Citrix Systems is beta-testing software that makes it easy to display component-based server applications on a variety of devices - PCs, personal digital assistants, Web phones and the like - regardless of the operating system in use.
The stakes are high in this development initiative, both for a marketplace in dire need of such capabilities and for Citrix, a key industry player that has suffered recent financial woes.
Citrix sells software that lets a so-called thin client, such as a remote Windows-based terminal, display applications typically running on Windows or Unix servers. The new software, called Project Vertigo, is a radical departure because it treats Windows as only one of several possible user interfaces. Vertigo lets programmers attach whatever kind of user interface they want to a server-based Internet application built from software components such as Microsoft's Component Object Model (COM) objects, or in the future, Enterprise JavaBeans.
Vertigo has three basic parts. The designer is a graphical layout tool with collections of small visual components or controls for creating user interface elements such as dialogue boxes and drop-down menus. The collections are based on different operating systems, so users see a user interface built with ActiveX components if the client is a Windows CE handheld or with Palm OS components if the client is a Palm device.
The user interface design is a description of the desired display, generated as an XML file and stored on a Web server. The file and the second part of Vertigo, called a player, are downloaded to the client. The Vertigo player runs the XML file and, based on its description, creates the appropriate displays using the client's graphical capabilities. The player communicates with the third part of Vertigo, a program on the Web server, which manages interactions with the application and the player.
In each case, what the user sees will look as if it were designed for that particular device and operating system, without any changes to back-end components that contain the application's business logic. What that means is that Web applications will finally begin to have the interactivity that users find in Windows and Unix applications.
Vertigo will be a separate but complementary product to Citrix's existing MetaFrame and NFuse products.
MetaFrame uses the Citrix Independent Computing Architecture protocol to display Windows 2000 and NT server applications on a mix of remote clients. NFuse lets users activate these applications through a Web browser.
Vertigo is based on technology from ViewSoft, a start-up Citrix acquired about a year ago. Vertigo is aimed at developers who are building Internet and e-commerce applications - programs built as sets of components to access via browsers.
Citrix previewed Vertigo at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in June and passed out hundreds of CDs with a beta version of the software.
Citrix officials refuse to say when Vertigo will be released as a product, but the beta testing suggests it could be this year.