Desktop operating systems like Microsoft Windows 7 are traditionally installed and configured along with any applications directly onto computers and laptops. These desktop operating systems are then managed on each of the computers using various management tools such as Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM). Allowing updates to the operating system, applications and configurations to be applied.
XenClient uses a different approach allowing a pre-configured desktop operating system packaged together with applications, in the form of a single entity (virtual desktop image), to operate on a computer without having to be installed. This Virtual Desktop image is known as a ‘Guest’ operating system with XenClient being known as the host, to host the guest Virtual Desktop.
The pre-configured Virtual Desktop image is downloaded to a device with the XenClient software installed and operates in the same way as if the operating system had been installed and configured directly on the computer. None of the Virtual Desktop image is actually installed instead the image is saved in a storage area (cache).
XenClient itself is a small computer program installed onto a computer to act as a intermediary between the computer hardware components such as the processor, memory, network components, disks, audio, USB ports and the pre-configured Virtual Desktop image.
The virtualisation provided by XenClient is hardware assisted virtualization as it uses virtualisation components on the computer processor to work. This makes it faster than using software based virtualisation which becomes slower, as it acts an additional layer between the virtual machine and the hardware.
There are three editions available, the Express edition, XT edition and the Enterprise edition. The Express edition is free and is aimed at testing and development.
XT is a special edition providing enhanced security, allowing different guests to connect securely to different networks of differening security levels. This avoids the need for different physically separate computers.
The Enterprise edition comes as standalone system or as part of XenDesktop Enterprise and XenDesktop Enterprise editions.
XenClient XT requires a license for each device it is used on, whilst the Enterprise edition is offered on either a per user or per device licensing model. This is based on the total number of users or devices using the system and not the total number using the system at anyone time (simultaneously).
The Express edition is free and does not require licenses. The virtual desktops hosted using XenClient do not require additional licensing, allowing multiple virtual desktops to be hosted.
Synchroniser provides centralised management of the virtual desktops and is available with the Enteprise edition. This makes the management of the virtual desktops much easier, through central management without having to manage the individual computers, as would be the case of using traditional desktop management products like Microsoft SCCM 2012.
Personal vs Business
XenClient allows multiple virtual desktops to exist on the same computer by keeping them separated. This approach known as ‘sandboxing’, allowing users the ability to work with their work virtual desktop at the same time as their personal virtual desktop. Sandboxing keeps the virtual desktops secured from each other.
In October 2015 (1st) Citrix announced they would no provide XenClient as a standalone product or as part of the XenDesktop Enterprise and Platinum editions. Existing users will continue being supported until the End of Life date.