Server-Side Up for MetaFrame

In my last column, I discussed the possibility of Microsoft crowding out Citrix in the low-end terminal-services market (a possibility that Citrix is already addressing). When Microsoft first released RDP, it didn't have all the features that most people who ran Windows terminal services needed to support their users, so Windows customers supplemented RDP with Citrix MetaFrame and its accompanying ICA protocol. However, each new RDP version became more capable. And because customers had to pay for client access to the terminal server if they used Windows terminal services, users who needed MetaFrame only for its ICA protocol found they could get the same capabilities with RDP—without paying license fees to both Citrix and Microsoft.

Some readers pointed out that MetaFrame is a lot more than just ICA, and that's the point I'd like to address in this column. They're absolutely right. Earlier this year, I conducted a brief overview of the new MetaFrame XP features (an upcoming article in Windows 2000 Magazine will provide the details). MetaFrame has extensive rule-based load balancing, print-bandwidth throttling, the ability to manage servers in many physical locations from one console, and several other features worth looking at. In addition, Citrix has a MetaFrame XP feature release in the queue that (if nothing changes) looks like it will add even more features for both server and client, including automatic client reconnects and the ability to publish non-ICA files. But the point is that Citrix must concentrate (and is concentrating) on the server-side aspects of its Windows terminal-services software, because RDP 5.1 has become a solid product for users who have simpler needs, and MetaFrame is expensive, especially when combined with the base Terminal Server Client Access Licenses (TSCALs).

ICA can still do things that Microsoft's native implementation of RDP can't. One reader needs ICA so Macintosh clients can connect to a Windows terminal server. (Incidentally, HOBLink makes a Java-based RDP client that supports just about any client, so you don't necessarily need MetaFrame if Macintosh access is the only feature you lack.) Another reader mentioned the speed advantages of SpeedScreen, which apparently makes an ICA connection more responsive over slow connections. But Citrix's offerings on the server side will continue to be what attracts and keeps customers.

A potential side effect of RDP's increasing viability as a display protocol is that vendors other than Citrix could end up getting a piece of the pie. I already mentioned HOBLink, which offers its Java-based RDP clients to people who can use RDP only if it supports non-Windows clients. HOBLink isn't the only company that offers products intended to fill in the Windows terminal-services cracks without offering MetaFrame's complete feature set. If more people use RDP-only solutions, they'll be more open to products that add the features they need without adding the features they don't need and don't want to pay for.

Next week, the Application Service Provider UPDATE staff and I will take Wednesday off for the Fourth of July holiday, so the next issue of this newsletter will be July 11. See you then!

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