At first glance, accessing a remote Windows application or Windows desktop seems to solve most of the dual persona problems. Since no corporate information lives on the device, there’s no need to lock down the user experience or even to manage the device at all. There’s no need to figure out how to control data moving around inside the mobile device, since it’s all contained within the remote Windows desktop. Admins can enable policies on the server or on the remote desktop connection broker to disable client-side clipboard mapping, USB port mapping, and drive mapping.
The overall idea is that you can deliver any Windows desktop application you already have to any device, without having to be concerned about the device’s capabilities (since remote desktop clients exist for every type of device imaginable) or without making any changes to your existing desktop applications.
While delivering remote Windows desktops to phones and tablets seems like a decent and easy way to provide a dual persona environment, in the real world, it’s actually not that great. First of all, using remote Windows apps and desktops obviously requires a network connection. And while some people love to talk about how ubiquitous connectivity is right around the corner, I just don’t buy it.
There are just too many times I can’t get a connection, such as when I’m riding the subway, on a plane, or in a random room that doesn’t have great WiFi or 3G/4G coverage. Without an Internet connection, remote Windows apps don’t work.
Second, and more important, Windows desktop applications were designed for devices with large screens, keyboards, and precision pointing devices (like mice or trackpads). Sure, users can use the virtual keyboard on their phones or tablets, but doing so covers up half of their already highly valuable screen real estate on the mobile devices.
And sure, some people like to carry around 24 enterprise mobility management Bluetooth keyboards and those little origami cases and stands that they fold together, but then they have to deal with batteries and Bluetooth pairing and the fact that these screen contraptions are always falling apart. And let’s face it, if you have to carry around all that stuff to make your iPad act more like a laptop, why not just buy an ultrabook with a real keyboard?
Even if you get the keyboard part figured out, remember that Windows desktops and applications are designed to be used with a precision pointing device with pixel-level precision—not a human finger. If you try to use your finger as a pointing device for Windows, you often have to peck around while trying to hit the right button. (Unless you just zoom way in, but then you spend half your time just zooming and panning around the desktop.)
The other thing to keep in mind is that when it comes to the mobile apps that users use on a daily basis—email, browsers, and document editing and sharing—users already have really awesome native applications for iOS and Android. Those native apps work offline, and they have great touch-based interfaces with just the right amount of functionality.
This makes it hard to deploy a remote Windows app as your corporate “solution” with a straight face, since a user can go to the app store and find dozens of apps that do all the exact same things but that are made for little mobile devices. (Not to mention that these native apps take advantage of all the computing power that’s available locally. Gone are the days when phones were too weak to do any “real” work.)