Windows Insider

Citrix Products Evolve, but Name Changes Obscure Unification

It's done it again. Citrix Systems, the company of two dozen products and 200 names, has announced yet another honorific for its flagship solution, Citrix XenApp 7.5.

By some estimates, Citrix's latest renaming will be the 11th in the product's 20-plus-year history. That period has seen a bewildering list of sometimes-major and sometimes-minor titling adjustments, starting with Citrix Multi-User in 1991 and followed by WinView, WinFrame and MultiWin through the late 1990s.

The year 1998 introduced Citrix MetaFrame, which itself saw two further iterations -- Citrix MetaFrame XP and Citrix MetaFrame XP Presentation Server -- through the period ending in 2005. In that year Citrix dropped fully any references to the terms "win,""frame," and "meta" with the release of Citrix Presentation Server 4.

While arguably the most descriptive of its designations to date, the Presentation Server era lasted a mere three years. Then, in 2008, Citrix embarked on a wholesale naming evolution with the release of Citrix XenApp, a purposeful play off the Citrix XenSource acquisition of the year before. That XenApp name stood unmodified until early 2013, when the rechristening merry-go-round began to get truly interesting.

In less than a 12-month timespan between early 2013 and 2014, XenApp 6.5 became XenDesktop 7, and then almost immediately became XenApp 7.5 again.

The world went, "Huh?"

Different Architecture
Continuously renaming a product like this one can seem counter-intuitive at first, at least until you begin to consider, "What actually is the product being named?"

Throughout most of this product's lifecycle the Citrix Independent Management Architecture, or IMA, has been the core of its application delivery services. You can think of IMA as the engine driving much of what everyday users think of as "Citrix." There's an argument then that IMA is the product that's been described right up until that period in early 2013. After years of service, the 2013 IMA was beginning to show its age. Later releases saw an IMA codebase ever-more suffering under the weight of prior-generation design decisions against a long shelf life.

Citrix during this period had been concurrently maturing an entirely different engine for its XenDesktop product called the FlexCast Management Architecture, or FMA. The gory inner details of FMA are best left for another discussion; for this story it's easiest to consider FMA just another architecture.

IMA -- and now FMA -- to the Citrites (the nickname Citrix employees give themselves) is for all intents and purposes the product. XenDesktop, XenApp and all the other names are mere packaging around each solution's IMA/FMA core. It's a bit like confusing tissue paper with Kleenex. Call it Puffs, Angel Soft or Kirkland if you shop Costco, these trademarks are largely irrelevant to the literal tissue that's wiping your nose.

This past year's rapid name waffling can be seen as an artifact of how Citrix perceives its product. XenApp 6.5 was the last version that sat atop the old IMA underpinnings. XenDesktop 5.5 and previous versions were all based off the newer, fresher and cleaner FMA. XenDesktop 7 "combined" the two by throwing away IMA and replacing it with an FMA that served the needs of both.

One architecture, and now one product, to rule them all. Almost.

Story Mistold?
To the perfectly told story, the announcement of XenApp 7.5 can seem like an astounding step backward. Why spend effort and marketing dollars re-educating the public about a now-unified solution -- a rarity in our industry -- to then re-fork it months later? Only the Citrites know.

Maybe the XenDesktop unification story wasn't (and still isn't) one that's been perfectly told. Notably missing from the XenDesktop 7 glossies is any mention that the two products were made one. Confusing matters even further was an available but downplayed XenDesktop 7 App Edition, which to the uninitiated could seem like an altogether different assimilation of these otherwise independent products.

For now, the 7.5 release separates them again. Sort of. Both run atop the same FMA codebase. Both share the same client endpoints. XenDesktop 7.5 can behave like XenApp 7.5, but not necessarily the reverse.

Maybe a forked solution set is an easier sell, easier to price or easier for the uninitiated to comprehend. For the rest of us, it's just more confusion.

About the Author

Greg Shields is Author / Evangelist with www.PluralSight.com, and is a globally-recognized expert on systems management, virtualization, and cloud technologies. A multiple-year recipient of the Microsoft MVP, VMware vExpert, and Citrix CTP awards, Greg is a contributing editor for Redmond Magazine and Virtualization Review Magazine, and is a frequent speaker at IT conferences worldwide. Reach him on Twitter at @ConcentratdGreg.

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