Citrix XenClient – usability test
This blog is a experience of working with Xenclient in real life.
I decided, after having the possibility, to switch to Xenclient a month before Synergy to experience it and get some valuable info to share.
Since today, 09-09-2011 I’ve switched from old school bare metal windows deployment on my work related laptop to Xenclient.is
This is not a PQR smackdown style blog or investigation, it merely will show what you encounter when you switch to XenClient as an ordinary user. One of the reasons for that is that I haven’t got the time to do this kind of investigation in this short period, neither do I have the means to do sufficient testing with external devices or do I possess the knowledge of Linux to do in-depth tests. Read it as a blog about the experience that I encountered since the 22nd of August until now.
The version I used is 2.0 as shown in the picture below.
First impression, after one evening, were not so well for the display “crashed” repeatedly for no apparent reason. I switched off 3D graphics and de-installed Jing for screen captures. After these steps my screen hasn’t crashed so far. I have to say I felt a bit disappointed in the screen behavior for I expected more. further on in the document you’ll read more about the display and how it’s somehow fixed. Given you don’t do wild thing like scrolling through MS Powerpoint.
Power and display
Regularly I have to do a bit of walking with my laptop, from one meeting room to another or from the attic where my “home office” is to downstairs when my kids gets home from school. Every time after plugging in the power adapter I noticed that my virtual Windows 7 desktop was dimmed. Of course that’s an expected behavior when the laptop is running on batteries.
When I plug the power back in the laptop stays dimmed and never returns back to normality. Manually I can alter the display of course and get it back to life… like you see in the picture below. I think these are small things that can and should be resolved quickly.
Second thing I noticed is that XenClient is kinda selective with USB, my laptop (a 8560p from HP) has 5 USB ports three USB2 and two USB3. XenClient can only work with the USB2 ports, I didn’t do a check on my laptop and therefore it took me a few hours before I realized what was the case. I think that no product these days should have these limitations and a certainly not a type1 Hypervisor product like XenClient.
I have to update this, last week I was pretty busy troubleshooting a XenApp 6.5 and XenDesktop 5.5 environment. without thinking about it I plugged in my mobile phone into the right side USB ports (my mobile is a Samsung so it’s empty after a few hours if you dare to call with it), Suddenly my virtual machine reported it was installing a driver for the phone. So the case has changed a bit, still my USB disks don’t connect to these ports. I would need to do some more investigation on the how and why but really lack time to do so.
One thing I do miss in XenClient is the ability to easily add ISO files. Adding ISO files is possible when you have SSH enabled and started, you then can connect with SCP or WinSCP to Dom0 and upload ISO files. these files are then available for your virtual machines. After you install a virtual machine it would be damn easy if you could connect the CD drive to a ISO in that virtual machine. that way the ISO doesn’t need to be copied over and over and taking up space twice.
This is all fine and well but my SSH service didn’t work as planned, it was there, it was started but not really started. Xenclient was not sure what the state was. My Linux knowledge is about 8 years old and not that accurate anymore, I asked a coworker ,@Burgh, to help me out and he fixed my SSH connection.
It of course would be so easy if the XenClient interface had a simple ISO upload option. That way guys like me with little Linux knowledge would also be able to add ISO files to the system. Or at least there should be an option to reset/enable the SSH service for the UI instead of the shell.
These days you can’t be secure enough, therefore it’s important to also secure you hypervisor instead of only securing your virtual machine.
With XenClient you can simply do that and more you can set a timeout so that when you go for a coffee your virtual machine as well as you hypervisor will lock.
It’s pretty simple to setup and works fine, never had any issue with this so far. First picture is the setup where you can edit what the timeout period is.
Second picture, just below this line, is the lock/logon screen. In one occasion I encountered that I wasn’t able to log back in and XenClient was unresponsive. After waiting for several minutes it worked fine, this has been a once in a life time. The security has worked fine ever since.
Today, 12-09-2011, I decided to work from home. my home office is equipped so that I have a extra monitor and a good desk to sit at. I plugged in the monitor like I’ve done with some many other laptops and operating systems experiencing a rather disappointing moment. Citrix XenClient can only mirror my display to the next monitor and not extend it.
