Citrix XenClient is going away, but what will replace it?

Citrix's announcement that it will stop selling XenClient didn't include any plans to replace its Type 1 hypervisor. VDI shops are left wondering what's next.

Citrix has finally decided to pull the plug on its Type 1 client hypervisor XenClient, leaving the door open for DesktopPlayer for Windows -- and possibly Linux -- to take its place.  

Citrix will stop selling XenClient on Oct. 1, but it will maintain the current version through December 12, 2016, before turning out the lights altogether on December 12, 2017.

It was a muted announcement, appearing only on Citrix’s EMEA press release website, but the message is clear: The Type 2 hypervisor is the future for Citrix. The company will continue offering its DesktopPlayer product, which allows access to Windows virtual desktops from a Mac, as well as its Synchronizer virtual machine management and synchronization tool. The announcement didn’t go into any more detail, though, so XenClient customers likely have a few questions.

How many users are affected?

There are niche groups of Citrix XenClient users in many organizations, especially among developers, but getting an actual number has always been difficult because there are several ways to get XenClient. You could buy it as a standalone product, but if you’re a XenDesktop Enterprise or Platinum customer, you are entitled to use XenClient as well.

Suffice it to say that most XenClient users chose to adopt it specifically because it’s a Type 1 hypervisor, so this announcement leaves them in a bit of a fix. Many years ago there were other enterprise-class options, but today it’s pretty much Citrix XenClient or bust.

Citrix did open-source its XenClient XT product that was intended for use on high-security machines. It’s now called OpenXT, and if you run a shop that doesn’t mind going the open source software route, you might do fine using that. Keep in mind, though, that OpenXT likely suffers even more from lack of modern hardware support than XenClient does, due to its secure nature and the lack of a corporate-backed development team.

What will Citrix replace XenClient with?

DesktopPlayer for Windows simply has to be coming out soon.

The short answer to this is DesktopPlayer, which Citrix has been developing in cooperation with Oracle for a few years for Mac users. The biggest problem is that the Mac version is still the only version of DesktopPlayer available. In April 2014, Citrix announced that a Windows version would arrive soon, and though the company released a technical preview of the product, we have yet to see a production version.

Even if DesktopPlayer for Windows comes out soon, that only gets us part way there. The machines that currently use XenClient aren’t Macs, and they’re not licensed for Windows, so there needs to be a Linux version to help with the migration. It means organizations will have to be more Linux-savvy than they needed to be with XenClient, since it was a self-contained environment, but it’s the least bad option. If there’s any hope for existing XenClient customers, it hinges on a version of DesktopPlayer for Linux.

When can we expect these?

DesktopPlayer for Linux is nothing more than conjecture at this point. Citrix has never spoken about making a Linux version of DesktopPlayer, but it demonstrated a renewed focus on Linux with the release of the Linux Virtual Desktop for XenDesktop. These products are completely unrelated in terms of technology -- Linux Virtual Desktop allows VDI shops to run Linux VMs in XenDesktop -- but it shows that Citrix is paying attention to its customers that run Linux.

DesktopPlayer for Windows simply has to be coming out soon. I find it hard to believe that Citrix would make the announcement about the end of XenClient without following it up with something more positive. I expect we'll see DesktopPlayer for Windows released in October or November this year. With any luck, Citrix will mention the development of DesktopPlayer for Linux at the same time.

Cutting the cord on XenClient is a logical move, based on the amount of work required to maintain XenClient compared to the number of users. Those shops might be in for some tough migrations in the coming years, but by going with a Type 2 hypervisor approach Citrix opens up client hypervisors to more use cases than ever. Hopefully Citrix can redirect some resources to the DesktopPlayer team and get that platform rounded out sooner than later.

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