Lee Murphy Interview

Jul 7 2011

Lee Murphy talks with me about Spoon, a new approach to virtual software. They offer a hybrid approach that leverages "the cloud" for application delivery while bringing the same desktop application experience we're all used to. It’s an interesting conversation that questions lots of assumptions about software architecture.

Links referenced in the show:

The music in the show, Have Mercy — Big Walter Horton, was provided by Mevio’s Music Alley.


  1. Lee 00:00:21

    My name’s Lee Murphy. I’m a technical account manager at Spoon. And what that means is, basically, I help our customers, you know, do implementations of Spoon as well as answering any questions they have; technical or, you know, service-related about how Spoon works. What Spoon is focused on is the ability to offer desktop applications with no installs. So a typical user experience for desktop applications is you have to install them, you need admin rights, then you have to manage your software. So for an enterprise, it’s sort of difficult to manage all your desktops. With Spoon, what you can do is you can put up a Web portal that will deliver all of your applications through a Web portal. The user just clicks on the application they want to run, it streams it to their desktop, launches the application. So you get rid of the whole install process, you don’t need admin rights, you have access to your full application library. And for the enterprise side, they don’t have to worry about, you know, managing desktops. Really, they can just put up a portal with all the apps that are available and people can use them on demand. So unlike some other virtualization solutions where you have you’re logged into a server somewhere and running the software on that server, these desktop applications are actually running locally so you can run offline and you still get all the same benefits of, you know, what the behavior would be if you had installed the software, but you get to skip the install process.

  2. Ryan 00:01:45

    That’s pretty interesting. It seems like people like to say that they offer the best of both worlds, right? But, I mean, it’s kind of hard to not think of this in those terms. Usually you get a nice, richer, more responsive interface when you have a desktop app, but you’ve got all the data portability and, like, syncing of your different little configuration things of a Web app. You kind of have both of those, right? Like, that’s an interesting place to be in.

  3. Lee 00:02:10

    Yeah. I think it’s a gap that exists and that’s what we’re trying to fill. Really, we want to give people the ability to run the desktop applications that they run every day, but we also want to offer some of the cloud services that people really want too. So with this technology, you get that ability to run any normal desktop application on your desktop -- on your, you know, standard desktop or laptop. And then the state of that application gets synchronized back. So if you make a settings change, if you add a favorite all of that will be synchronized back to the cloud so if you go to another desktop machine or you’re accessing, you know, at a shared desktop, all those same settings will come down and you’ll get the same experience from that different desktop. So, you know, you can imagine if your laptop gets destroyed or just, you know, breaks and you go to the store and buy a new one, instead of having to configure that laptop and get all of your apps set up and settings and all that sort of thing, you just log in, you get your same applications, they get synchronized to the same state, and you can also synchronize your data too; so you can specify certain folders you want to put on the cloud. So really, it’s offering you a way to have your local desktop be sort of a cache of your desktop, but the real -- the full backup is in the cloud. So whenever you move to a new desktop you can get that same experience.

  4. Ryan 00:03:29

    One thing that’s really interesting about that to me is, you know, that doesn’t exist for desktop apps at all, but it has for what -- two or more years on cell phones. And it’s funny how a lot of those things kind of come there first and then now it’s like, “Oh, man. This is a welcome port back to the desktop for me.”

