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Windows virtual desktop software gets closer to public release

As a potential release date for Windows Virtual Desktop looms, Microsoft is making sure its most popular applications are optimized to run within a virtualized environment.

Microsoft is upgrading its business applications for a virtualized environment in a step that brings the technology company closer to the launch of its Windows Virtual Desktop. Windows announced its virtual desktop product last fall and has provided a public preview, but a public release has not been scheduled.

In a blog post from earlier this month, Microsoft announced improvements to applications it's preparing for a virtualized environment. They include Office 365 applications such as Outlook, OneDrive and Teams.

The company also announced features specifically designed for a virtual desktop. They include Outlook Cached Mode, which will improve how users access email and calendars on a virtual desktop; and a per-machine installation option on OneDrive, which will enable users to share a single installation of Microsoft's internet-based storage platform while preserving their own folders and files. A per-machine installation ensures that users of a computer can access and use the applications on it, rather than designating a specific user. Teams will have a per-machine installation, too. Microsoft's collaboration platform will also provide better audio and video optimization within a virtual environment in collaboration with Citrix and better application support within Windows Virtual Desktop.

"Virtual desktop is something that enterprises continue to want and now it's coming from the OS vendor -- rather than VMware or Citrix -- and that's a big win for enterprises," said Holger Mueller, analyst at Constellation Research Inc.

Andrew Hewitt, analyst at Forrester Research, agreed, saying that using the same vendor for both an enterprise OS and its virtualized infrastructure has significant advantages.

"There will be much more compatibility for some of the newer features in Windows 10 -- like Edge and Cortana -- than there would be in a traditional VDI environment," he said. "The biggest value of [Windows Virtual Desktop] is the ability to do multiuser Windows 10, so instead of virtualized desktops on the server, you're actually getting a full instance of Windows 10."

Citrix role within Windows Virtual Desktop

Citrix, sometimes seen as a competitor, will become a critical partner with the upcoming release of Microsoft's virtual desktop software. Citrix has championed how its virtual desktop software, Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops, as well as its other virtualization product Citrix Workspace, can work in concert with Windows Virtual Desktop.

While the specifics of the partnership are still unclear, Citrix wrote in a blog post in March that administrators can integrate Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops with Windows Virtual Desktop, "taking advantage of advanced networking capabilities, robust management tools and high-definition user experience optimizations." The blog post dovetailed a public preview of Microsoft's virtual desktop product.

"Citrix has to adapt to a changing market landscape and is trying to complement [Windows Virtual Desktop] instead of competing heads on," Mueller said.

Citrix's role in supplementing Microsoft's virtual desktop software is to enable users to use Windows Virtual Desktop across multiple clouds and enable greater customization, according to Hewitt.

"Think about customization, manageability and flexibility to consume the product in the way you want," Hewitt said. "That'll be attractive for customers who are used to more full-fledged VDI offerings that don't want to disrupt the end-user experience of their current virtualized users."

How FSLogix will help Windows Virtual Desktop

The acquisition of FSLogix, an application performance management vendor, is also a vital component for Windows Virtual Desktop. It will be used to improve the app experience within a virtualized environment, according to Microsoft when they announced the acquisition in November 2018.

It's taken several months for Microsoft to integrate FSLogix into its applications, but now FSLogix's container technology, which enables the packaging of an application to run independently from other applications, is integrated into Office applications. It can now work in virtual environments hosted by Microsoft, Citrix or VMware, according to a Microsoft blog post.

A release date for Windows Virtual Desktop still isn't available.

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