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Virtual Desktop Infrastructure versus Webconverger

Webconverger is sometimes compared to "thin client" solutions like those offered by Enterprise heavyweights like Amazon, VMWARE and Citrix solutions. In reality they are in a different market sector called Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. Nonetheless, it's a good exercise to compare a Webconverger to VDI for analysis.

This is our biased view and we would love to hear your feedback.

Network fault tolerance

Offline

If Webconverger goes offline, tasks like form filling will still work. Once a form is submitted it will retry until completed. Truthfully offline Web apps aren't quite there yet, though they should get better in the near future with technologies such as service workers.

Typically when a network connection is lost VDI solutions are unusable. Furthermore in some solutions, if the "management server" goes down, this can be another single point of failure. Better VDI solutions can operate without a "management server" by caching its configuration. Webconverger actually also caches its configuration, in case https://config.webconverger.com/ goes down.

To summarise, Webconverger wins since it is more usable and will be even more usable in the future, offline.

Lag

Webconverger page loads will indeed suffer from a poor connection. However Web delivery is arguably "Internet grade" than typically LAN based "premise" VDI solutions where certain network assumptions are made and which will lag on the Internet. Once a Web application is loaded, it's very responsive and usable.

If your end to end network is managed by yourself, then this argument is probably moot, however this is increasingly rare as things move towards a more cost effective "cloud hosted" VDI.

Webconverger is powered by the Web and therefore is much more robust and usable on poor internet connections.

Scalability

VDI quickly advocate its solution as scalable. Webconverger has been specifically designed with an Internet connection in mind and will prove to be less of a burden on the network.

In summary Webconverger is very bandwidth efficient.

Control and management

An important component to "mass deployment" is control and management. With Webconverger you can streamline your business process by setting the default application even easier than you can with VDI solutions. Just update the homepage= URL, enter a password and any amount of machines attached to the configuration will have a new configuration applied on reboot.

However we do not allow administrators to monitor the exact screen of the end user as most VDI solutions do, for privacy reasons. Some Orwellian enterprises sadly require this invasive feature in order to be considered "enterprise grade".

To conclude, VDI has better controls, unless you care about end user privacy, and then you will want Webconverger.

Input & Output devices

Since Webconverger is limited to a Web browser for input and output for the end user, we are limited typically to abstracted Javascript APIs of:

  • keyboard
  • mouse
  • printers
  • touch screens
  • microphone
  • camera

Truthfully the microphone and camera access via getUserMedia APIs are variable, and it is unlikely to work well without careful consideration and testing of your hardware.

With VDI you typically have complete control of all input and outputs. So you can attach anything to your local device and you should be able to integrate it with your application as the vendor intended. Webconverger, or rather the browser currently is unable to support a range of devices like cash registers and smart cards which a lot of businesses rely upon. However there is usually an out of band (usually more expensive) alternative solution that can fulfill these use cases, such as logging in with 2 factor authentication or standalone electronic payment devices.

VDI wins here since it has better device control.

Legacy support for non-Web applications

Given a legacy (Windows) application, it's not reasonably possible to run that in a Web browser. This is definitely a strength of VDI solutions, as all sorts of odd legacy environments can be provisioned easily.

Webconverger is waiting for corporate infrastructure to migrate to SaaS and Web applications at that. The reasons to migrate to Web applications are several:

  • open an application to a greater Internet audience
  • leverage open standards
  • reduce complexity

Of course some apps just can't be migrated easily to the Web, like display or compute intensive applications. e.g. CAD/matlab

However when applications are indeed Web applications, the Web has a good track record of backwards compatibility. Often one reason enterprises are burdened with odd insecure legacy platforms, is due to broken upgrade paths.

VDI is a better technology for supporting non-Web platforms, though hopefully the Web can maybe one day support VDI in the browser, with projects like freerdp-webconnect which still has a long way to go.

Hardware requirements

Webconverger runs on any PC with 1GB of RAM. Also we recently started testing on lower cost Android 5.0 and ARM7 Raspberry PI2 devices.

Typically VDI solutions run on PCs on top of pre-installed Windows operating systems, making it a heavyweight stack. However there are dedicated "locked down" VDI "thin client" hardware which can be quite inexpensive. One negative point is that this hardware is often proprietary and there is some lock in. On the contrary system integrators are usually better geared to supplying VDI solutions, since currently to deploy Webconverger, you need to source the hardware yourself.

