IT Survivor: Hands On With Horizon

So I can see the ocean from my window and I want to go for a long bushwalk to explore Magnetic Island, but I am supposed to be testing out how easily our IT Survivor competition winner can work remotely. The central technology involved there is VMware’s Horizon 6 virtual desktop. This is how I’m using it.

While I can do quite a lot of my job using only a browser, there are still plenty of pieces of traditional desktop software I use on a regular basis. If I don’t have access to a Windows machine, I can’t run Word or Excel or Outlook or Movie Maker or Irfanview. But using Horizon View, I can run all of them in a virtual Windows 7 desktop streamed directly to my browser using only HTML. In this instance, I’m using a Dell Chromebook, but you could also do this on a tablet or a Mac. (You could also do it on a phone in theory, but I’d argue the smaller screen size makes that less practical.)

There’s something slightly surreal about logging into Windows using a Chromebook — I can see the WIndows 7 taskbar and then the ChromeOS taskbar below it. But the it works really well, and there’s no sense of lagginess. It feels exactly like using a regular desktop — the only strange thing is I don’t have a Windows key on my machine.

The VMware team in Sydney set up the virtual workspace for me, and I’ve been given full administrator rights, so I can install whatever software I need. This is an atypical setup — most companies would not allow people to install new apps (which is good basic security policy). You can also optionally populate the desktop with apps from a pre-approved selection via a web-based portal.

The only real limitation of this approach is that I can’t directly access my Chromebook hardware: I can’t plug in USB keys or even save documents to the local drive. Because I’m using a pure HTML5 solution, that hardware access isn’t possible. (If I was on a Windows or Mac machine, I could install a desktop client to log into my virtual desktop and have access to those features.)

In practice, all my key documents live in Dropbox anyway, so I can easily grab files via my virtual desktop browser when I need them. For video editing, I’ll upload the raw files to Google Drive and then place them in my virtual desktop storage. I suspect this will be one of the more challenging tasks for the virtual environment, so I’ll let you know how it goes. Now it’s time for my walk.

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