VDI platforms from vendors such as Citrix can provide Chromebooks with additional functionality, as well as limitations.
Technology purchasers may see the price tag of the Chromebook and want to take advantage of the hardware savings, but IT administrators should evaluate if their line-of-business applications and virtualization technologies, such as Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops, work on a Chromebook.
Understanding the Chromebook ecosystem
Google has seen an increase in Chromebook sales year after year, but it's still nowhere near the market share of traditional Windows OS laptops. In some markets, however, they have thrived. Chromebooks have gotten quite popular within the education sector, for example, because they are quite cheap compared to regular Windows laptops, require minimal maintenance and provide a long battery life considering the price point.
During the Google Next 2020 conference, Google introduced a range of new management capabilities for Chromebook laptops and showcased how organizations can adopt Chromebooks faster into their fleet of managed devices.
Still, the Chromebook ecosystem is lacking an important piece when it comes to the enterprise market: access to Windows-based applications. This absence is massive because Windows applications are an important part of most organizations.
Chromebooks run Chrome OS, which is essentially a locked-down version of Google Android OS, and this means that it can only run Android-based applications and web applications -- using the Chrome browser. If users need to access Windows-based applications on Chromebooks, the IT admins would need to use a virtualization product, such as Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops.
Benefits and shortcomings of using Citrix on a Chromebook
Over the past few years, Citrix has added a lot of new functionality to work with the Google ecosystem, even with support for running Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops on Google Cloud Platform to host VDI. These new features include more integrations between G Suite and Chromebooks from an endpoint management perspective. When using Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops in combination with G Suite, IT can configure the use of Google Identity to provide single sign-on from Chromebooks directly to a Citrix environment. This process relies on the OAuth (Open Authorization) protocol.
There are two ways to ensure that Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops can work on a Chromebook. IT professionals can either use the HTML5 receiver, which is a pure web-based client, or the Chrome OS Citrix Workspace app, which administrators can deploy through the Chrome marketplace if they manage their clients via G Suite.
Even if the Citrix Workspace app runs as a web application like the HTML5 client, it has a bit more intelligence built in compared to the pure HTML5 clients. Citrix Workspace can provide more advanced features because of the API's availability within the Chrome OS ecosystem. This includes features such as centralized management of Citrix configurations, automatic updates on the client side and web camera redirection. The HTML5 client version doesn't support any of these features.
Because Citrix developed the Workspace app for Chrome OS in the Chrome framework, it has somewhat limited access to the underlying system. This is by design on Google's part, but it limits the use of advanced features that Citrix has created over the past few years. Unlike its counterpart on Windows, the Chrome version of Citrix Workspace doesn't work with advanced features such as the Enlightened Data Transport protocol, which uses user datagram protocol (UDP) for data transport to provide better UX.
A Chromebook running Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops also doesn't work with features such as content redirection and browser redirection. This means that, if, for instance, a group of users ran Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops on a Chromebook to access GPU-based workloads or media-based workloads, they won't get the same UX on Chrome OS as they would with a Windows-based workstation and the Citrix client.
Regardless of the big improvements that Citrix has made with its Chrome OS application, Citrix will likely transition to the use of the HTML5 as the recommended approach. This approach is likely because Google announced in January 2020 that it will begin phasing out support for Chrome apps on Chrome OS. Instead, Google has recommended developers to move toward developing progressive web applications instead.
Improvements for networking standards and protocols such as HTTP/3 -- which will enable Chrome OS to use UDP-based transport -- could provide more fluent Citrix UX on Chromebooks. However, the additional features that Citrix has released in areas such as management and redirection will most likely never be supported for Chrome-based clients.