Dell: Smartphones will never kill the PC

Dell CEO Michael Dell said mobile devices will never kill the PC. Instead, he envisions users' owning a variety of devices, each capable of looking like the other via desktop virtualization, served by virtual networks and the cloud.

"What's converging is the data, not the device," Dell told attendees of the Citrix Synergy user conference in San Francisco during a keynote speech Thursday. "It's not clear that one device replaces another."

Also from Synergy: Citrix unveils bare-metal desktop hypervisor, ahead of VMware

Dell said each user will have many devices, each geared for a specific task.

"Some are better for carrying with you. Others are for consuming content, others are better for creating content." This runs counter to the idea that a smartphone or other mobile device will eventually become the multi-function computer of choice for work, communication, social networking and entertainment. Since 2008, users have purchased about a quarter of a billion smartphones, reports market research firm Strategy Analytics. Many of them use their smartphone for traditional PC work tasks, be it composing a document or sending e-mail.

Yet, Dell said the iPad confirms his view that users will want more devices, all accessing the same data (and even, perhaps the same virtual desktop).

"There is an application infrastructure growing up significantly around devices like the iPad. Does this create new uses, new demand, or does it replace something else? Seem to me it creates new uses," Dell said.

To a mixture of ahs and titters from attendees, he showed a prototype of Dell's Android Streak smartphone. The Streak was equipped with a Citrix receiver that allowed him a choice of several desktop environments, as well as native Android apps and social media apps such as Facebook and Twitter. The Streak will be available next month in Europe from Telefónica O2 and from AT&T this summer in the U.S. Some attendees loved the device. Others in the audience said that an Android phone from Dell, Citrix equipped or not, is too little, too late to compete with the iPhone or BlackBerry.

But Dell's smartphone is only the tip of the virtualized iceberg. Dell also announced that Citrix's XenClient technology introduced by Citrix on Wednesday will soon be certified and available for Dell Latitude laptops and OptiPlex desktop client systems.

"When it comes to desktop virtualization, some people say, Dell, you're a PC guy, so you don't want this," Dell said. "But when something comes along that is very valuable for customers, if you stand in the way, you do so at your own peril. Server virtualization, client virtualization -- we embrace them.

That statement may have been a thinly veiled reference to Microsoft. It's true that Microsoft and Citrix collaborate closely on virtualization. Microsoft even announced at the Citrix show that the next version of its System Center, due out in 2011, will manage Citrix's hypervisor, XenServer. Yet on the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) side, Microsoft's licensing policies have made desktop virtualization for Windows machines more expensive for many organizations than buying a new Windows machine. Citrix offers per-user or per device licenses. A user with multiple devices can access a Citrix desktop on any of them.

Microsoft requires a Windows license for each device, and doesn't offer user licensing. (However, Microsoft officials say that they have enterprises licenses that can more or less function like user licenses).

Microsoft also recently softened its stance on Windows VDI licensing. Users with a Software Assurance contract can opt to move device licenses to virtualized machines.

Microsoft joins Dell and Citrix in the vision that desktop virtualization will become increasingly attractive. As users adopt Windows 7, increasing numbers of them are looking at some form of desktop virtualization, says Brad Anderson, general manager of the Management and Solutions Division for Microsoft. In his world view, desktop virtualization can be accomplished a variety of ways, including full VDI, application virtualization and session virtualization. This means that a user's typical objections -- fear of losing connectivity via the WAN, security, poor performance, printer/driver issues -- can be more easily addressed.

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