  5. Lee 00:03:49

    Yeah. Well, I think that’s a good point. And I think that what we’ve noticed in sort of the mobile device world is that the applications aren’t Web applications, generally. So, and this sort of brings us back to the point of why we think desktop applications are so important, and that is people really want that rich GUI experience. When you look at something like Google Docs or salesforce people call them cloud and that’s what people think of when they think of cloud applications. But when you look at a phone or you look at an iPad or any other portable device, what you see there are apps. You know, those are normal apps that are not Web-based apps. They’re just standard, rich GUI apps and, really, that’s what it seems like people want more of. And so we wanted to find a way to say, “Let’s deliver those same applications that exist. There’s thousands or millions of desktop applications out there. Let’s find a way to deliver those to the desktop, you know, in a simple way and give people that same experience, you know, wherever they are.” Now, you know, we don’t yet support the mobile devices, but that’s the direction. And I think what helps us or what motivates us is that when you look at a phone, you know, all those applications are really rich GUI apps and that’s what, you know, that’s what we think people want to deal with. There has been some movement toward something like Google Docs, but in general, you see people using Office, you know. Why doesn’t everyone move to Google Docs? It’s because Office just gives a better experience.

  6. Ryan 00:05:22

    Yeah. I mean, sometimes, you know, the great thing about Web apps is they tend to be simpler, but sometimes you just can’t get away from that complexity; you just need a feature-rich kind of thing and that just has to be a desktop app. So basically there’s, like, this convergence between apps, like, the paradigms because, you know, the Web apps keep getting thicker and thicker, but not enough of the regular, you know, downloadable apps are getting kind of, you know, smarter and smarter or, you know, more communicative or are leveraging the cloud in a way. And this is a neat way to kind of bring one of the very important things of doing that to an app, kind of for free for developers or just for end-users to kind of strap it on themselves, right?

  7. Lee 00:06:06

    Yeah. And you look at the different desktop apps out there and I think they are becoming more Web-like. A lot of the applications you download now, even though they’re installed, a lot of times they’re just sort of a client to a Web service. And, you know, that I think is a big factor as well. So everything is definitely cloud-integrated; or not everything, but so many things are. But there’s still the rich GUI interface and we want to take away the difficulty or the complexity of running that rich GUI interface. You know, we don’t want to have to -- you don’t want to have to have install rights. You don’t want to have to uninstall and reinstall. Really, it would just be great to be able to launch those client apps, you know, right from the Web and not have to worry about that install process.

  8. Ryan 00:06:52

    That’s one thing I saw on your Website: you said, you know, you can install all of these apps without having administrator rights. Is that after someone with administrator rights sets up Spoon for you?

  9. LM: No, it’s all user mode.

  10. RP: Oh, interesting.

  11. LM: So even the Spoon plugin can be installed -- can be added by a standard user. Yeah.

  12. Ryan 00:07:09

    So, I mean, that solves a problem that I deal with when people talk about why IE6 is still so prevalent, right? Like, because people can’t just install a newer version of a browser themselves. So.

  13. Lee 00:07:23

    Sure, sure. So it’s interesting that you mention IE6 and we do have a lot of enterprises that are still using IE6 or still need to use IE6 for legacy applications. So that’s one way that Spoon is very helpful because you can run applications side by side that you can’t normally run side by side. So beyond the fact that you get applications wherever you are or access them from the Web portal, you also get this compatibility that you don’t normally have with installed apps because each of the apps is running in a small, isolated environment. So you can run IE6 at the same time as IE7 at the same time as IE8 an, actually, tons of Web developers like to use Spoon for their browser testing for that reason.

  14. Ryan 00:08:10

    I just came to that conclusion this morning, actually. I will definitely be trying that going forwards. Because right now what I’ve done was I’ve got Windows installed, like, three times on the same computer through VirtualBox and then I have to boot into, well, you know, it’s almost like a boot time bouncing back and forth; it’s really slow and then there’s updates and things like that. So, I mean, this is great, right? Like, you virtualize the app so that I don’t have all the overhead of all these extra operating systems that really just serve the purpose of giving me that one app.

  15. Lee 00:08:41

    Exactly. And, I mean, that applies to whether you’re dealing with Office or a browser or if you are a developer this actually becomes a great way to do beta testing. So, for example, some of the software companies we work with, they like Spoon because they can put out internal datas that are isolated from their installed versions or applications and that way they can, you know, run their beta testing without impacting their existing installs. So, you know, it ends up being a great way to run trials, run betas, you know, it’s just an easier way to deploy your software.

