortunately that’s the one part of the solution that is most difficult to quantify for prospective customers. However, as we’re all end users, are all too clearly aware of the benefits of a device optimized, native experience. The dramatic growth in the mobile applications business is also testament to this trend. A significant portion of these device specific, native apps provide local access to web-based content. If there wasn’t value in native applications then you’d expect that demand for these local apps wouldn’t exist or would abate. The exact opposite is occurring.
So what does this mean for the future? All the hype around HTML5 standards and an increasingly rich web experience can dramatically improve the end user experience for everyone. Will it ever equal the native experience? I don’t think so. By leveraging local computing power and resources local apps will always be able to provide a richer interface and higher levels of performance. Will HTML5 powered apps close the gap? The short answer is probably yes. However as expectations for computing experiences continue to increase — think about what an end user can do on a mobile device today versus their expectations five years ago — the demands for computing horsepower (bandwidth, graphics, CPU, displays, battery life, etc.) will only increase. There is no way to accurately predict what the market will look like in a year let alone five years. What we do know is that universal, cross-platform application access will be increasingly important (and increasingly difficult) along with controlled access management (on the IT side). We know that consumerization will increase as the driver for agnostic access. These are the challenges to providing native device experience. This is why Citrix has invested in technologies such as the XA 6.5 Mobile Optimization SDK. Modify the way the application looks and functions across devices. Make it simple, easy and automated. This is why we’ve invested where we have and why those investments will continue for a very long time.