Desktop in the Cloud: Amazon WorkSpaces

The majority of my information technology experience has been with physical hardware like desktops, servers, routers and switches. Although I run this blog on a server located somewhere on the Internet, it is really just one of many WordPress sites on a single shared server rather than a cloud application.

To get some experience with cloud technologies, I decided to give Amazon Web Services, or AWS, a try. The account is free and there are a number of free-to-try applications and services.

My first project was setting up a virtual desktop using Amazon WorkSpaces. Setting up the AWS account on the portal was simple. Once I logged in, I followed Amazon’s instructions to set up a WorkSpace and log in credentials. There are a number of different Linux and Windows options to choose from. I selected the free Windows 10 desktop and downloaded the WorkSpaces clients for Mac and iPad.

It took about 20 minutes for the desktop to be set up before I could log in. It was a thrill getting the virtual Windows 10 desktop running on my Mac without the overhead of running virtualization software.

The free tier WorkSpace that I set up was bare bones. It had Firefox and Internet Explorer and the basic Windows 10 utilities. There are other non-free tiers that offer Microsoft Office and additional computing power.

To test adding applications, I downloaded Notepad++ and did a little text editing. The process worked just as it would on a regular desktop.

I couldn’t resist trying out the WorkSpaces client on my iPad. It was a little awkward trying to use it without a mouse or keyboard (which are supported). Many of the keyboard functions that you need, like the Windows key, are available by swiping your thumb from the left side of the screen. It took a little practice to get the swipe action down. My first attempts ended in weird things happening! I found that the trick is to slide your thumb and continue holding it on the screen until it is on the function that you want.

On the iPad client, swiping your thumb from the left side of the screen displays useful functions, like the help menu, Windows key and keyboard.

I don’t think that I would ever want to use the iPad as a primary way of accessing a virtual desktop, but it is nice to have it as an option.

Now that I have an Amazon WorkSpace running, my next task is to figure out what to do with it. I could see it being useful for editing documents in multiple locations on multiple systems, without having to lug around a laptop. It hearkens back to the days when people didn’t carry laptops at all, and instead relied upon X terminals or the VT100 terminals wherever they went!