The beginning of the PC era is shrouded in urban legend, but some bits of the story are clear. IBM were the company who had the vision to see the need for a personal computing device and who had the confidence to make the design open and expandable. Bill Gates was the opportunist who tied the sale of his operating system to the sale of each PC, thus ensuring not only ubiquity, but also monopoly. IBM offered expansion, Microsoft enforced restriction. That restriction ended up being a ‘good thing’ in that it allowed a common platform for the development of applications and ultimately a widespread graphical environment where coders could thrive in producing business solutions.
With the advent of the internet that monopoly has disappeared and with the advent of mobile computing devices the ubiquity of the monolithic desktop operating system as become eroded. Outside of the workspace how often do you turn to a PC with a separate screen and keyboard?
So, where will the desktop be in 10 years’ time? In terms of productivity there will always be a need for a good size screen, a decent keyboard, and enough processing power to drive it all. Where our applications and data reside is a different matter. Part of the internet and device revolution has been the gradual migration of our data to the cloud, and the separation of the application from the operating system. The applications we use on smaller devices are generally just a web based front end to something that is cloud based. The graphic at the top of this post was produced using Canva – an entirely web based graphics application. I edit documents, calculate with spreadsheets, view my images all online – the device is only a window to this cloud based world. It doesn’t really matter if that window is a Windows PC or something else.
The battle for ubiquity has shifted – it can no longer be about tying end users to a monolithic operating system – that horse has bolted. The battle now is for eco-systems – the whole package, and I believe that this time ‘open and expandable’ will win. In order to survive the next decade IT providers will have to be flexible, adaptable and willing to work on the platforms that end users choose, they can no longer impose. And this is making its presence felt in the workplace. Most companies already have some cloud related applications – this will only accelerate. Once the majority of line of business applications are in the cloud then the choice of device used to access that is open. Windows, OSX, Chrome, Linux all will do the job – or what about Android or iOS on a desktop size screen? Many end users are now more familiar with iOS and Android than they are with Windows. There are already stories of a desktop port of Android coming along.
IT strategy for the business user requires a continued long hard look into the future. What will be the best information appliance for your staff next year, in five years’ time, a decade from now? It will certainly be cheaper, more power efficient, and cloud connected, but I would be surprised if it ran Windows (for clarification, I am typing this on a full size keyboard on a Windows 10 PC). I, for now, am putting my eggs in the Google Apps for Work eco-system. It works brilliantly across platforms, scales well from startup to enterprise and has a surprising amount of control for the admin. It integrates flawlessly with Android and allows me to take my business on the road, wherever that may be.
If you’re interested to know more take a look at my Google for Work page.