Windows 8, a first look at VDI thanks to Citrix VDI in a Box… TLDR: It’s not good.
A quick note, I’m aware it’s no longer called Metro, but its just easier that I’ve kept it named that way for this blog post.
Recently Citrix VDI in a Box announced in quite an un-triumphant fashion, that support for Windows 8 has been added to this technology stack. I was excited to hear this and was very eager to get to the lab and start building an environment.
VDI in a Box 5.1.
With VDI in a box, setting up windows 8 was a snap, a quick install of the release candidate on Hyper-V took a few minutes and no integration tools installation was neccessary as they are included in the operating system with Windows 8 natively, winner!
VDI in a box instantly detected the new VM and with a few clicks later we had ourselves a working Windows 8 VDI environment. I was very disappointed to see that Citrix have only provided support for windows 8 with RDP / remote desktop functionality for now… Yes that’s right, no HDX just yet… So I couldn’t test from a touch device.
Without further ado, lets leave Citrix here in triumph and lets get into the Microsoft issues I found with a few hours of testing under my belt:
Log in screen issues:
The secure login screen password input is not yet working, so you’ll need to input your credentials twice on login:
Disconnecting and reconnecting will result in a very confusing user selection screen:
When you click the account that is signed in, you only seem to have a smart card option:
So I’m locked out? Wonderful.
Log off / Disconnect woe’s:
Oddly enough, Microsoft have reintroduced a confusing method to handle log off and disconnect in Windows 8, this “issue” used to also be present in windows 2000 / 2003 where the log off option was under log off on the start menu, but the Disconnect button was under Shutdown button the start menu.
Log off in Windows 8, is on the start menu as below:
The disconnect menu however, has been moved to the shutdown button available also via the charms bar from windows explorer or the start menu charms:
Why this has been introduced again, I do not know.
Metro, behavior remotely:
(Metro News Icon, how that looks like news? I’ll never know.)
Metro performs extremely poorly over a lan from a Windows 7 device, When navigating through metro the animations (flip, draw, etc) feel extremely sticky, they render in blocks and often tear despite being on a local area network.
From a Windows 8 device, a lot of these annoyances are removed, as the new RDP 8 protocol seems to disable the flipping and drawing, resulting in Metro just presenting as blocks of color without the animations. Although this “feels” better from a user experience, it does remove a lot of the charm from metro applications… Whether they had any to begin with is up to you.
As a side note:
I took the binaries, MUI and relevant dll’s from a windows 8 build, reverse engineered them into windows 7 and tested them. The user experience from 7 then mirrored 8, So I’d expect an RDP update to version 8 to arrive to previous versions of Windows shortly. I’ll blog how to do this later.
Desktop in a window? forget about it.
Trying to run Windows 8 in a window, as opposed to a fullscreen vdi desktop is extremely tricky.
By default VDI in a Box and / or Remote desktop will not pass through local key strokes like the start button ([windows] + [C] for charms, [windows] for start menu) to the remote desktop, so navigating around windows 8 is extremely difficult.
when trying to access the start menu, or charms bar in windowed mode, you will often find your mouse falling out of the remote desktop and activating the hot spots if you are connecting from Windows 8. It’s really a case of “hover up there and hope” that you will receive the right menu.
(Charms can and will overflow)
(same for the start menu)
When Citrix add HDX support, I personally feel they’ll have a hard time getting the desktop viewer to work correctly with this “run to the corner of the screen and hope” problem. The introduction of passthrough key strokes will help immensely.
The solution may be to “lock the mouse in” similar to hypervisors consoles when you have not yet installed the optimisation tools. Time will tell.
General interface complaints.
Not specific to VDI, but ultimately a VDI issue if you present this to a user, here were my grumblings:
It’s utterly useless for a task worker. I’d like to get my job done, not be assaulted by the color scale. This will work fine on a users personal device but it has no place on the enterprise desktop.
Multi tasking in Metro, in it’s rawest form, swapping from application to application, is painful and unneccesary.
The first thing most enterprises will do is remove most of the out of box, and mostly celebrated metro functionality, like store, news, social media, bing, maps, etc leaving just a few useful tiles:
Dual screen woe’s:
The windows start menu will intermittently display on whatever screen it feels like. At first my start menu was appearing on the right hand screen:
Then it hops over as and when it feels like it:
As you have two desktop taskbar’s, this causes a bit of cofusion as to which one is primary, etc. To top it all off, if you launch a pinned item from one screen, there’s no guarantee it will open on that screen!
Throughout this entire process, the largest annoyance I suffered was this split desktop scenario. I spent alot of my time trying to figure out whether I should be in Metro, or the classic desktop and having to swap from one to the other was a decrease in productivity.
Metro from a keyboard and mouse:
With a Windows keyboard and mouse I made the following findings:
- I was heavily reliant on key strokes to avoid having to use the corner hot spots, I’m an active keyboard user so it was no big issue for me, but I know this will annoy the clickers out there.
- Scrolling metro applications using a wheel mouse felt alien, Rolling up and down to go left and right confused me, but I soon got used to it.
- Using the keyboard arrows in metro applications was very jumpy and clunky.
From a MacBook Air’s touchpad:
The multi touch from apple’s touch pad fits right in with the metro interface, allowing you to scroll up, down, left and right to your hearts content, just remember to use the flipflop mouse settings to replicate the mac’s style of opposite direction scrolling.
I read an interesting article this weekend on the business insider about the look and feel of the new devices for windows 8. What is glaringly obvious from both my testing and the model of devices coming from vendors, is that nobody really has any idea what to do with this frankenstein operating system.
Citrix have done an excellent job brokering this operating system, it was as simple as a few clicks and the desktops were ready, the problem is the operating system itself.
Will Windows 8 be a success in the enterprise VDI market?
No, probably not, But before I comdemn it completely, there are a few caveats.
From a desktop or laptop that is not touch enabled? this desktop will not appeal to the end users in an enterprise, moreover it will just frustrate years from their life.
From a touch device, (be it a Microsoft enabled device or Apple) you may have a better chance. Assuming Citrix work their magic to allow the receiver on touch enabled devices to pass through gestures, I think this desktop could work, but the target audience in an enterprise will be so small that it’s not going to win the hearts and minds of all employees.
My honest opinion, even with VDI aside, is that this desktop is going to (and should) be skipped by enterprises.
This desktop just isn’t for the majority. It’s clear Microsoft are targetting apple’s share of the consumer market and enterprises have been pushed aside in favour of blocky bells and colourful whistles.
What are we to do about VDI?
Hands up who rolled out a windows 7 VDI or windows server 2008 R2 SBC project? Good news for you ladies and gents, you’ve seen a further return in your investment of roughly 3-4 years on your current implementation.
If you are looking to do a VDI project? don’t wait for this desktop, I wouldnt even consider it, I’d just proceed with Windows 7.
If in the unlikely case you need one or two metro applications, I’d wait for XenApp to be available for Server 2012 and Publish these one or two applications to your windows 7 desktops, I can’t imagine this not being supported and it will be much easier than forcing the metro interface on all users.
I’ll follow this post up with a “great new features for VDI” blog post aswell, to show there is some really cool technology in here, sadly they are just completely overwhelmed by Metro.