Application virtualisation hits handsets

VMware is in the early stages of embedding its technology in a range of smartphones, enabling them to connect to PCs and run applications that were designed for other mobile phones.
Written by Brad Howarth, Contributor

Smartphone users could soon be able to use any software application on any handset.

VMware is in the early stages of embedding its technology in a range of smartphones, enabling them to connect to PCs and run applications that were designed for other mobile phones.

At VMware's annual user conference in San Francisco the company's director of product management and market development, Srinivas Krishnamurti, demonstrated running an application built for Android on a Windows mobile phone.

Krishnamurti says mobile phone application developers have long complained about having to create different versions of applications for a wide range of handset operating systems, including the iPhone, Android, Windows and Symbian.

"People are starting to pick what platform they want to build for, and that's the only one that they build for," Krishnamurti says. "From a consumer's standpoint, what happens is when they buy a phone, they are kind of stuck in an island of apps that are built for just one platform.

"That's kind of silly. Why can't I just run whatever app I want on my phone?"

Operating applications in a virtual machine on the handset also adds another layer of security. Phones will be able to also run completely different profiles, such as one for business applications and another for personal use.

"One use case that we hear about is (separation) of home and work," says Krishnamurti. "Apple probably still won't like it, but they might get some traction in the enterprise market more so than just in the consumer space."

Other attempts to standardise application development on phones, including use of the Java programming language, have failed however.

"Over a period of time we think that once there's enough virtualisation-enabled phones, this could solve the developer program," Krishnamurti says.

While the demonstration used a prototype handset from Texas Instruments, Krishnamurti says VMware is working closely with handset makers now, but says the initiative may be two or three years from becoming mainstream.

"We're continuing to figure out what is the right use case, and work with the community to make it happen," Krishnamurti says. "We are working with a coupe of folk in terms of putting out hypervisor on their phones, but unfortunately we are not allowed to talk about them."

Krishnamurti says that while it is currently unlikely that Apple will support a technology that would allow non-Apple applications to run on the iPhone, he believes the company may come around eventually, as seen in its decision to allow Windows applications to run on the Macintosh operating system in a virtual machine.

Thin client maker Wyse also demonstrated an application called PocketCloud that enables iPhone users to access and operate a personal computer using VMware; even surf the web in Internet Explorer.

"This gives you the ability to visit websites that Apple's Safari doesn't render properly," said Wyse's chief marketing and strategy officer Jeff McNaught.

McNaught acknowledges that performing desktop tasks on a mobile phone screen could be an unsatisfactory experience, but says this becomes less of a problem when the phone can be plugged into an external keyboard and screen.

When used in this way a mobile phone could eliminate the need for thin client computers.

"When working in an airport that could prevent you from taking a notebook computer or even a Wyse mobile thin client, and that's something we'd be fine with," said McNaught. "But we think your workplace might choose a thin client as your way of getting access right there in the building."

Brad Howarth travelled to VMWorld as a guest of VMWare.

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