If you've ever wanted to access your virtual machines through a web browser, VMware engineer Christian Hammond (@chipx86) is working on a solution that may eventually see the light of day as an official VMware product feature. Hammond is a member of the VMware Workstation development team, and has been hard at work on something called WSX. Hammond writes in his personal blog that WSX "...serves up an interface for accessing your Workstation Shared VMs and your VMs on vSphere/ESXi 5. You can power your VMs on, off, suspend them, and interact with them. All from a web browser, and all without plugins, with nothing to install on the client end."
WSX is currently available as part of the VMware Workstation Technology Preview 2012 for Linux, but the release notes indicate that a "...Windows version is expected to be released shortly." Hammond said that he relied on HTML 5 features like HTML Canvas and Web Sockets for part of his work, and that WSX also relies on a small client-side server to allow a browser to function as a remote VM management console. Hammond provided more details of how it works in his blog:
"The WSX server talks to your Workstation, ESXi, and vSphere instances and relays the appropriate data up to the client running in the web browser. With that data, the client can stay updated with the latest changes to the VM and offer a full display of the console. We don’t use any plugins, meaning there’s nothing to install. It’s known to work with the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. It also works with the Internet Explorer 10 preview (though I’m still working on some bugs there). And for tablet users, it works quite well with the iPad running iOS 5+. Android users running Ice Cream Sandwich may get some luck with Google Chrome for Android, but I’m still working on Android compatibility."
There are lots of potential use cases for WSX, and Hammond mentions a few: Using WSX and a web browser to work remotely on office documents from your iPad; ensuring continuity of a service running within a VM that you're using remotely; and runningin full-screen mode on your iPad.
VMware WSX running Microsoft Word (and Windows XP) on an iPad. (Source: Chris Hammond's blog)
Hammond doesn't delve into specifics of when and where WSX may appear as a supported feature in an upcoming VMware product, but it clearly would make an excellent addition to the next releases of VMware Workstation and vSphere. Assuming that all the software used in a WSX session -- meaning Windows OSes and VMware products -- are licensed properly, the WSX technology would seem to provide a legal and supported way for iPad users to potentially use Office applications, run Windows 8, and launch other applications and services running in a virtual machine. Given the recent licensing and legal troubles that the OnLive streaming desktop service has encountered, WSX may provide a more acceptable solution for remote office workers to run Windows applications on their iPads.
So what are your thoughts on VMware WSX? Feel free to add a comment to this blog post or contribute to the discussion on Twitter.