Some of the issues we have talked about with the iPad surround the lack of multitasking, the lack of Flash and no file system access. Well, all hope is not lost for iPad users.
There are a couple of methods that can be used to get you a working OS on your iPad. One of these will cost about $12 while the other will cost you quite a bit more while at the same time giving you a considerable amount of performance and flexibility.
The solutions I am talking about are Citrix XenServer virtual server with XenDesktop Express (free) and one of the remote desktop clients for the iPad.
So, let's start with the easiest and cheapest method. This is simply to buy a remote desktop software; something like "Desktop Connect". We found this one in the App Store and it looked like it was the best in terms of performance and price. With this application you can setup multiple remote connections to existing systems. These can be Windows, Mac and even Linux (with VNC).
For most the easiest method is going to be to setup a Windows or an OSX system and connect using the default clients. We may cover the Linux side of things later, but for those that are interested the Desktop Connect software even supports VNC over SSH.
To get this going on the Windows system you need to take a few steps. Depending on the version of Windows you are using, you will have a different way of turning remote desktop on. For Windows 7 you have to head into the system properties. From there click on Advanced System Settings and then select the "remote" tab. On this tab click the 'Allow connections from computers running any version of Remote Desktop' (less secure) and then apply.
After this is done you can select the users you want to be able to access the computer over this connection.
Now that the Windows 7 PC is setup, let's configure the Desktop Control on the iPad. This is also a pretty easy thing to get going. After you launch the app you just need to add a computer. When adding a Windows machine you want to select the RDP Computer option. This lets the App know what protocol and port to use. From there give your new connection a name, an IP Address or Host Name (host name works best) and then you can choose to setup your authentication.
Personally I do not like to save things like that on my remote products, so I enter in the user name and password with each connection.
Under the advanced settings you can choose the resolution by either manually entering it or by a preset slider. You can make the resolution much higher than the iPad's, but it will force you to scroll around to see everything.
Once you have the setup to your liking (you can see a few more options below), it is time to log in and use your OS of choice. We used Windows 7 for our testing and found it to be well done and quite responsive. You can use any application you have installed on the remote system with the exception of games. The RDP protocol will not allow DX or OpenGL to stream properly yet; maybe in the future we will see this, but not any time soon.
For those of you that are either security conscious or simply paranoid, Desktop Connect offers the option to require a password just to open the App.
Once inside you have multiple options for control. You can see the keyboard, the function keys and even a few Windows specific controls.
But one of my favorite items is the right-click option. This is great for use inside applications like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and even on the Internet.
Citrix is our second option here. This is a tad bit more expensive than the other option we talked about. It will cost you a single high end system with at least 12GB of RAM and a Quad Core CPU. This will be the host for your Virtual Machines. You can use either VMWare or Citrix's own XenServer. We used VMWare ESXi 3.5 Server for our demonstration here, but when you grab the Citrix XenDesktop Express Edition you do get the free version of XenServer with the file package.
XenServer is a Linux-based, Hypervisor-style operating system. It provides a very slim host for your guest operating systems to run in. The benefit here is that you do not need to install a complete operating system to get a solid foundation for your virtualized operating systems. Of course, this is a vast oversimplification of what Xen does, but it will serve for our purposes here. The first thing you need to do is to get the XenServer installed. Citrix has a great tutorial for that on their website so we will not go into detail in this article. We will kick things off after the VM host (in our case, VMWare ESX Server) is installed and configured.
It is important to note at this point that there is a big difference between using XenServer for a setup like this and running VMWare. If you are running XenServer you only need the server and a single control system. With VMWare you have to have the full ESX Server and a Virtual Center Server running. This is because XenDesktop will not communicate directly with a VMWare ESX Server. It has to have the Virtual Center Server to act as a translator. This will add to your cost considerably as you cannot use VMWare's free ESXi software for this type of setup. There is no Virtual Center (now called vCenter) for ESXi.
Now, this does not mean that you are getting out of spending money with the XenServer. No, with this solution you are going to be shelling out some cash. The biggest cost is going to be in operating systems. For our example we needed two servers (we used one Windows 2008 R2 and a Windows 2003 R2) then the desktop OS. Here you can run either Windows or Linux also. I have not tried to make a VM-Hackintosh yet, but that might be in the works, too.
Ok, back to the fun stuff. Citrix says that you need at least two virtual systems to make this work. They prefer three, but you can get by with two. The systems are a Domain Controller, the Desktop Delivery Server (which can run on the Domain Controller if needed) and the desktop to be presented.
The first thing that needs to be done is to setup the DC (Domain Controller), then add any users that you want to have access to the domain and the virtualized desktops. Next you install the Desktop Delivery software. This will be the software that understands what you are presenting and who can get into it. After this is installed and configured then you install your desktop software. We used Windows 7 32-bit; this desktop must be connected to the domain (otherwise the XenDesktop software will not know how to talk to it).
After you have installed the OS, connected it to the domain and installed any additional apps you want to use, you will need to install the XenDesktop service on that system. This identifies the system as available and registers it with the DDC. For the final step on the server side you will need to setup a desktop group. You cannot do this until you have a desktop to present; this is a fairly easy task and takes no more than a few minutes.