  16. Ryan 00:09:20

    So virtualization; people talk about it generically and they say, you know, it can simplify this and that. But for the most part, it seems like I haven’t seen too many uses of virtualization that really bring simplicity to an end-user. Like, you can say what it does for sysadmins or for, you know, various people up the IT food chain for kind of setting boxes up and things like that, but it seems like if there’s any end-user, kind of, started initiative to this it’s usually something more along the lines of, “Well, you know, I put Fusion on my Mac so I could play, you know, different video games that are only on PC. You know, it was a drag to set up, but once I got there it’s nice to have this extra functionality.” So really it’s this; they take a lot more complexity on just to get some kind of functionality. Whereas, this tool, since it’s so focused on doing, kind of, more specific things. Like, this is about app virtualization, not broad-sense virtualization (you can kind of use it for whatever you want), it actually does manage to make this process simpler, which I think says a lot towards, you know, kind of scoping your product down, right?

  17. Lee 00:10:33

    Right. Well, there’s -- I think there’s two -- there’s, you know, a couple of points there. One is you want, you know, for adoption reasons you really want it to be as simple as possible. So we wanted to have an experience for an end-user where, you know, it’s a no-brainer. You try it, it’s easy to use, there’s no work on your end in terms of all you do is you add this browser plugin and then you’re ready to go. There’s no configuring your applications or anything like that; it’s a real simple process. And I think you made a good point about the enterprise as well. Most people think of virtualization, they think of how are enterprises using virtualization to consolidate their infrastructure or manage desktops or solve any one of these big problems that the enterprise has which the individual doesn’t necessarily have. And what we’re trying to do with Spoon is offer that same -- some of the same benefits of virtualization to the average user without them having sort of the big IT infrastructure to manage it or do it. Really, it’s just you come in, if you’re a normal consumer and you want a different way to access your applications, you want a simplified way, Spoon can give you a way to do that. And so I think that’s -- this is the first time you’ll see app virtualization really fitting, sort of, the consumer audience as opposed to the enterprise audience.

  18. Ryan 00:11:53

    Yeah. It was interesting setting it up because, you know, kind of, not fully grocking what the product does when I was getting it ready to set up, it was, yeah, it was just like any other, like, setting up Flash and, you know, getting an AIR app to work.

  19. LM: Yeah.

  20. RP: And then when I run it it’s, “Wow, this is really Notepad++. Wait a minute. Like, I’ve got to rethink, you know, kind of what it was that I thought that this was.”

  21. Lee 00:12:16

    You can make another play here where a lot of people when we’re talking to them and we’re saying what we do it’s tough for them to grasp it initially because everyone’s used to a Web application being something you run with your browser and a desktop application being something you install. And what we’re doing here is we’re taking a desktop application and allowing you to run it through, you know, a Web interface. You can launch it from the browser, but then the application is actually the full desktop application, same behavior, and all that stuff. But, you know, like you said, when you first look at it and you first try it, you’re like, you know, “What is this? You know, what is this new thing?” And, you know, it takes some time to get people to grasp it initially, but then as soon as they do, which is the cool part about it, is they’re really excited about it. Like, “Wow. I didn’t really know this was something that people could do. I didn’t know you could do this.” And so that’s the neat thing about the technology is that, you know, when people do grasp it they’re like, “Wow, this is really something that is totally new to me and it’s pretty cool.”

  22. Ryan 00:13:16

    Yeah. Not to marginalize all the hard work of the developers that are actually making the product, but I certainly don’t envy the people that have to explain it. Mostly just because it seems like there could be a lot of semantic preconceptions people would have. Like when you say “a virtualized app,” like, that, I mean, it makes me go in a certain place and that’s really not where you are.

