Linux, Windows or both? Doesn't matter to virtual desktop vendor Ulteo

Ulteo is poised to offer commercial support for its free virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) software, which the open-source start-up says will cost companies a fraction of established offerings from Citrix Systems Inc., Microsoft Corp. and VMware Inc., while offering, in some cases, more choice in platforms.

The Paris-based company has already released a second version of its Open Virtual Desktop software, which lets companies host Windows and Linux apps on the same server and then stream them to remote desktop or laptop PCs.

The software has been downloaded by tens of thousands of users, mostly IT managers who have been testing OVD as a less expensive, more flexible substitute for Microsoft's Terminal Services or Citrix's XenApp (formerly MetaFrame Server), according to CEO Thierry Koehrlen.

Neither the Microsoft nor the Citrix product can deliver Linux apps, according to Koehrlen. VMware's technology, like Ulteo's, can support either Windows or Linux, he said.

Dual operating system support is something cost-conscious IT managers are seeking, Koehrlen said, since it enables them to reserve the pricier Windows for power users and then offer Linux to the rest.

"We have several dozen users who are using OVD today to manage several hundred users each in production and are itching to go into the thousands," Koehrlen said in a phone interview.

Ulteo hasn't finalized prices for its enterprise support plan, though Koehrlen said it "will be very cheap compared to Citrix or VMware. We want it to be a no-brainer in terms of cost compared to the big guys."

Ulteo was co-founded by Gael Duval, founder of Mandrake Linux (now Mandriva), and Koehrlen, who co-founded Intalio, which makes open-source business process management software.

Ulteo is small -- it has just 10 employees -- though Koehrlen said that development and testing is aided by hundreds of contributors.

Koehrlen said the current version of the software, though called Open Virtual Desktop, is neither true desktop nor application virtualization.

Rather, Open Virtual Desktop's "session virtualization" technology rides on top of simple streaming technology such as Terminal Services to paint the screens of users with Java-enabled Web browsers running on their clients, said Koehrlen. Applications can be hosted at Amazon.com Inc.'s EC2.

Ulteo is working on offering true application virtualization, but Koehrlen said it's not urgent. Companies won't start adopting application virtualization en masse until they start planning their upgrades from Windows XP to Windows 7, he said.

Eric Lai covers Windows and Linux, desktop applications, databases and business intelligence for Computerworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @ericylai, send e-mail to elai@computerworld.com or subscribe to Eric's RSS feed .

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