Citrix offers PC vouchers, envisions iPhone desktop

Imagine that your employer gives you a choice: Take the PC we give you or take this check for $2,100 and go out and buy what you want. What would you do?

When the Bring Your Own Computer (BYOC) offer was extended to Citrix employees last summer, the demand was overwhelmingly positive, says John Humphreys, senior director of solutions marketing at Citrix. Everyone wanted to buy their own system.

But there were strings attached. If employees take the company-issued laptop it comes locked down and "you get what you get" -- you can't personalize it. Opt out and you can choose any personal computing device you like -- so long as it works with the Xen App Receiver (ICA) browser plug-in that provides access to your virtual corporate desktop.

Citrix will subsidize your choice -- up to $2,100. But you must support your own system and purchase your own hardware support contract for it. "IT only supports limited aspects of the machine," Humphreys says. That means you call IT only for the virtual desktop environment that IT manages for you on its back-end servers and the Xen App Receiver that provides access to your corporate desktop.

This is a great deal for IT in these tough times, since the business trades a high-TCO variable support cost of traditional PCs for a one-time $2,100 payment every three years. For the user this could be a good thing -- or the bloom could come off the rose after the first support call.

In the BYOC scenario, calling IT support may be a bit like calling the telephone company when the phone's not working. If it's the line, they take care of it. But if it's your "customer premise equipment," you're on your own. Fortunately, the demarcation point in this case is pretty clear: If you can launch the browser and the Citrix plug-in isn't running, you pretty much know it's not your problem.

Humphreys says the BYOC program is a nod to the increasing desire on the part of its employees for personalization and the broader trend toward the "consumerization" of the client with the rise of mobile devices such as the iPhone. Indeed, the choice of supported devices won't be limited to Macs and Windows PCs that can take the standard plug-in. Citrix plans to support "nondesktop form factor" devices.

Humphreys said "unofficially" that a version supporting a mobile device (he points to an image of the iPhone, hint, hint) will be available in early 2009. The specialized client will feature "smooth roaming" in which control of the virtual desktop and desktop applications passes seamlessly onto the mobile device. The user who has left a presentation on screen at his desk and entered a meeting can log in from an iPhone, have the desktop automatically log out and see exactly what he was viewing on the desktop.

Of course, there's still the matter of how you work with an application on a tiny iPhone screen that has been designed to run on a big screen. It will take more than the iPhone's zoom-in and zoom-out controls to manage a PowerPoint presentation in that meeting.

Eventually, Humphreys says, he could envision a world in which the mobile computing/communication device becomes a processing brick to which you wirelessly or physically attach a larger screen and full-sized keyboard. When you go to that meeting, you simply drop the iPhone in your pocket.

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