Reverse seamless windows: The secret to local apps on remote desktops

Some apps just run better as local applications. Reverse seamless windows technology allows you to run apps locally while presenting them on remote desktops.

Series: It's the Apps, Stupid!

Application and desktop virtualization, streaming, automated installation and packaging, virtual machine-hosted apps -- oh my! Dig around the hottest technologies and you'll quickly see that applications have become job number one. We've built mature infrastructures, secured their networks and learned how to best operate them, so what should we focus on next?

In this ongoing dramatic series, experts Greg Shields and Don Jones take the stage to help you realize the answer that's right in front of you: "It's the apps, stupid!"

Terminal Services was for a long time "just another desktop." Delivering applications with Terminal Services (now Remote Desktop Services) forced users to basically have two independent desktops -- one on their local computer and the other on the remote terminal server.

Other episodes in this series:

  • The new age of application delivery methods: More than just install
  • Citrix VM Hosted Apps: Using VDI for application hosting
  • What's in a name? Demystifying app delivery and VDI product naming
  • Virtual desktop applications: Learning from Terminal Services' mistakes

Seamless windows, first found in Citrix MetaFrame, diminishes that separation somewhat. Seamless windows is an application delivery method that allows remote applications to appear like local applications, giving users the illusion that the remote app is actually running on the local computer.

For application delivery on remote desktops, there's also the opposite: reverse seamless windows. A useful addition to the application administrator's quiver of delivery options, reverse seamless windows presents local applications to remote desktops while making them appear to run within the remote session.

In this month's episode of It's the Apps, Stupid, Greg and Don get to the bottom of what reverse seamless windows does and who it benefits.

DON:      Why are you walking backward holding that laptop? You're making me nervous.

GREG:     I'm trying to illustrate the concept behind reverse seamless windows. It's an interesting approach to merging local applications on a user's local computer with remote applications that are actually delivered remotely.

DON:      Merging, eh? I understand seamless windows: An application in a seamless window looks like any other application. In fact, some users have a hard time telling a seamless window application apart from one that runs locally.

GREG:     Yep, seamless windows simplifies the entire local-plus-remote experience for users. Citrix calls their merging app delivery method Published Applications. Microsoft's is RemoteApp.

DON:      Now, reverse seamless windows... sounds backward to me.

GREG:     Exactly!

DON:      You're making me nervous again.

GREG:     Let me explain. In a seamless windows situation, it's the remote application that's being presented atop a local desktop.

DON:      So, reverse those and --

GREG:     … with reverse seamless windows, it's the local application that's being presented atop the remote desktop!

DON:      Why would I want to do that for local applications?

GREG:     To keep things simple. Remember what's of primary importance to IT's users?

DON:      It's the apps, stupid!

GREG:     Right, and that's why it's important to keep application delivery simple for remote desktops. Here's an example: Imagine that an IT organization deploys most of its applications remotely, but not all of them.

DON:      In that situation, users do most of their work inside a virtual desktop or in a Remote Desktop Services (RDS) or XenApp session.

GREG:     And most applications run just fine as remote applications.

DON:      But not all of them.

GREG:     Precisely. Some applications just work better when they're local, using the local computer's resources.

DON:      For instance, an application that's a heavy resource user or one that doesn't work atop RDS or XenApp.

GREG:     Yes, and reverse seamless windows provides the architecture for launching and interacting with local applications from within the remote desktop session.

DON:      The app still runs locally?

GREG:     It does, but it appears like its running within the remote session --

DON:      … effectively merging the view of local applications with the remote session experience. Makes sense to me, but it seems like a fairly limited use case for remote desktops.

GREG:     It probably is, which is why many people haven't heard of reverse seamless windows, even though the concept has been around for a few years. This method makes the most sense if users are working with remote desktops most of the time. You'd use reverse seamless windows to "pull" the occasional local application into the session, when it makes sense.

DON:      Are there actual products that use the reverse seamless windows concept?

GREG:     RES Software has Virtual Desktop Extender, which works with XenApp, XenDesktop, RDS and even VMware View. More accurately, I should say it works with the protocols those products use, such as ICA, RDP and PCoIP.

DON:      So, that's why you've been moonwalking around the office with your laptop. I'm happy I asked, but I'm happier that you're sitting down again.

GREG:     You're welcome. I was getting tired anyway.

Read all episodes of the It's the Apps, Stupid series.

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