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Citrix Building Real-time Collaboration Environment

Just about every application that comes on the market these days is all about “collaboration,” which usually translates to the accessing, sharing and storing of common documents and files across the network. Recently, Citrix Systems took this concept a step further, unveiling a collaborative environment that enables the sharing of applications to end users.

At its recent user meeting in Florida, Citrix previewed a real-time collaboration product – code-named Project Pearl – built upon MetaFrame XP, its multiplatform terminal access line. Project Pearl will allow MetaFrame end users to share any published application, file or document. The product is scheduled to ship in the first half of 2003, as an add-on to the next feature release of MetaFrame XP. Project Pearl will also integrate with Citrix Systems' Nfuse enterprise portal family.

“This collaboration capability allows us to support a virtual workplace,” says Dave Manks, senior director of product and solutions marketing for Citrix. This may consist of “multiple users, across multiple locations, coming in from multiple connections with different types of devices – Mac clients, Unix clients, Win32 clients, PDA devices, all collaborating on the same application and same document.”

Project Pearl expands on existing MetaFrame technology, known as shadowing, which enables system administrators to connect in real-time to a user session and debug problems, Manks says. “Our environment is a collaborative environment to begin with. We have hundreds of thousands of users accessing the MetaFrame server farm for accessing applications." Project Pearl makes Citrix’s shadowing technology available to all MetaFrame users, he says. “With this new capability, a user can now manage that interface, along with identifying different users that are part of the collaboration session,” says Manks. “The user can see who else is online, and can manage individual sessions.” Potential applications include Microsoft Project, online training, IT implementation plans or trade journal articles, according to Manks.

Citrix’s challenge is to position Project Pearl amidst a confusing array of products that promise collaboration capabilities, says Dan Kusnetzky, research director for IDC. The key differentiator is Citrix’s support of application sharing. “Collaborative capability is available in other products, but not in the way Citrix does things,” he says. “In WebEx or Placeware for example, you put a slide up and jointly edit it. Then you have to somehow transcribe all of that onto applications. Project Pearl would allow people to use one application and share it, enabling data entry and sharing of the final spreadsheet among the group. So there is collaboration, but it’s a live application that is being shared – rather than a picture of an application that later has to be transcribed.” Project Pearl, Kusnetzky points out, “takes advantage of the access virtualization that Citrix MetaFrame has offered in the past, and allows multiple people to share.”

While Kusnetzky calls Project Pearl “an extension of what MetaFrame has been doing for quite some time,” he warns that it may still be a tough sell. “Citrix is going to have some challenges in how it presents the technology it's developed, so that an executive would understand what it is,” he says. This includes distinguishing the product from collaborative packages such as Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Domino.

“There are a lot of products that do collaboration and application sharing and such,” Manks agrees. “This is really just an extension, an evolution of what we currently do. We extended shadowing from one-to-one to enable for many-to-one and one-to-many shadowing.”

About the Author

Joe McKendrick is an independent consultant and author specializing in surveys, technology research and white papers. He's a contributing writer for ENTmag.com.

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