VMware may seek help to improve Unity Touch

VMware might have to rely on another vendor to improve View's Unity Touch feature, which gives virtualized Windows a more mobile-friendly interface.

BOSTON -- VMware could turn to another vendor to boost its Unity Touch capabilities.

Unity Touch, part of Horizon View, aims to improve the experience of using virtualized Windows desktops and applications on mobile devices. The current version, however, is limited to touch-friendly file manager, task bar and Start Menu alternatives.

Kit ColbertKit Colbert

At VMworld 2012, VMware demoed Project AppShift, a more full-featured prototype that made it easier to move the cursor, select text and perform other tasks designed for a mouse. Those and other Unity Touch developments have not made it to market because VMware had other priorities, said Kit Colbert, the company's CTO for end-user computing (EUC).

"This might be a space where we say, you know what, maybe there's a partnership," he said. "And I'll just throw out a name, not to say that we've had any discussions with them at all, but someone like Capriza. These are guys who actually can help … to transition these legacy Windows applications to have a nice interface on mobile devices."

Capriza, a three-year-old company based in Palo Alto, Calif., offers a platform to develop mobile interfaces for Web-based desktop apps and deliver those apps via the cloud. In January, VMware competitor Citrix acquired Framehawk, another company that enables mobile-friendly interfaces for Windows desktops and apps.

"What we're going to see is a renewed emphasis in that space," Colbert said. "We're trying to figure out exactly what we want to do there."

Colbert, who was named EUC CTO in January, sat down for an interview here at this week's IEEE Rock Stars of Mobile Cloud Conference. He spoke about VMware's first foray into remote published applications, the future of ThinApp and what to expect at VMworld 2014.

You've been in the CTO role for a few months now. What has been the biggest surprise?

Kit Colbert: I just had no idea how -- and I don't mean this in a negative way, but -- in some ways, how archaic a lot of desktop management is. I worked in Horizon Workspace for quite a while, which is more about these modern SaaS apps, mobile apps and data architectures. And then as part of the CTO role, getting exposure to the desktop space, it's just like, wow, there's a lot of legacy baggage.

In many ways, it's a blessing that I don't know as much … because it makes me ask what may appear to be naïve questions, like 'Why is that? That just seems insane. If I was going to design it fresh, I wouldn't design it like this. So what's the background?' It creates really good conversations around how things should change.

Why did VMware finally decide to get into remote-published applications?

Colbert: This is something we've wanted to do for a considerable amount of time. This is no small feat. It's a very, very technically challenging thing. We were happy to be able to work with Microsoft.

Citrix was the only viable player in this market. We felt we had to come into the market to provide an alternative.

At VMworld last year, there wasn't a ton of attention paid to EUC. Do you feel like you need to make a big splash this year?

Colbert: Internally, there's always this sort of push and pull over who gets the time on the main stage. And I think people realize it's EUC's turn to step up and be able to broadcast our message out, because it is, we feel, a very strong and differentiated message.

With the focus on managing specific applications instead of full images, and Mirage's layering to make desktop management more like mobile management, what does that mean for the future of desktop virtualization?

Colbert: You can actually do more optimized things in a virtual environment than in a physical environment, especially with regard to layering. So I don't think that desktop virtualization is going to go anywhere. It might actually be positively affected by many of these changes.

The other piece … is around application virtualization, through things like App-V or VMware's ThinApp. Those are still really useful as far as truly locking down a particular application. But they're a little bit different from layering because with layering, the application still looks like it's installed from the operating system point of view. But with ThinApp and so forth, the app [is] not even visible to the operating system. It doesn't look like it's there. It's just a file.

They're not going anywhere. They're still really critical technologies, still very useful to people. But at the same time, we think that what we can really do with layering and [user environment management] is help to get away from that image management piece.

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