Can We Drop Citrix MetaFrame?

The world didn't end last Friday night, computers have not collectively turned on us (well, no more than usual), and we're not all huddled in our bunkers holding off the ravening hordes who want our stores of bottled water and canned beans. I'm sure that everyone reading this is as glad as I am that Y2K is behind us. Personally, I'm looking forward to December 2000 with a certain feeling of malicious pleasure, knowing that marketing people will be scrambling to come up with another reason for shopping after foolishly squandering the millennium pitch a year early.

Assuming that you didn't start your holiday vacation earlier than most people, you're aware that Microsoft released Windows 2000 (Win2K) to manufacturing on December 15 for arrival on store shelves on about February 17, 2000. Knowing Microsoft's plans, you're probably considering what this means for you as a provider of network services for your company. Windows 2000 Terminal Services has several features that Windows NT Server 4.0, Terminal Server Edition (TSE) lacked, including remote control of user sessions, local device support, and a shared clipboard. Now that developers outside Citrix are free to develop RDP support, more RDP clients are appearing and interoperability with non-Windows clients has become easier. Do these changes mean that if you upgrade to Win2K, you can drop MetaFrame? As you might expect, the answer is, "not likely."

The estimates of MetaFrame use among enterprise-class TSE environments vary depending on who you ask, but most enterprise-class environments (70 to 90 percent) supplement TSE with MetaFrame. I don't expect these percentages to drop precipitously. Terminal Services still doesn't support some of the features that make MetaFrame valuable, including server farms, load balancing, and application publishing via the Web and via Program Neighborhood. And although it's technically possible to use one of the RDPs for Linux or UNIX, or the Java-based RDP, such protocols aren't yet up to the performance standards of Microsoft's native RDP, let alone the ICA clients. Unless you're running Terminal Services in a small Windows-only shop, you're probably still going to want to supplement it with MetaFrame or a competing helper product.

No, there's no chance that Win2K will kill the market for non-Microsoft terminal services. Where Win2K Terminal Services will be most important is in encouraging the use of terminal services among Windows users. By including terminal services in the core product, Microsoft has significantly reduced two barriers to entry for terminal server use: risk and cost. It's risky to suggest a new technology for your network when testing the technology requires a significant investment of time and money. With Win2K, you can simply enable the service and run a short installation program on a network client, which makes testing this new technology a lot easier. Terminal Services will even benefit people who aren't interested in running an application server because installing the service in Remote Administration mode lets you make up to two connections to the server for administration purposes. One way or another, inclusion of terminal services in a core OS is definitely going to push wider acceptance and use of thin-client technology.

A final note: In my last column, I mentioned an article that will appear on the Windows NT Magazine Web site regarding the future of the thin-client industry. We plan to present these predictions in a few weeks, so stay tuned and we'll let you know when we've posted the article.

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