Fear and loathing in Orlando

Citrix's Bob Kruger took questions about Citrix clients for Linux but looked somewhat ill at ease that the "L" word had even been mentioned in close proximity of the "M" word.

As a native Floridian, it is probably natural for Citrix of Fort Lauderdale to hold its annual iForum conference at Disneyworld Orlando. Local businesses should support each other, after all.

For those who haven’t been, Disneyworld is a surreal experience of clashing colours and design schemes and the almost offensively bland — no chillies or anchovies on pizzas, or brolly drinks by the poolside (“Sorry sir, the umbrellas are too messy; they get into the water”).

If the brief was for a Hunter S Thompson-style story, the truth is that no amount of drugs could compete against Disneyworld’s hallucinogenic magic.

This year, 2300 Citrix staff and customers descended upon the iForum, as well as a rag-tag bunch of bleary-eyed hacks from across the globe, trying not to get lost in the vastness of Walt’s theme park. You’d expect iForum to be a chaotic mess with that many attendees, but on the contrary, we were all herded around with extreme professionalism by an army of patient conference staff.

The iForum conference was “customer-driven” this year, with large Citrix accounts like National Semiconductor, Sprint and Merrill Lynch giving talks on their implementations. Cost savings was the central theme, something which attracted plenty of interest from the audience.

At the press conference, Citrix CEO Mark Templeton spoke of life as “the dance partner of an 800 lb gorilla”, saying Citrix had made “good progress with its relations with Microsoft”, pointing out that the company is a “global gold” partner to the Redmond giant. Being “light on your feet” has helped Citrix work constructively with Microsoft, giving the Floridians privileged access to Windows server code.

Templeton was at pains to point out that his company is actually a “driver of Microsoft licensing”, thanks to Citrix strategy of making it easy to deploy Microsoft applications to large numbers over networks, using thin clients that run on a large variety of platforms, as well as the nFuse and nFuse Elite portal products.

The company’s Bob Kruger took questions about Citrix clients for Linux but looked somewhat ill at ease that the “L” word had even been mentioned in close proximity of the “M” word. Citrix is “looking at Linux”, however, and if there’s demand, well, maybe Microsoft won’t get too upset if the company releases a Linux client.

Corporate marketing and development head David Jones reiterated the obvious fact that Citrix values its relationship with Microsoft and says Linux would have to become a very large player before the company would feel compelled to irritate Microsoft by supporting the open source OS.

The obstacle of supporting non-Microsoft platforms isn’t insurmountable. “We can actually help Microsoft sell into accounts that do not run Windows,” says Jones, mentioning the case of France Telecom. The French telco is a happy IBM OS/2 camper, and with 800,000 seats upgrading to Windows willy-nilly just wasn’t an option.

However, France Telecom wanted to run modern Microsoft apps, so Citrix provided an internet client for OS/2 that allowed them to do just that. “Microsoft doesn’t think in these terms,” Jones says.

Jones also expressed careful hope that the end of the court case against Microsoft would be a catalyst for a high-tech industry revival. It’s been a tough time for everyone, according to Jones. However, Jones pointed out that there’s plenty remaining for Citrix to take a bite out of: a Gartner Group study put the total value of the potential market at $US8 billion worldwide.

The driving factor for many Citrix implementers is, according to Jones, a desire to return to order and predictability. “The empowered user created chaos,” Jones says, which is why MIS is yearning for the days of mainframe yore, but preferably without going back to the crude apps of those days. It’s a compelling argument, but at the same time, something of a heresy for the desktop-centric Microsoft.

• Saarinen travelled to Orlando courtesy of Citrix.

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