VMware was late to the game in bringing virtual desktops to the iPad, nearly a full year behind rival Citrix, but the release of VMware View Client for iPad a couple months ago brought VMware into the tablet age.
VMware let me test out a Windows 7 desktop on the Apple iPad and I can say it looks and operates just as you'd expect. It's a full-featured desktop, but can be manipulated with the same touch and pinch-and-zoom gestures you'd use with the iPad's standard operating system.
Accessing Windows 7 on an iPad reminded me all over again of why I'm not crazy about the idea of using Windows on a tablet. The Windows Start button, application lists and file folders just aren't as pleasant to use as the iOS interface with its giant application icons, touch-optimized programs and App Store.
But if you're on the road and need to access a Windows desktop from a mobile device, this is a lot better than trying to do it on your smartphone. To get it to work, you download the VMware View for iPad client app from Apple's App Store. While my test version involved accessing a virtual desktop hosted somewhere in one of VMware's data centers, a typical user would be accessing a virtual desktop hosted by his or her employer.
The app itself is free, but VMware charges $150 to $250 per seat for its desktop virtualization software. The total cost of a virtual desktop deployment would also include the operating system licenses and back-end servers on which the virtual desktop images would be stored.
On the iPad, you click the VMware View icon just like you would to access any other app, and then connect to a domain and type in a user name and password. Loading the desktop takes less than a minute, better than many real Windows desktops, although in one instance the screen blacked out after it loaded, leading to a little more waiting.
You can pinch and zoom whether you're in an application or just on the desktop, and accessing basic applications such as IE8 and Microsoft Word is smooth. Right-clicking involves tapping two fingers on the iPad, just like with a Mac, and a three-finger tap brings up a soft keyboard.
You can also connect a Bluetooth keyboard through the iOS settings. However, certain keys such as Control and Alt don't work so you always need to use a combination of the physical keyboard and on-screen keyboard. Bluetooth doesn't work for a mouse, either. The View client lets you bring up a virtual touchpad but it's usually easier to just tap the icons like you would with the iPad in general.
Last year, we recorded a video demonstration of the Citrix Receiver for iPad app, and I've used Parallels software that lets you use an iOS device to access virtual machines installed on a Mac. I haven't tested any of them extensively so I can't say which is best, but the clumsiness of using Windows 7 on an iPad - at least its clumsiness relative to iOS - shows that Microsoft has quite a bit of work to do in optimizing Windows 8 for tablets.
To see VMware View in action on the iPad, check out this video:
Jon Brodkin writes about Microsoft, Google, browsers, operating systems, PCs, mobile devices, cloud computing, virtualization, open source and a bunch of other tech stuff for Network World. He also cares just a little bit too much about Boston sports teams. Follow Jon on Twitter @jbrodkin.
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