There’s been plenty of fanfare surrounding the release of Citrix XenDesktop 4.0 this week. I plan to blog about the XenDesktop 4.0 technical features after I’ve spent some quality time with them in my lab over the next couple of weeks. However, I’d like to contribute to the XenDesktop 4 conversation by talking about its impact on client software licensing.

It’s no question that user expectations for how they should access corporate resources are changing. Sometimes I need to quickly grab or view a doc from my iPhone. Other times I need to view resources on my laptop while not connected to any network. And of course, most times I’m in my office and can access my applications while fully plugged in. As I see it, I’m just scratching the surface. Thin or zero clients, netbooks, and remote Internet kiosks (such as at a hotel or conference) are increasingly becoming part of the the application access picture.

So what does this all mean? Users just want to get at their data and applications on their terms. IT should be able to provide that level of service, and from a technology perspective we’re getting there. Sure I’d like to see capabilities for deploying endpoint security to devices such as iPhones before considering them enterprise-ready alternatives for application access (and a Bluetooth keyboard wouldn’t hurt either). However, for all the gains we’ve had in technology, client application vendor licensing and support still remains one of the primary barriers to wide scale desktop virtualization deployments.

Microsoft, for example, still licenses desktop OSs and applications by device, or installed instance. Sure the Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD) licensing model includes a “home access” provision that allows users to access their virtual desktops from their home computer. However, this licensing model still expects the organization to count devices. I’ve talked to Microsoft about my concerns over per-device licensing and for the most part, we are in full agreement that Microsoft desktop OS and application licensing will need to fundamentally change. However, for an organization as large as Microsoft, this is going to take some time. Any licensing change has a huge impact on existing OEM and sales channels, and is why licensing changes are often incremental in nature.Still, Microsoft has an opportunity to lead the way and show other vendors how to license software for today’s increasingly mobile user. I hope they embrace that opportunity.

The user experience is moving toward an era where user data and applications live in the cloud. In other words, the cloud is their desktop. Sure this could be a server-hosted Windows XP or Windows 7 instance or something different (e.g., client-hosted desktop, virtual applications, or a mix of applications and services delivered by internal IT and external PaaS or SaaS providers). The bottom line - the way we deliver applications and services to users is fundamentally changing. Now is the time for the vendors to define policy that meets the needs of how their users will access applications. I believe the best model for the emerging virtual desktop and application delivery methods to be a per-user model. The point of virtualization and cloud is to abstract (or decouple) the physical dependencies of IT services and applications. We’re very close to being able to seamlessly achieve this with technology. With many organizations planning major desktop virtualization rollouts in 2010, it’s time for application vendors to rework their licensing models. I am advising clients to draw a hard line on licensing requirements when they put prospective vendors through the RFP process, and I advise you to do the same (i.e., require per-user licensing).

Reworking licensing to be user-centric needs to be a top priority among client application vendors heading into 2010. Vendors that insist on binding licenses to physical devices in an increasingly virtualized world are not part of the solution. They’re part of the problem.