VMware is perhaps best known today for its VMware ESX server virtualisation technology.  It is what has helped VMware become synonymous with the virtual data centre. But 10 years ago the company was probably best known as a desktop virtualisation company.

VMware ESX was still in alpha back then, and it wasn't until a year or so later, with the 1.5 release, that the ESX product had any real legs under it. The company's Workstation product, on the other hand, was doing quite well; for many, this is where we got our start with the concept of virtualising on an x86 machine.

VMware still has a number of products for the desktop platform. Workstation, which installs and operates on top of a Linux or Windows operating system, is still around and doing quite well and is often used as a proving ground for new technologies making their way up to the server-class products.

VMware also introduced a popular sister product for the Mac OS called Fusion. And the company has other products, like Player and ACE, as well as a VDI broker technology now called VMware View.

VMware also branched out into the application virtualisation market with its acquisition of Thinstall (the product is now called VMware ThinApp). But even with all of these other technologies, VMware ESX and vSphere are still the dominant topics of discussion.

But perhaps VMware is now ready to start focusing more on the desktop market while it continues to push forward with its virtual data centre and cloud story.

Where are they planning on taking the desktop? To answer that, we look to Scott Davis, the new CTO of the Desktop Business Unit at VMware. Davis was previously the chief data centre architect in VMware's CTO office. And before that, some of you may remember him in the day when he was the president, CTO, and founder of Virtual Iron Software, now acquired by Oracle.

Davis will have his hands full trying to build out a cohesive desktop story and business unit at VMware. With the huge success and uptake that VMware ESX server has had, the desktop technologies at VMware have been second class citizens. However, Davis has quite a list of interesting technologies with which to set about changing that belief.

The question becomes, what will he do with those technologies and what is his vision for the future? In his introductory blog post over at VMware View-Point Davis writes:

"VMware's vision for client or desktop computing is to use virtualisation technologies to encapsulate and isolate all the aspects of the desktop. Make each aspect independently manageable, duplicate-able, recreate-able.  Employee-Owned IT?  Separate into different virtual machines. Lost, broken or obsolete device? Throw it away, the VM is preserved in the data centre and can be redeployed at will.

I want the freedom that comes with complete separation between my physical devices and all my software.  I want device independence; my applications, my data, my personality dynamically composited and encapsulated executing on the optimal device(s) for my  current time and location. That may mean collocating layers on the same device or distributing across multiple systems. I want isolation; my personal and professional applications, run-time and data isolated and encapsulated, accessible via the internet, mobile devices, thin and thick clients. With client virtualisation I want the display, the computes and the storage intelligently and automatically placed – sometimes it's better to execute the workload in the datacenter and virtualise the graphics to a client. Other times, I want to take the whole workload with me and run it on a laptop.  Or something in between.  And why stop there? We're also doing best of breed virtualisation for isolation and encapsulation between all relevant boundaries – that's why we have ThinApp for application virtualisation and continue to invest in advancing that technology. And why we announced at VMworld our relationship with RTO to make use of their profile caching and replication technology in our solutions. And why we partner with Teradici to jointly bring solutions to market based on the best in class remote graphics protocol designed explicitly for virtualised desktops. And there's a lot more coming!"

VMware is calling this new desktop vision "User-Centric Computing," and they describe it as "the intersection of our virtualisation technologies, management platform, and the demands of client computing."

Davis sums his belief up with this: "As has been proven for servers, virtual desktops are really better than physical ones.  And that's our viewpoint!"

He certainly doesn't have to convince me or this audience that the virtual is better than the physical. Most of us are like minded, or we wouldn't be here. However, Davis' group has a long way to go to give us a clear, cohesive, unified view of where the company is going.

His vision statement is a good start, but there are still way too many questions left unanswered and VMware's desktop vision has been without a voice for way too long. I look forward to seeing what Davis has up his sleeve.