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Running Windows desktop apps on mobile devices gets easier

Today, admins can choose from a combination of virtualization, refactoring, secure containers and GPU virtualization to deliver Windows apps on mobile devices with a decent user experience.

Desktop and application virtualization tools continue to improve. Not only are they more responsive, they are highly secure, which makes virtualizing Windows desktop apps for use on mobile devices more viable than ever.

Touch-based user interfaces have revolutionized the way we interact with applications, but to date, Windows desktop apps just haven't worked well enough on mobile devices. Most Windows-based applications are significantly enhanced by a mouse, and some can't perform without one -- that archaic right-click button and scrolling wheel are still important. The performance of virtualized Windows desktops and apps on mobile devices is often uneven. And forget about trying to use applications that feature sophisticated graphics, such as computer-aided design or geographic information systems.

But times are changing, and the technology has evolved to a point where new possibilities are continuing to emerge.

Rethinking Windows desktop apps on mobile

Giving employees the ability to work from any device, anywhere at any time allows organizations to create a more productive, efficient and satisfying environment. Revisiting how they provision applications to mobile platforms is getting more important. There are thousands of core business applications that organizations haven't or wouldn't even contemplate mobilizing, but it's starting to make more sense to do so.

There are several approaches to porting applications to mobile platforms. Refactoring -- the process of streaming an application to a mobile device and tweaking aspects of the user interface to interact better with touch -- is certainly a hot topic right now. But simple application virtualization comes with plenty of benefits, too.

The technology has evolved to a point where new possibilities are continuing to emerge.

The most obvious: The risk of data leakage is greatly reduced because information is stored in the data center or cloud rather than locally on the employee's mobile device. Pairing application virtualization with identity management, to track who is accessing which apps and when, can further improve security.

Another important advantage is that streaming an application enables IT to render the application's images inline and process display data and input events at the application level. Not only does this technique maximize performance, but if combined with a secure container, it can completely isolate each user session.

The future is now

Running menu-heavy applications on a mobile device -- such as Microsoft SharePoint, Oracle and SAP -- has been simply out of the question. For a long time, it was nearly impossible to deliver the required user experience for those kinds of apps, unless developers completely rebuilt the application natively for mobile. But virtualization vendors such as Citrix and VMware now have software development kits that can help IT develop mobile front ends for core Windows applications. Citrix even released the X1 Mouse, which optimizes Windows application use on iPhones and iPads.

These vendors have also made significant advances in integrating GPU acceleration into their platforms.  Today, native-like performance on virtualized core applications such as Microsoft Office is possible. GPU acceleration really shines by enabling a richer and faster experience on applications that require sophisticated graphics, which are commonplace in industries such as construction, health care and engineering.

We can expect to see more organizations mobilize complex legacy and graphics-heavy apps going forward as virtualization and streaming technologies continue to advance.

This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of the Modern Mobility e-zine.

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