Review of Ulteo Open Virtual Desktop

Ulteo is a open source, citrix like, way to run remote applications. For my purposes I wanted Linux and Windows 7/8 users to run legacy and Windows only applications without me having to install things that require Internet Explorer 6 for instance.

The simplest route would be just using remote desktop on a windows terminal services server. This can be a bit annoying however having to log into another computer just to access some application. Ulteo can make applications run more like they are local and be launched via a web portal.

Yep, that’s IE on the Unity bar. And no it doesn’t support quicklists.

Installation

Ulteo is a huge pain to set up. It took me many attempts. My requirements were that it authenticated against Active Directory and get all the mounts set up as usual. I set up ulteo on a virtualized Linux host and installed the windows application server in Windows 2003. By default Ulteo creates lots of profiles in Windows (and Linux) application servers as users log in, this lets it work without Active Directory. However I want to use Active Directory because I need it to set up all the typical letter drive mounts and any other GPO stuff. There is an option for this but it breaks compatibility with using a Linux application server. I don’t really mind this but it’s annoying not having the option to do both.

I also spent a good amount of time figuring out how to get users to only see the web portal. The default option gives you a full desktop, which is not what I want. I’d just use RDP for that. Some configuration options seems to have no effect at all. It all feels a bit unpolished for something that end users are going to depend on day to day. But hey it is free. They of course offer paid support but not having any budget rules that out.

I also tried setting up a new ulteo server with a Linux ldap backend and Windows App server. After many hours I just gave up. I don’t see any way to do this. It seems like the non AD user profiles system is broken.

User Experience

It’s not bad. I don’t praise things much more than that. It’s very slick to sign into a website and launch applications that appear to be running locally….well mostly. It’s using seamless RDP to do this and it can flake out. It’s possible to say launch explorer and ruin the experience. But most users won’t be looking for that sort of thing.

It can map local drives to the remote server which is useful. Sometimes though it can be a bit much for users who can’t handle much thought outside of “I better save in the P drive” but if GPO is set up their “P” drive should be there.

I did find Unity/Gnome panel/whatever doesn’t always understand what’s going on. Many applications launch multiple icons but clicking on some won’t do anything. For instance if the application is trying to put something on the Windows toolbar, linux isn’t going to know what it is. This can cause some pain for user clicking on things that do nothing and having to search for the real window. Another issue is that pop up menu’s don’t always behave. A date picker widget closes before it can be clicked. A menu appears at the top left of the screen instead of where it should.

It all uses Java which is probably already installed, unless Canonical decides they want to forcibly remove it from your computer. Yea I’m still not happy about that incident.

I have real end users on it and no complaints with reliability. In my testing I found I was able to get in a state where the session crashes and then I can’t log in. It’s very dumb, why can’t I kill my old session and log in? Why is that not an option!? I’m sorry you already have a session now go to hell. But it hasn’t come up with end users…so far.

Overall I’ve successfully deployed Ulteo. It works. Citrix is prohibitively expensive (and is also crap anyway, could you make it any damn harder to download the linux/osx ica client?). I won’t have to maintain older Windows XP hold out computers for legacy crap. I won’t have to install annoying applications if I don’t want to locally. That saves me time. User can potentially access on site applications at home without messing with rdp. Citrix has a worthy competitor and it costs nothing. I would guess for most people however Ulteo will be too hard to set up. Most configurations I’ve tried just don’t work at all.

2 thoughts on “Review of Ulteo Open Virtual Desktop”

  1. Ulteo as a server is quite easy to setup. When attaching Windoze machines though as application delivery servers can be quite tricky because… well everything in Windoze in quite tricky.. 😉

    But once you have the first instance running an synced to the Ulteo machine then all go as smooth as butter from there on.

    I’ve also had my share of experience with Citrix and it was not anyway near as good as with Ulteo. The only issue I have is with portal mode which fails to display Windoze apps enabled in some installations.
    One thing is for sure about Citrix though. If you plan your “entire”application distribution infrastructure according to the Citrix “model” then the system really shines. But if you go ahead and just throw Citrix servers all around and just expect the to work then you will be getting back something a bit better than “unusable”…

    I’m actually, happily, posting this through an Ulteo session and I can tell you now that there I’ll never consider planning a Citrix again unless the company really starts realizing that they really need to investigate the system’s implementation methodology beyond their enclosed lab environments.

    Cheers!!!

  2. Thanks for the comment brotenet. I don’t think we can just blame this on Windows though. Most of my issues are not related to Windows. Many configuration options just do nothing at all, for instance setting the default to the portal doesn’t do anything. Errors and logging are impossible to debug in my experience. After finally getting a Ulteo with Windows app server instance going, I attempted to replicate it but using Zentyal (openldap) instead of Active Directory. I couldn’t get it going. I had to give up because I was spending way too much time on it. I also found in many instances Ulteo would get into a unusable state that might or might not be fixed by a restart. For example my Windows Server would break. Removing and readding wouldn’t be possible. The add button literally would not appear! What an error. Such difficulty is going to keep many users away. A lot of sys admins would love this tech, but not so many have the patience and experience to get this going and that’s a shame.

    To be fair I should be posting bug reports and patches instead of just complaining 😛

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