I had my virtual desktop configured without 3D enabled and therefor was missing some advanced features.
To go on with the story, without 3D enabled you only have a mirror option when working with multiple monitors.
of course a picture says more than words…
First to proof to you, I can’t change anything in the settings…. Citrix XenClient sees only one monitor. If you look at the Xen side of it, there’s no way you can do anything about display except enable or disable 3D graphics which will crash your display. As you can see not so clearly because of the mobile picture quality both my displays are filled with the same evernote note I was writing at that time.
With enabling 3D graphics in the Virtual machine the virtual machine has access to the real graphics card features and therefore also can enable more features. One of those features is expanding you desktop to another monitor, so that you don’t have to see things twice like in the picture shown before.
Again proof of the pudding…
I enabled 3D Graphics for this Virtual machine, my primary desktop running Windows 7 x64.
Running like this also makes working a bit more living on the edge… the 3D graphics option together with a 8560P HP laptop (haven’t tested any others) isn’t great.
As soon as you do something a bit to graphical like changing the second screen from right to left like I just did a bunch of lines will appear over you screen that only go away after a reboot. the picture below was taken just after switching my display option so that my left monitor was also left in Windows.
Only resolution (funny word when talking about monitors…) is to reboot, but hey my job is not about rebooting I need to work. So Citrix Fix this!
The thing gets creepier, after working fine for some hours now I noticed something I didn’t see before. I opened a picture send by a coworker and noticed the lines. I thought damn there we go again but after closing the preview my general screen wasn’t affected. This was a first for me.
I got some suggestions on twitter on how to solve this and will edit this post as the day goes on, ……
The suggestion I got on Twitter by @JonSpallone and @JarianGibson (Remember those names) is to disable all advanced features except VM switching and drop the assigned memory to 3GB instead of 4. I changed it and I have to say the number of crashes have gone down, they’re not gone completely but it’s doable.
My coworker @jLangedijk, is running 1.99b and can’t do this fixes for they don’t help him in his crashes. So we need to install the synchronizer which we just took offline a month ago when we needed a Hyper-v host to do some troubleshooting. the troubleshooting is done, bring back the synchronizer.
1 week after installation….29th of August
A week after installing Xenclient I’ve been more used to it and it’s “missing” features. The idea of a client hypervisor is a great concept although XenClient 2.0 is not that ready that I would recommend it to use in real life.
Last week I installed 2 more virtual machines for testing purposes, both unsupported but running.
The first one is a Microsoft Windows 2008 x64 server that I use for testing RES Software Automation manager building blocks with AD, Exchange and SQL server. I chose Microsoft Windows 7 x64 as the virtual machine guest when installing and received no error what so ever.
The second one is a Microsoft windows 8 x64 desktop that I use just for taking a quick look at Windows 8. The installation went a bit different for you have to choose the Ubuntu option to get it installed, I chose Windows 7 at first receiving 0xc errors.
Switching between virtual machines is easy and works much better than with VMware Workstation. For IT professionals or developers this is a want-to-be situation.
In the picture below the Windows 8 machine is gone, and replaced by a W2k8R2 server with XenApp 6.5.
switching works with CTRL + 1,2,3 and goes so easy that every time I now have to work with VMware Workstation or vSphere client I curse those tools leaving my coworkers wondering why. Connecting between virtual machines is also something that is really easy, I have the USB connectors exclusively connected to my primary desktop for I need them for my daily work. When working from the other virtual machines I simply connect over UNC to the disks in the primary virtual machine without any issues so far.
The only issue I face right now is the limitation of my laptop I ran out of memory and cpu cores to run more virtual machines at once…. but that a luxury issue I shouldn’t complain about. I see possibilities for client hypervisors and perhaps Xenclient (if they fix some current issues) for developers and testing environments.
one issue I also posted on twitter was the issue with 3D graphics and screen captures programs. I’m used to using Jing which is a great tool easy to capture anything on your screen. When using Jing the screen crashes and it looks like a stone is thrown at my display. The only resolution is to reboot the virtual machine.