Now, we covered the server installation very quickly, but there is actually quite a bit more to it. Unfortunately the full installation procedure is beyond the scope of this writing. However, Citrix has a great tutorial video on their site (and one in the file package) for this, just like they do for XenServer.
Citrix Receiver - Continued
Now that we have gotten past the long and tedious part, let's dive into the fun part; running Windows 7 on an iPad. As we mentioned before, we used VMWare's ESX 3.5 Server; this allowed us a good deal of flexibility as to how we setup our Windows 7 system. As we wanted responsiveness, we allocated 2GB of RAM to the system as well as two cores of the 3.2 GHz CPUs that run the ESX server. Using one of the options in the Virtual Center, we allocated 128MB of RAM to the GPU. We later increased the RAM to 4GB; this should help with video reproduction and also help prevent some internal system slowdowns. We also installed Office 2010 (beta) before we added the desktop to the group.
The next step was the installation of the Citrix Receiver onto the iPad. This is a free app available in the App store; there is a version for both the iPad and the iPhone. When you have these two together you get some interesting extra features.
Setting up your new Citrix Receiver is fairly simple. The first thing you need to do is setup the workspace. This is how you connect to the DDC server and find the desktop groups that contain the apps and desktops available. You can also see the reason for the domain setup here. It requires you to have a valid domain account to connect to the XenDesktop server. The last item on the setup is labeled Access Gateway; this is only if you are using the Citrix Access Gateway product for connecting over the internet. We do not have one so this option will be left untouched for this article.
After this is all setup, you can connect to the desktop group (the receiver software calls it the workspace). Here you will see all of the available desktops and applications that are available to your user account. Here you only see the one Windows 7 desktop (as that is all we setup for this). A simple tap on the icon launches the desktop and voila, you are running Windows 7 on the iPad.
Now, before we get too deep into the performance of this setup, we want to take a few minutes to explore the options you have once you get your workspace going. If you click on the little gear icon in the upper right hand corner you will get the Settings menu. Here you can adjust basic settings for the display, session and even the wallpaper that shows up. You can also share your desktop via e-mail etc.
The display options are more for orientation than anything else with the exception of the hide status bar options. This one does come in handy as it lets the presented desktop fill the screen.
Session options allow you to control how you exit the session and also if you want to push audio over the connection. There is also an option to force the iPad to stay awake when you are active in the session. This is nice as you do not have to keep waking the iPad up, but will seriously affect your battery life.
The other options such as wallpaper etc. are not much more than fluff, but are interesting to play with.
Citrix Receiver - Continued
Once you are in the desktop session things are pretty snappy. The one thing that I do not like is the lack of a "right-click" feature. Yes, there is a multi-touch gesture to invoke some of this, but for the most part if you want to right click you are out of luck. This is disappointing for this type of software. Even the $12 Desktop Connect had an option to allow taps to be transmitted as right clicks.
Despite that annoyance, I found the ability to truly multi-task very liberating. I was thrilled that I could finally run a word processing app, a web browser, view images and use a spread sheet all at the same time.
The added benefit is that you are running all of this on much more powerful hardware. As you can see we even ran HyperPi on the system and got some fairly decent times considering it was being run on a virtualized OS.
To access the keyboard, arrow keys and also to lock the display from scrolling (which allows you to scroll inside apps and Windows), you simply tap the tab at the top center of the screen.
Now, you will notice an interesting Bluetooth icon. It just begs to be pushed and when you do it says waiting for an iPhone connection. Here is where things get fun if you have an iPhone with the Citrix Receiver. You can connect your iPhone to your iPad and use it like a multi-touch touch pad. I tested this out and found it to be great with one major exception. The iPhone kept sliding around under my fingers.
To use this effectively you would either need a case with a no slip surface, a pad to put the phone on, or a stand of some sort. Otherwise, it is neat idea but falls short in practical use. I also would have liked to see familiar controls. I think that a "mouse" area with a left and right virtual button would be a great improvement to this feature.
Well, that is about it for two of the best performing methods of expanding the iPad's functionality. We do hope to bring you more articles like this as we uncover new ways to add to the iPad's usage. For now we will leave you with a few more images of Citrix in action.
Overall, your best money is on the Desktop Connect software. It gives you good freedom to use a remote system at an excellent price. It also offers a few more features than XenDesktop + Citrix Receiver did (like a right click option).
Still, XenDesktop is fun to play with and has its own virtues for someone that wants to get more out of their iPad. Neither option gave me stutter free Flash playback. I was able to get a few YouTube videos to play, but at times they would lag, or time out.
I found that for actual productivity work both of these solutions beat out using the iPad (plus iWork) on its own. There is nothing like being able to have multiple applications open and available when you are working. The iPad just cannot do that, so it is not a good work flow environment.
Still, as you can see, for not a whole lot of time and money you can very easily overcome these issues and add to the functionality of your iPad WiFi regardless of the size.
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