The virtualised "desktop 2.0" is about to kill once and for all the idea that a PC needs to be a physical device, Citrix CEO Mark Templeton has predicted at the company’s well-attended iForum event in Edinburgh.

At the end of a long speech that ranged over a number of current products, Templeton made the recently-launched XenDesktop its centrepiece, describing the new desktop virtualisation software as “the most anticipated product in Citrix’s history.”

The feature that made XenDesktop stand out from rival software was that it could virtualise each XP or Vista PC without the overhead that came from turning them into separate images, he said. Under Xen, a particular user’s PC was built from scratch each time they logged on using a unique configuration, and then calling in the necessary application and operating system components.

When logged off, that PC disappeared totally, allowing the resources to be recycled to other computing demands. The virtualised “PC” itself was in effect a brand new setup each time it was called upon.

“For the end user it’s like getting a brand new desktop every day,” he said. “This is not a thin client.”

Unlike the era of task workers stuck in front of dumb clients, the “desktop 2.0 PC” could perform exactly as would any other PC, including having high-end graphical capabilities if that was mandated for a user. And it would be ageless, unlike the power-user PCs that littered offices around the current PC world. “Desktop 1.0 is not only slow, it degrades over time.”

“Satisfying the user is going to be the most important dimension,” said Templeton. “[We have] a vision of the desktop provided as a service,” which he characterised as “DaaS” or “desktop as a service”.

Templeton admitted that the end of physical PCs would not happen overnight – companies had a heavy investment in millions of desktops on set deployment timescales – or that it would suit mobile employees, whom the company described as making up on average perhaps 15 percent of the PC workforce.

But the combined force of desktop virtualisation along the Xen model, coupled to perennial worries on PC security, would eventually move companies to embrace the change.

Xen – which Citrix acquired with its XenSource acquisition in October 2007 – is seen as the major rival to VMware for desktop deployments thanks mainly to Citrix’s established user base. It exited beta and started shipping in May. As well as VMware, Citrix also has the looming presence of Microsoft to contend with, although it officially as an uneasy alliance with Redmond in some areas of virtualisation.

Impressive as Xen is in its demo form, Citrix and its rivals still have to convince corporates that they solving problems by turning PCs into virtual entities in the data centre. In terms of security, for instance, the problems with patching don’t go away, they are simply moved elsewhere in the management hierarchy.

Probably the best short-term argument for the virtualised desktop is one of the simplest – Citrix claims that the per employee storage requirements for virtualised PC are much smaller than for the same employee using a physical device. Data centre storage costs are heavy and this argument could turn some heads.

Interested admins are being invited to download an Express version of XenDesktop, which can support up to 10 PCs, free of charge.