  23. Lee 00:13:36

    Yeah. Language is important and so we’ve worked pretty hard on trying to get the message correct, but we still have a ways to go. And that’s why we really focus on saying, you know, these are desktop apps that you don’t have to install. So it’s the same desktop app, but no install. And, you know, we do mention virtualization when we explain, sort of, how it works. We talk about app virtualization, but we want people to understand that it is a cloud technology, but it’s really a delivery mechanism for normal desktop apps. And then the cloud service part of it is really the synchronization back to the cloud. So it’s, you know, it’s not running on a server somewhere like most cloud technologies. Really, what this is is it’s a delivery mechanism and a synchronization mechanism so that you can get all your desktop apps that you normally get without having to install them and you get all the benefits of, you know, being able to synchronize that stuff back to the cloud.

  24. Ryan 00:14:28

    Yeah, it’s pretty cool. I think it was in the video where I picked up the terminology, you know, “Apps are cached; not installed.” Which I think that’s a pretty good way to explain if somebody’s trying to figure out exactly, “So, what’s happening here?”

  25. LM: Yeah.

  26. Ryan 00:14:42

    Now, I think that was one of those, like, “Oh, yeah. Okay, now I see.” So none of that tinkering around with this, that, and the other. So I install an app -- well, I don’t install an app; that’s the whole point. So I fire up an app and it caches locally. That means it’s not installed but it has to -- there are bits that have been transferred to my computer.

  27. LM: Yeah.

  28. RP: Where are they? What do they do? Like, how do I make them go away?

  29. Lee 00:15:08

    So the way it works is in order to optimize performance what we do is we do stream down the whole application package, it gets stored under your profile, and that’s where it’s executing from. The plugin manages the streaming of the package down. Once there’s enough bits available to launch it, it executes the application. The rest of the bits are streamed in the background while you’re using it. So if it’s a larger application you get to use it more quickly than you would if you had to download the whole thing. And then it’s cached on your system for a while in case you use it again. So if you launch that application again the next day it will use that cache so that you don’t have to go through the streaming process again, save you some bandwidth, all that sort of thing. Now if you don’t use it for 30 days, then it will actually delete that package. So the idea is that it’s cached temporarily for performance reasons, but it’s really easy to remove it and after 30 days it’ll be gone.

  30. Ryan 00:16:03

    It’s nice that you take advantage of saving a little bit extra, right, just to get the performance benefits, but I don’t have to worry about going through and purging the files, right? Like, that’s something that I’m pretty sure my Android device, which is kind of the closest situation that I can think of, right? I can install and uninstall apps, but then all that system data’s kind of there.

  31. LM: Yeah.

  32. Ryan 00:16:23

    And I don’t know a good way to get rid of that on the phone, so that’s definitely a problem that I’ve dealt with and continuing to deal with. But it’s hard, right? Because, generally, if that’s just an install and uninstall kind of thing without the server part that you have, do you really want all of your app data to go away when you get rid of the app? Probably not; like, in many instances, you don’t. But since you back it up, you know, with the whole cloud part then it’s fine to aggressively just get rid of those things.

  33. LM: That’s the idea. You said you have the central location or the cloud location where it’s stored then you would set that as a backup.

  34. Ryan 00:17:05

    Yeah, that’s interesting. I wonder what echelon of geekdom does someone have to be before they kind of immediately see these benefits, right? Like, it seems like less and less is it, like, the alpha geeks who have multiple computers that they have to deal with in a regular time. Do people kind of get this benefit or are you still sort of, you know, mostly focusing your efforts at explaining people, you know, power users, I guess.