After several crashes, I first decided to disable 3D graphics but that didn’t stop the crashes completely. the final resolution was to stop using screen capture tools at all.
Of course this won’t do for I need them for my work from time to time…..
Time will tell what I will do….
2nd week after installation… 8th of September
We’re now two weeks from taking a drastic decision in life, working with XenClient in real life. Every week I add a chapter about my experiences in the last week. In between I add thing about specific events I find worth sharing.
The Windows 8 virtual machine is gone, installed it, worked with it for a few days but didn’t see the value of it with the tile way of working….
I have a few exams coming and therefore need a few servers to learn and test stuff.
Last week already I installed a Windows 2008 R1 server, promoted it to Domain controller and installed SQL server and Exchange on it. the servers runs fine, really really like the way I can switch between my primary desktop and the server. the performance is outstanding, love it.
Now I installed a second server with Windows 2008 R2 to run XenApp 6.5 on it, my exam is the beta exam for XenApp 6.5.
I’ve added the Windows 2008 R2 server to the domain and I can test and train myself. This is not a standard feature of Xenclient, the server operating systems are no default option, but choosing Windows 7 you can install them without any problem.
The Xenclient tools are also installed without any problem, just needed to add the DotNet feature first and not let the Xenclient tool install it. Been fighting with ISO files and SSH connection, thanks to @Burgh for helping me out. XenClient wasn’t sure if SSH was running, he fixed it. I written everything already about ISO files and the missing UI, really really would like to see a solution for that in the next release.
Also as you have read, multiple monitors are working now and the crashes of the display are down as long as you follow some basic rules.
One of those rules is that you don’t scroll through PowerPoint like a madman, XenClient doesn’t like that… XenClient must be a woman for my wife doesn’t like me zapping on TV through 30 channels in 1 minutes either.
When you scroll that fast the screen turns black and returns “scratched” leaving you with no option than to reboot.
…But after two week I’m more certain that if they fix some small issues and the screen crash the product has potential for IT guys and/or guys wanting to give demo’s at customer sites. never ran multiple operating systems side by side before in my life.
4rd week after installation… 26th of September
Has it been 3 weeks already, time is flying when you’re having fun…..Am I having fun? I don’t really know. One thing I know is that I’m riding on a two track feeling last three weeks.
One side of me sees the potential of this product and really loves the nativity of working with a desktop and a server next to each other without even realizing it. I can switch between virtual machines as easy as typing in word. that’s a 1000% improvement over working with e.g. VMware workstation.
On the other side all the crashes, lost a lot of work last Monday because of a crash, just proves to me it should not be a 2.0 version. The potential is there, the product itself is not as ready as it should be.
I’ve been testing the HP hs2340 hspa+ mobile modem with Windows 7, it’s seen but for some reason I can’t get it to work. doesn’t seem to be XenClient related but just noticed it. This week has been filled with at least one crash a day…crashes occur for the most stupid reasons. first, I don’t run any freaky software on this Windows 7 virtual machine, I’m a consultant and Word and Visio are my friends. Crashes occur when browsing to a local folder or when saving a Word document.
to prove I don’t run anything freaky, here’s a screenshot of my installed program (for otherwise people will always doubt). To be honest Windows Live and WinSCP are also installed but the resolution of my screen didn’t allow more to be displayed.
I know for a fact that this is less than I ever see at customers when deploying virtual environments.
I started out on a journey to test the usability of Xenclient for ordinary users. I can’t think of any more subjects to write about and my agenda leaves little room to do more extended testing. Therefor it’s time to write a conclusion and make up my mind.
Pros: of course we have to start with the pro’s, my goals was not to burn down the product just to test the usability.
The pros of Xenclient are;
– The easiness in which you can run multiple operating systems next to each other without losing performance and usability.
– Easiness of the installation;
– Fast startup time;
– Dom0 management screen although some features might be added to ease it more.
Cons: each product has con’s, so has XenClient.
Cons or Xenclient are;
– Immature working of 3D graphics;
– No full support of USB ports
– No support for SD cards;
I hope that version 2.1 or 3.0 will be live soon…it would be a welcome suprise and hopefully bring more stability to the product.