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Embracing thin-client computing to use iPad 2 for business

How we embraced thin-client computing and learned to love using our iPad 2 for business: Two micro apps to help get the job done.

The appearance of the iPad in 2010 was more of a resurrection than a revelation. Microsoft tried tablets nine years earlier, and nobody cared all that much. Apple claims to have sold more than 25 million iPads worldwide, but the company’s marketing focus on entertainment applications isn’t helping much to build respect for using the iPad 2 for business.

Dozens of competing tablet devices, each based on different operating systems, make tablet computing an even more challenging space for enterprise users. There are the hundreds of thousands of inexpensive applications -- or, more accurately, “micro apps” -- most of which are still being designed for the consumer rather than the business user. Consumers are also employees, and the new trend of bringing your own technology to work means you’ll probably be getting requests to incorporate tablets.

So where should this situate tablet technology in your current stable of IT-supported hardware devices? On one hand, the greater screen real estate and somewhat improved input capabilities certainly give tablets a leg up over smartphones, but they are by no means a replacement for desktop or laptop systems. They have sufficient compute capabilities to serve as a functional thin client for desktop-based business applications. There are a few inexpensive thin-client computing tools for tablets and smartphones.

Two veteran thin-client vendors have been making a play at the growing mobile market with the goal of extending corporate applications to the tablet market via remote desktop micro apps.

Wyse PocketCloud Pro

If you’ve been around long enough to remember “dumb” terminals, then you’ll probably recognize the name Wyse Technology Inc. Its PocketCloud Pro application is a natural progression of the thin-client concept and is available for both iOS and Android devices. PocketCloud provides encrypted, remote access to Mac, Windows and VMware systems using VMware View, virtual network computing and the company’s own Wyse RDP Engine. By leveraging the user’s existing desktop as a host, this solution allows the user complete access to all of the business applications and resources available, and thereby gives the tablet multitasking capabilities that it natively does not have. There are multiple levels of Wyse PocketCloud available for both platforms, ranging from a free version with limited features to a Wyse PocketCloud Pro offering for an additional entry fee.

Citrix Receiver

Another well-recognized name in thin client computing, Citrix Systems Inc. offers Receiver for Mobility (Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows Mobile) to cover tablets and smartphones, as well as Receiver for Platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux, Java) to support notebooks and netbooks. Citrix Receiver provided similar thin-client desktop and application access as PocketCloud, but to use it you must also purchase the underlying Citrix infrastructure to provide the necessary mobile services: The added cost might be a deal breaker for some companies, but it would certainly be worth reviewing in greater detail to see if the greater level of device support and other Citrix thin-client features would be worth the additional investment.

Use caution with iPad 2 for business

You may actually be missing out on some amazing opportunities for leveraging what these new thin-client computing tools can bring to the table.

The idea of extending the corporate desktop is enticing, but it’s important to remember that a tablet doesn’t share all the attributes of a conventional computer. Text input is still pretty sketchy, and if you choose to add a Bluetooth keyboard to the mix you might as well invest in a notebook or netbook. What’s even more interesting is that there is no native support for a mouse on most tablets (there isn’t a cursor available on the iPad, even if you could hook a mouse up to it).

Unfortunately, not all business applications are friendly to being pinched, poked and twisted. Android users have it a little better, with Bluetooth mice becoming available from several third-party vendors. Regardless of the mobile platform, you will run into display and interface challenges when migrating your business apps.

If you’re already embracing these new portable platforms and using tablets like the PlayBook and the iPad 2 for business, then congratulations; keep fighting the good fight. But even if you haven’t been getting any requests to extend your environment to tablets, now is the time to find out what you’re in for. Not only because you will eventually be asked to do so, but also because you may actually be missing out on some amazing opportunities for leveraging what these new thin-client computing tools can bring to the table as they grow. I have no doubt that as you test them in your environment you’ll find tablet systems lacking in any number of ways, but given the huge level of acceptance of the iPad 2, I would gladly wager that the tablet is here to stay. Future generations will eventually become very close to desktop equivalents, just as laptops are today. And when they are, you’ll be right on top of it.

Steven Hill is a technology expert based in Little Suamico, Wis. Let us know what you think about the story; email

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