  35. Lee 00:17:32

    That’s the term: power user, yeah. I think today, you know, the first person to target is the power user probably and the reason, you know, as you said, is because they’re the ones that are most interested in new technology. They might have the situation that this most benefits. So if someone, you know, someone’s getting a new system frequently, then this is a great way to kind of migrate from system to system. But I also think that, you know, one of the nice things about it is for the average user who doesn’t like to install software, doesn’t want to go through, you know, doesn’t know how to install software or anything like that, this kind of simplifies that for them too because they can go in and they can get the applications they want. They don’t have to install anything. So, you know, I think today it’s the power user, but I think this has a lot of benefits that even the least savvy computer user would want. You know, they come in and be like, “Wow, I don’t have to install anything? Great. That’s so much easier.” So I think, you know, you can easily make a case for your average user being, “Okay. You know, I like this kind of concept.” They may not even understand the technology at all. They may have no idea what’s going on, which is perfectly fine as far as we’re concerned. And really, we just want someone to say, “This makes my life easier. I’m going to use it.”

  36. Ryan 00:18:50

    It seems neat that, like one of the things that comes with everything kind of being sandboxes in this way is, you know, if you want to sample lots of apps, you install them and some of them might kind of tweak the registry at different places. Then you uninstall them and they fail to untweak them back. And then eventually, if you install lots and lots of things, all of a sudden, you know, you start noticing performance issues inevitably, right?

  37. LM: Right.

  38. Ryan 00:19:16

    Whereas, you know what it makes me think of? I mean, again, kind of bringing it back to the cell phone paradigm because it seems like that’s the only place I’ve seen something like this, you know, examples of this. But, so with my Android my phone, if I talk to someone about, you know, “It’s sluggish,” the first thing they say is, “Well, how many apps have you installed on it,” right? I have never heard someone ask the same question to, you know, an iPhone user because they sandbox all of the apps separately, right?

  39. LM: Right.

  40. RP: So it’s sort of like you get that kind of benefit on, again, back on the laptop that you’re using. That’s pretty cool.

  41. LM: Yeah. I know. I think that’s the part that’s probably a little harder for people to understand initially.

  42. RP: Right.

  43. Lee 00:19:56

    Just, you know, how that is meaningful or how that works. So, really, it’s one of those side benefits that you kind of think, “Okay. Well, people are going to get this benefit. They may not understand it right away, but, you know, it’s really one of those things that’ll just -- it just makes the experience better.”

  44. Ryan 00:20:12

    Yeah. Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely not the one where you want to explain it to, you know, many casual users, but it’s definitely there. Like, I can see how, you know, over time just kind of having a much better experience too. Not, those are the worst bullet points to have though, right? The ones that improve your experience gradually over time.

  45. LM: Right. No one cares about that.

  46. RP: People care after the tipping point.

  47. LM: Yeah, right.

  48. Ryan 00:20:37

    That’s really interesting. It solves a lot of problems that I think I had given up on people solving because I always put them in the arena of the developer of each individual app. It’s interesting to kind of abstract that away and be this wrapper thing and still be fast. Because usually you think of virtualization, it’s like, “Well, I’m going to give up some speed here,” but it’s not virtualized in that way.

  49. Lee 00:21:03

    Right. And that’s one of the things that we really stress is that performance on this is just like it would be if you had installed the application because it’s not running on a server somewhere, you don’t have to worry about your network bandwidth, the application is cached locally, running locally. It’s really going to be the same experience as if you’d installed it, but like you said, it’s solving some of those problems. Let’s say the app was not designed well by a developer so that it’s, you know, hitting different parts of my system that I’m concerned about. This way, like you said, it’s all abstracted out, there’s a layer between your application and your operating system to keep your machine really clean.

  50. Ryan 00:21:42

    Yeah. That is -- that’s really neat stuff. It’s interesting to me to see, like, this idea of syncing and moving my configuration stuff around not just be in the domain of the operating system. Like, that makes it a little bit more, I don’t know, “compelling” is not the right word, but it is interesting. Because usually I think, well, like, iCloud just came out, right? And, you know, the idea that, you know, they have their servers set up and as long as you kind of just continue to play in their arena they will give you various treats as long as it also benefits them, right? But it doesn’t necessarily seem like this idea of synchronizing your config stuff and all the extra information that kind of makes your computer your computer. You know, if it falls outside of what it is that they want to offer then you may or may not -- you don’t get competition in the market necessarily. But the idea that your company kind of brings this thing outside just feels like it can be more compelling down the line too; like, just more interesting.

