by Kevin Fogarty

Give Me a Virtual Desktop, or Give Me a Mallet

Jun 12, 20083 mins

After a long day with a laptop that went haywire, I want a virtual desktop. And a heavy mallet. I know the PC support folks are with me on this, even though you probably won't hear vendors pitch it as a use case for desktop virtualization.

I am not a consistent believer in desktop virtualization, but there are times I think it could be the best thing to hit computers. Especially after hearing from Microsoft, HP and VMware about how effective virtual desktops are at reducing downtime and technical-support headaches.

It’s easy enough to see the benefit for call centers, manufacturing floors, retail operations and other places you’d rather the users not have too much control over their hardware.

Ditto remote presentation—giving users access to an application that runs on a backend server in the same way they’d use it from their local hard drives. Apply those patches, updates and what have you without having to leave the data center, let alone venture into Userland and explain what you’re doing 100 times to people whose eyes glaze over as soon as you start talking? Boo Yah.

Even loading up the data center with blades and running PCs on them instead of on a user’s desktop makes sense sometimes. Makes it a lot easier to shift a user’s virtual machine from one blade to another if the first starts acting flaky, for example.

All those things make sense in the right context. But at certain times that last option has the potential for a sadistic joy as well as just a solid technical benefit.

Like, when, say, you’ve been wrestling with the same Dell laptop all day (as I have) trying to straighten out problems from DLLs corrupted by a routine patch download from the vendor that shouldn’t cause a hiccup, let alone a system failure, manual rebuild and more reboots than an Army cobbler sees in a year.

And that’s not even including that unit’s need to have its OS installed from scratch four times in the first six months, occasional failure to recognize its own hard drive, battery or DVD drive, even when it’s currently using any or all of them—or the amount of energy you spend in profanity and threats of physical violence against something that only pretends to be inanimate while being not just alive, but irredeemably evil, and smug in the knowledge that you can’t afford to pound it into paste no matter how much of a mental health benefit that would be.

If that theoretical physical machine were a virtual one, you could kill off the offending code, relaunch the VM using a stable image of the software stack, and get right back to work after a little quality time on the workbench with the faulty hardware a big mallet and some privacy.

I doubt you’ll hear the vendors pitch it as a use case, but ask help deskers and PC fix-it-dudes whether it would be worth the effort to let them get kinetic on the occasional balky PC (or just throw the damn thing out and get on with their lives) and you might become a believer, too. In virtualization and in mallets.