I got my 3G iPad, now what's next?

While I am getting used to using my new 3G iPad, I am thinking ahead to what might be next... actually, what I want to be next.

I was struck by three events that happened this week. HP purchased Palm for a cool $1.2 Billion, Microsoft dropped its Courier (two screen foldable) tablet project and HP has also dropped its plans for a slate device based on Windows 7. Things are definitely happening in the mobile computing space, and happening quickly.

As I have tweeted and talked about before and Dave Sobel has actually demonstrated, the iPad can be used as a kind of portable thin client. I don't yet know how well it works, but any kind of application like this is a good thing for business computing.

We keep hearing over and over about cloud this and cloud that. We also hear about how Apple is the devil incarnate to application developers who are stymied by Apple's restrictions on what can be developed for the iPad and iPhone. And do not forget Steve Jobs' obsession with keeping Flash out of his world, which renders a whole slew of websites unviewable on the iPlatform. Are we all being forced to march lockstep to Apple's drumbeat like the grey, proleteriat workers in the prescient 1984 Mac commercial while we wait, wistfully, for Android to break Cupertino's steely grip?

What's a mother to do?

Improvise!

Here's what I am thinking. Microsoft needs to develop, or mature, the ability for its Windows 7 and its Remote Desktop Services (nee Terminal Services) to be a host to Very Thin Clients (yes, I am officially coining that phrase, the VTC.) The VTC refers to the actual thickness of the thin client, not the size of the operating system, although the O/S will need to be thin as well.

I have read recently about Microsoft's work with client-centric and host-centric RDS experiences, along with other advanced controls. You can read more about these efforts here on the RDS TechNet blog. To explain this in layman's terms, some remote access connections put a computational burden on the host (the Windows 7 PC or the Terminal Server*) and some put it on the client (the PC running RDP, the thin client or the web browser.) One burdens the host, while one gives the client a workout. What is the biggest problem with most portable computing products? Battery life and heat. Too little of the former and too much of the latter. Putting the load back on the host can take the strain off of the client and use less bandwidth.

Microsoft's first goal as a publicly traded company is to make lots of money and the way they do it best is through their cash cows. Specifically, Microsoft Office, the Windows PC operating systems and Windows Server operating systems. So, by identifying that which Microsoft is most interested in sustaining is where I think I stand the best chance of getting them to create what I desire. I want to be on the first "I invented Windows 8" commercial, so here is what I propose:

As stated earlier, Microsoft should work diligently to make a Windows 8 PC with the built-in ability to act as a host-centric RDS server. They could do the same with Terminal Services* on their latest server platform. They could even offer a selection that would tweak the RDS role to stipulate either host-centric or client-centric hosting, based on which RDS client would be accessing it. On the client side, Microsoft would create a version of Windows Phone 7 Series (oh, how I hate that name) that had a very tightly written RDP client built in, on a platform that looks hauntingly like an iPad. It would need multitouch, intelligent gesturing and, of course, the ubiquitous 'squeeze' zoom feature. In fact, they already have most of the UI in development.

If Microsoft would work with some of the thousands of companies that they have acquired over the past decade, along with video and processor chip manufacturers, it is not a stretch to imagine a VTC with a robust RDP client, custom designed to work with the silicon in the VTC to provide a nearly there remote experience.

What does Microsoft gain? First, they gain street cred because they instantly provide a lightweight, portable platform while shifting the heavy lifting to the host. It validates the Windows 7/2008R2 (or the next generation) codebase as a viable option for VTC computing. It also helps save Microsoft's cash cows by allowing users to access them as needed without lugging around a bulky notebook. It fits in well with their VDI strategy (Strategy? Nevermind. Subject for another post.) It could even usher in a new type of service where users can park a synthetic PC up in the cloud, or rent one as needed, while their profile is kept somewhere else secure, then merge it with the SynPC to create an instant-on virtual Windows 7 app... all on a VTC platform.

Oh, and DO NOT FORGET ABOUT REMOTEAPP. This is probably the most overlooked part of the RDS feature set. "There's an app for that" would instantly gain access to 10's of thousands of Windows apps. Instead of running a stripped down version of your favorite desktop application natively on the VTC or having no access to your custom designed Line of Business application, just make a RemoteApp out of it and put the icon on your VTC. Now, you just tap your Shipping and Receiving icon and you are connected back to the home office without even opening a new desktop. Nice...

Most of this capability (except for the RDP software and the chipsets) is already out there, available, in the Microsoft universe. Who knows, their skunkworks probably has some of the special sauce in prototype as we speak.

For the record, I am NOT a Microsoft fanboy. I am just an IT professional who realizes that Windows is in the DNA of almost every business in the US and in most of the rest of the world as well. We are not all just going to throw it all out, embrace web-based applications built on Linux and then run them all on Apples, Ubuntu and Android. Maybe it won't be Microsoft who figures it out. In fact, it would surprise me for Microsoft to actually bring to market something like this within the next several years. They just don't move fast enough. The game will be decided in two years... Are they in?

While this post focuses on Microsoft fueling the development of the VTC, it really doesn't have to be their product. If they could swallow their pride and work with VTC devs (HTC, HP, WePad, Nokia, Motorola, etc.) to integrate the chipset and allow the app to be acquired inexpensively (somewhere between FREE and $9.99) on whatever platform a customer chooses, they couldn't lose. They would retain the corporate space, project presence into the mobile space and show a vitality that they are sorely lacking.

Playing around with an iPad is cool, but if you could have all of the features of an iPad or Android PLUS an option to remotely access your PC, Terminal Server or SynPC as if it is running on the VTC... I would call that a game changer.




* I still want to call the Terminal Server a Terminal Server. RD Server just doesn't roll off of the tongue. Sorry.

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