Over time browsers and the Web applications they host may ask for more and more memory, making the base Webconverger system slower and slower. VDI solutions like Amazon workspaces correctly argue their VDIs can be provisioned with more memory or CPU on the server side. We would like to argue any client hardware in our experience probably needs to be replaced every 5-10 years and that cycle basically keeps up with Web browser and application bloat in that time.

Security

This is a complicated topic (devil is in the details!), though overall the two approaches share a similar security model, where the application and data are remotely hosted and not local.

Webconverger's main security strength is that it's not susceptible to key loggers and screen grabbers like all Windows based thin client applications tend to be. The VDI on the server might be well managed, but usually the underlying non-dedicated clients are poorly managed and maintained.

To summarise, assuming you are running Web applications in your business, the Webconverger system certainly has the edge. Webconverger offers a better user experience on a frequently unstable Internet, it's less complex and it offers better security than the typical vulnerable thin client running on Windows.

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Web kiosk and signage for Android

Example deployments of Webconverger on a Nexus 7

Android 5.0's new features such as screen pinning and managed provisioning, has now enabled Webconverger to make a port without too much fuss, instead of say building a ROM.

At the time of writing, the current release is beta software and we are looking for interested testers!

For Android Lollipop

Why Android? Pros:

  • Better touch screen experience
  • In future we should be able to leverage Android's native IMEs and easily support Korean, Japanese & Chinese inputs
  • Android hardware is generally cheaper than PC hardware
  • Android hardware is easier to deploy, especially in the DOOH use case. You could deploy on an ANDROID >=5.0 TV!
  • TODO: Android is a better platform for pushing configuration updates, by leveraging Google Cloud Messaging

Cons:

If you have an Android 5.0 (or above) device, check it out in the Play store. Thare are other Web kiosk apps in the Google play store, though they are not Opensource like our effort is. Futhermore now you can simply manage both Android and PC devices from our configuration service! That's a first!

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Webconverger 27 release

27 has the new logo

Webconverger wishes you a Happy new year and gives the gift of a better Web experience! Highlights of 27.1:

27 has the freefont for Gujarati glyphs

Detailed changelog between 26 & 27.1.

The sha256sum is 9eb27578be2a4b846389a161197e1979e3d95c6a8724d62c5a2d0c175209b64c webc-27.1.iso, please download from our CDN.

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New logo

Back in 2007 a daisy flower was hastily chosen as Webconverger's logo to express simplicity. Over time it has found to be a little too generic and probably not reflective of our "enterprise" positioning in the PC software market. Therefore we commissioned http://www.hawkenking.com/ to update the logo to be a little more unique and serious looking.

Update rationale

The old formats of Webconverger's logo are:

The new logo is:

  1. The petal symbolises a configured machine, typically deployed via USB stick, hence the shape
  2. The detached petal, demonstrates machines can be easily detached and reattached. i.e. moved between configurations or even to leave Webconverger services altogether, since we actively protect customers from vendor lock in
  3. The centre symbolises a customer configuration, e.g. https://config.webconverger.com/client/[CUSTOMER_EMAIL]

The font used is https://www.myfonts.com/fonts/mti/neo-sans/.

The canonical location of the new logo is: https://webconverger.com/img/logo.svg

Incorporating Webconverger's new icon into the browser chrome

Currently users have no idea what kiosk software they are using. So with the logo embedded now a curious user can hover over the flower icon embedded into the top right of the {webconverger,webcnoaddressbar} chrome to see the tooltip Webconverger. They cannot interact with the icon and cannot click away to browse https://webconverger.com/ for example.

Hopefully our new symbol can give confidence to the user, that they are using a secure & privacy concious Web kiosk!

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Webconverger does not have an EOL

Webconverger outlives Windows

Like Windows XP before it, Windows 7 is reaching "End of Life" (EOL) on October 31, 2014. This event presents all sorts of logistical nightmares for IT administrators around the world.

In comparison Webconverger does NOT have an End of Life!

Webconverger deployments will just carry on working into the future, providing a standard Web interface, with an up-to-date, security supported OS+browser behind it.

We aim to support our software with updates and keep our API stable for ever. This is why and how we offer "Life time subscriptions" in our pricing table.

Learn more about our philosophy and long term vision with our blog Avoiding the Microsoft upgrade treadmill.

