As the desktop and applications virtualization market competition heats up, prospective customers see a lot of vendors claiming to offer better value and performance than Citrix, particularly from the IT manager’s perspective. But what about the people who will be using those solutions to complete their daily workload? Can employees work effectively with those other solutions?
This blog post takes a close look at what people see when they log into Citrix Receiver on a Chromebook or through HTML 5 to access the newest version of XenApp and XenDesktop compared to what VMware Horizon View users see when they log into Horizon Blast.
As part of the XenDesktop / XenApp 7.6 release, Citrix also introduced new versions of the generic clientless access mode Receiver for HTML5 and the Receiver for Chrome, along with some nice tools I’ll discuss as part of this blog.
For more information about the new and updated features of the two Receivers, please have a look at Vipin Borkar’s blogs here and here. Both new versions from Citrix provide our customers with a set of features unparalleled in the industry.
As part of this blog I’d like to focus on how they compare to the HTML5-based client (aka VMware Horizon Blast) of our competition.
UI and Resources
In the first step I’d like to compare the user interface, since that is also the first impression a user has. Below you can find a screenshot of Citrix Receiver running natively on a Mac (top left), Receiver for Web (for HTML5 access) (top right) and Receiver for Chrome running on a HP Chromebook (bottom left).
You will notice that UI is consistent across native Receiver on Mac, Receiver for HTML5 and Receiver for Chrome and (indicated by the + on the left hand side) the workflow for subscribing to new resources is the very same on all platforms. Furthermore it’s important to understand that all Receivers provide access to Windows desktops (black icons in top left hand corner), Windows applications (e.g. Word 2013, FileZilla, CRM-Express, etc.) and web apps with single sign-on (e.g. LinkedIn, Fidelity).
Now let’s have a look at VMware.
Below you can find screenshots of the Horizon Client running natively on a Mac (left) and the Horizon Web Portal (for HTML5 access) (right).
While the UI is fairly similar, although not equal, it is noteworthy that the web portal provides access to a single resource only. This is not because I’ve used two different user accounts (it’s the same account on both sides). The reason is that even in the latest release of Horizon (6.0.1) HTML5 access works with virtual Windows desktops only. Neither applications running on a Windows server nor server-based desktops can be accessed. Furthermore access to web apps is not provided at all.
In a second step I’d like to compare features related to the in-session experience of a user.
We live in a digital world, but printing remains a business critical functionality. Printing from within a browser tab or an HTML5 app running on a Chromebook is a tricky task. If you click print in the browser, all you get is an empty page or a screenshot of the app / desktop running inside the browser tab. Redirecting the local printers to the virtual desktop is also challenging because of browser security constraints. Therefore we created a best-suited “double-hop” solution for browser based access and for access from Chromebooks, called Citrix PDF printer. This provides the user with a virtual printer queue within the virtual desktop or exposed to the published application. When the user prints a document to this printer, a PDF is created and send to the client. The user is notified when the print job and transfer is complete and the PDF is displayed in a new browser tab. From here the user can save the PDF or print it to any printer connected to the endpoint.In contrast with VMware Horizon, a local printer can only be used if it supports cloud printing, such as Google Cloud Print access from the server. In case you have a USB printer or a non-cloud aware print device, you’re out of luck.For more information about the general advantages of the XenApp / XenDesktop printing solutions over VMware Horizon, please refer to this blog we published a few months ago.
Native Copy & Paste and Special Keys
Imagine you’re using your Chromebook to access a virtual desktop or a published application. You get a new mail on your Gmail account, which contains a snippet of text you’d like to use for your work. With Citrix Receiver for Chrome you can just copy (Ctrl + C) the text and paste it (Ctrl + V) to the virtual desktop or published application. Just like you would expect. Receiver for Chrome also enables you to use special keys (e.g. Windows key to open the Start Menu) or other common keyboard combinations such as Alt + Tab (switching between programs) when running Receiver in full screen mode.In contrast with VMware Horizon, copy & paste requires an intermediate step using the drop down menu of the Blast HTML5 client, which is not very intuitive. Interestingly enough I could not find a way to copy some text from within the VMware Horizon virtual desktop to the Chromebook. (Please leave a comment if you know how to make it work. Otherwise I’ll consider it another undocumented limitation of the Horizon HTML5 client). Furthermore the Horizon HTML5 client does not support special keys and most keyboard combinations. So for example if you press the Windows key, the local search of the Chromebook / -box will be started rather than the Windows Start Menu of the virtual desktop. Over the years in businesses, people have built various Windows applications, which require standard Windows keyboard and different key combination to get their work done. For example a certain key means ‘place an order’. If this is Windows keyboard specific key, then VMware blast wont be able to do that function, Receiver for Chrome can!
Disclaimer: VMware Horizon does not support accessing published applications by means of the HTML5 client. So they don’t need this functionality. But I think it’s cool enough to mention it nevertheless.When accessing a published application, a HDX session is started and the application is displayed. When starting another published application, the existing session is leveraged in order to save resources in the datacenter. This means the new application will be displayed within the same tab when started from within a browser (HTML5) or in the same window when started by means of Receiver for Chrome. Now you have two applications running within the same Window, which makes switching between the applications challenging. In order to solve this challenge, we have created the App Switcher tool. This tool displays an App Switcher taskbar right underneath the published applications, which makes switching between applications very simple and intuitive. Below you can find a screenshot of a Receiver for Chrome running multiple published applications. The App Switcher taskbar is displayed at the bottom, while the native Chrome taskbar is displayed on the right (custom configuration):
Last but not least I’d like to briefly discuss the network requirements of the HTML5-based access. As all other Citrix Receivers, the generic Receiver for HTML5 and Receiver for Chrome use the normal HDX protocol stack. The only difference is then when connecting directly to a published resource (without NetScaler Gateway), port TCP 8008 is used instead of TCP 1494 or TCP 2598. When connecting via NetScaler Gateway, the HDX connection is wrapped in SSL. So for all Receivers and configurations only port TCP 443 is used. Using the standard SSL port for all traffic ensures that users can connect to their Citrix-based resources from any network with basic Internet connectivity.
In contrast VMware’s Horizon HTML5 client does not use the PCoIP protocol stack and therefore communicates by means of the custom port TCP 8443 for all (internal and external) connections. This means if a user is connected to a network, which does not provide Internet access on custom high ports (in order to hinder malware from communicating back or prevent users from using -illegal- file sharing tools), VMware based resources cannot be accessed.
As outlined in this blog great user experience and the ability to work effectively require much more than just remoting a keyboard, mouse and monitor. Being able to work from anywhere using any network, integrating hosted applications seamlessly into Chromebooks / -boxes or enabling the user to print to any connected printer are vital aspects to achieve this. Below you can find a table summarizing the differentiators.
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