Desktop technology: Streaming to a screen near you

Shrink-wrap is dead. The era of the traditional end-user seat license is coming to a close. Tomorrow's enterprise desktop is all about subscription-based delivery of customized computing stacks via application virtualization.

Of course, we pundits have been saying the same thing for years. But this time, the technology has finally caught up with the vision. With Vista and Office 2007, we may well be looking at the last hurrah for Microsoft's classic desktop licensing scheme. Microsoft's acquisition of Softricity -- and its SoftGrid application virtualization platform -- provides the Redmond behemoth with the missing piece in its long-term, subscriptions-based computing strategy.

With SoftGrid, Microsoft can virtualize and stream its entire lineup of rich-client applications. This includes Microsoft Office, Microsoft Dynamics, Microsoft Games -- the works. These applications can be delivered in all their rich-client glory right over the Web, without any of those messy licensing or configuration management issues. It's all thanks to the magic of application virtualization, which, over time, will prove so effective that Microsoft will quickly reposition SoftGrid as the preferred (if not the only) way the company delivers applications. Period.

So hang on to those old Office 2003 and 2007 installation CDs. They'll fetch a pretty penny someday on eBay!

The real loser in all of this is VMware. Its vision of a virtualized appliance-based future will go down in history -- alongside Windows Terminals and those awkward Windows CE-based hybrid "notebooks" -- as yet another attempt to fill a round hole (configuration management) with a square peg (virtual machines).

Note to VMware: Virtual desktops were a bad idea 10 years ago, and they're an even worse idea today. Do us all a favor and stick to the datacenter. That way, when the Linux GPL purists finally catch up with you (and you know they will), we'll know just where to find you.

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Randall C. Kennedy

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