Please get in touch with Webconverger sales and we will help you migrate away from Windows to a stable and long term supported Web platform.

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A better Web kiosk experience at Changi airport

Since moving to Singapore about two years ago, I've fallen in love with Changi Airport. It's the best Airport in the world.

However it pains me to see their Internet stations, with such poor support for modern HTML standards:

42 points with SiteKiosk

It wouldn't surprise me that these kiosks running old software had complaints like:

  • Some Web sites simply wouldn't work
  • Or work with much reduced functionality
  • Wastes people's time without having good form validation controls resulting in form submission errors
  • Have a range of security issues since it's so out of date

If Changi airport would upgrade their ~550 Internet stations software to run Webconverger:

455 points with Webconverger

  • Changi Airport would instantly go from 42 to 455 points with the http://html5test.com/ for far better Web experience and happier users
  • Users of the kiosks would have better Web experiences with privacy and safety improvements - better security for passengers
  • Kiosks running Webconverger would auto update to track the latest Firefox developments, ensuring it doesn't just stay at 455 points - always getting better

Webconverger is used by various US, New Zealand and UK government institutions and several banks. There are at least six thousand machines running Webconverger software all around the world, software made right here in Singapore.

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Webconverger 26 release

Revised boot menu

Highlights of this 26.0 signed & tagged snapshot:

  • Revised boot menu; helping you get started with Neon, our Web signage product
  • Firefox 32
  • Basic proxy authentication. A customer wanted this to fit into their complex Windows deployment, so now you have it too.
  • Tab right click menu removed to make user interface simpler
  • Bug fixes to the print button and the job scheduler API (cron=)
  • The usual stable security updates and Adobe Flash, with an additional font to make Flash video text render correctly

Please ask your Web developers to switch to HTML video. If you host your video on Youtube, you can make embeds use HTML5 with a html5=1 argument.

Detailed changelog between 25 & 26.

The sha256sum is f4374d183bbc4b897f423d482690ebf128f3f9b65484aee81e7aef180c8afe1e webc-26.0.iso, quickly download from our CDN http://dl.webconverger.com/latest.iso.

Known issue and future work

There is a known issue where setting up external screens on new Intel hardware might not be possible with the currently installed stable Intel driver. We have the solution which we commercially support, an upgraded driver though we didn't roll this into this release since it causes choppy Flash playback.

We are already working towards to smoothly upgrade to the next Debian release, "jessie", which will have more current video drivers et al.

Device management trials are now free of cost

Our commercial service now is now free to trial. No Paypal required. This screencast demonstrates the new signup flow. We hope you will find our configuration management and support service worthy of supporting via payment.

Thanks to the support of our customers; banks, cafes, governments, NGOs, schools, universites, stores, small and large we look forward to supplying you a stable, current and open Web client platform for running your Web application upon long into the future. Please help spread the word!

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Webconverger 25 release

Australis changes

Highlights of this 25.0 signed & tagged release, making Webconverger an even better Web kiosk:

  • New super simple whitelist= filtering option
  • New numlock API, to assist deployments in banks and such for numpad data entry
  • Incorporated Firefox 29/30 based Australis user interface refresh, being very careful to minimise its impact on our conservative userbase
  • Downsized 397M→375M, losing ~22M
  • nvidia video card support restored with the nouveau driver
  • Various SSL and flash security updates

Here is the detailed changelog.

Would like to thank my colleague Mike Kaply for his fine contributions to our integrated Firefox webconverger addon.

md5sum: 83dbe58d01560b2ece17a78efc4dd15a  webc-25.0.iso
sha1sum: 8216353147e76701fdda7963f02027b6c75f1f6b  webc-25.0.iso

If you are a new user or live user, download the latest ISO release and upgrade.

For install users, sit back and enjoy summer! Your install should automatically upgrade. You can always double check with about: to be sure.

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Fine grained filtering

Today we launch a new filtering service filter.webconverger.com. It's an ongoing service to block any combination of ads, blasphemy, dating, file, gambling, gaming, image, malicious, pharma, piracy, porn, proxies, social media & video categories of sites. We keep the lists upto date for you, so you don't have to worry.

filter.webconverger.com competes with the OpenDNS "domain blocking" service, though at a cheaper price, typically sold as an annual subscription.

Please contact sales to get on a trial!

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