  51. Lee 00:22:53

    Well, it’s clear that there’s definitely been some big movements in cloud services when it comes to the consumer. I mean, first it was Amazon and now it’s the iCloud. And I think what we want to do is make the argument for applications as much as it is for music and your files. And really, if people can get their applications that way and they’re using those applications day to day then what the service is can be sort of transparent, you know. It’s -- you want the service to be as transparent as possible and really it’s just about the experience. So when someone comes in and they start using their applications they don’t care whether they’re delivered from, you know, this cloud service or that cloud service as long as they’re getting the benefits they want and as long as whatever that difference is is more transparent to them. So, you know, I think that’s what we’re looking for is we’re looking to offer these things as benefits to your standard usage without having to go through some barrier or some limitations about using a new service. So, you know, if you’re using a new service, like you said, that doesn’t necessarily offer, you know, all the bells and whistles that you’re -- or all the little, you know, minor differences that you’re looking for, but they’re offering, sort of, their package deal. Really, we want to offer the same experience you have today, but just add on some of these new capabilities, which is the app synchronization and the data synchronization and also the compatibility. So you get these benefits, but you don’t have to worry about saying, “Oh, now I’m locked into this, you know, this way of doing or this new -- this service that is sort of new and it doesn’t have necessarily everything I want.” Really, it’s just here’s my experience today, it’s the same experience plus a couple new things that make my life a little bit better.

  52. Ryan 00:24:41

    Yeah. It’s just -- it’s interesting to think about the solution because it just takes a lot of assumptions that certain problems have to be solved by certain people and it kind of breaks that down a little bit. Which is, I think those are always fun products to think about. But I’m sure very frustrating -- again, back to I’m sure very frustrating to try and explain.

  53. Lee 00:25:05

    That is -- that is true. I think, like, you sort of hit the nail on the head in the sense of these sometimes are problems that people don’t think of as problems; they just think that’s the way things work. And, really, what we’re saying is imagine in an ideal world. Forget about your conceptions of what has to be a certain way and say imagine that you could do it this way. Would that be better for you? And as we explain the story to them people are like, “Wow, you can do that?” And we’re like, “Yes, you can do that.” If you, you know, we take this -- you know, we call it sort of a hybrid approach to desktop apps, which is deliver it from the cloud, execute locally, you get all the same benefits you get today plus you get these other services which, you know, which you didn’t have here before. So once they understand that then, you know, they’re really sold on it. So it’s definitely -- it’s fun to see the light bulb moment where people sort of realize what it is you’re doing and how they can actually use it.

  54. Ryan 00:26:07

    Yeah. It’s that difference between, you know, like, if I’m talking with my parents and they have a problem with the computer, you know, they tend to think, you know, “I guess I’m dumb because I can’t get this to act the way that I want,” whereas, you now, my ego comes at it. “Well, this app is stupid because it doesn’t do what I need.” So it’ll be easier for you to explain, you know, to those people that say, “There is no reason that this works this way.” Like, there’s no reason that we just, you know, accept, like, the idea of trying to get similar results by taking different bits of application data and syncing it through Dropbox to get a similar effect. And, you know, your mileage will vary because there’s so many things about the app that not having worked on it you don’t know that you also need. And, you know, just to have the solution just handled cleanly; that’s very useful I would think. Cool. Well, thank you very much for your time. I had a whole lot of fun talking about this. This is a really neat product. People need to play with this. I mean, they can get started for free. Of course, you know, they can get all the terms down on the Website. We’ll link that up in the show notes.

  55. LM: Excellent. Thanks, Ryan. It was great talking to you and I appreciate the time.