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The desktop IT interface

Henning Volkmer Issue: North America 2013
Article no.: 13
Topic: The desktop IT interface
Author: Henning Volkmer
Title: President & CEO
Organisation: Cortado, Inc.
PDF size: 1100KB

About author

Henning Volkmer is the President and CEO of Cortado, Inc.; he has a broad technological background and has been at the forefront of mobile technology trends for the past seventeen years. In addition to holding various positions within the Cortado group, Mr Volkmer was part of a team focused on reducing costs in the network infrastructure division with what is now Nokia Siemens Network.

Henning Volkmer holds a degree in business and engineering from the University of Applied Sciences in Hagen, Germany.


Article abstract

The first computers were difficult to use and expensive; only specialists could use them. The PC, though, put computing on the worker’s desk; although complicated and limited, PCs improved office productivity. As the user interface, the computer’s ‘desktop’, improved, so did productivity - better desktops brought greater productivity. Today’s powerful desktops let users move productively between devices with great ease. Desktops are still getting better- as are productivity and ease of use; this trend should continue strongly for the foreseeable future.


Full Article

The first IT desktop had very little in common with those in use today. Not only was the technology expensive, but few people that were capable of using it. Complexity put this technology largely out of reach of the average user. However, over time, the desktop also provided a tremendous opportunity to lower the entry barrier. Some companies like Microsoft and Apple, are still the focus of our attention, but others have fallen by the wayside of an incredibly competitive race for what Steve Jobs coined "the next big thing”.

The next generation of computers gained extremely innovative interfaces, although they were still far from being as user-friendly as today. Computers had keyboards and screens that could display text, allowing users to program the computer to run applications and receive results in an understandable form - instead of blinking lights. While not nearly as convenient as a word processor on an iPad, this led to a never before seen symbiosis of commercial utility supported by millions of enthusiasts who would spend their time wringing every last bit of capability out of the available hardware and operating systems.

These developments in the IT sector led to a completely new form of entrepreneurship: the start-up. With a very small capital investment anyone who could write a program could start a company and try to sell their work. Licensing the right to use software gained widespread acceptance and the sector received a huge boost. Computing migrated from huge centralized machines onto employees’ desks, via the personal computer. Applications ran locally on this machine, one at a time. The desktop was new and exciting and many companies like Apple, Amiga, Commodore, IBM, and Microsoft were competing for market leadership and this led to a lack of standards. There were almost no networks, no email, no flash drives, and such. Data was entered via a keyboard, processed and printed so someone else could use it, entered again, processed, printed, and so on.

Next, the industry consolidated and standardised - especially in the enterprise - and Microsoft operating systems becoming the de-facto standard. Hardware and software continued to evolve at a rapid pace and so did the desktop. As computers gained the ability to do more than one thing at a time, the screen became more like a desk's tabletop.
The desktop was the work centre on the computer screen where the user would keep their shortcuts to their most often used files, links to programs, notes and the like. Computing had not changed that much, most applications still ran locally, although as local area networks developed, the backend started supplying data for databases and for a few other services such as print servers.

Organisations increased their use of information technology as graphical interfaces made computers easier to use. Standardization made IT investment safer, but most importantly, computers started to offer a tighter grip on security for company data and applications. Companies were able to decide exactly who would have access to which information and resources. While computers had made their way into people's home, there were clear distinctions between commercial and consumer use of technology.

The next big step in the development of the desktop is the one we are currently experiencing, driven by unprecedented competition between different platforms, devices and paradigms.
• First, centralized computing has become so capable that it is no longer necessary to have dedicated computing resources on each user’s desk. Microsoft, VMware and Citrix are going head to head in the virtual desktop market.
• Second, networks have developed enough to quickly handle the exchange of data between the user and the centralized resources and applications.
• Third, personal technology has seen sufficient development and adoption that the work user and the consumer user are now virtually the same.
• Lastly, according to Gartner, we've crossed over from a world dominated by operating system-specific applications into one where the majority of applications are browser-based. Innovative concepts from companies like, Cortado and Google have made even established ‘local app’ companies like Microsoft develop browser versions of their applications.

The desktop has become the users IT home, the place that connects the user and their devices with their IT computing power and resources - their files, applications and peripherals such as printers. The desktop is also the personal, individual home for each user with background pictures, personal files, favourite links, and such.
Over the years, the desktop has gained a multitude of methods to input and output information. Today files can be downloaded, transferred via NFC and we use speech and many other methods to enter data into the desktop to process and then share, publish, email or print. All these developments greatly enhance the benefits we derive from IT. However, they also challenge the enterprise when decisions about devices, applications, platforms and even ownership need to be made again and again. These decisions are necessary to allow the desktop to adapt for each users device, use its interfaces and provide an optimal, secure balance between local device-centric computing and the use of private or public cloud computing.
To date, the industry has only seen the very beginning of the developments that will drive IT in the next few of years. Desktop users will become increasingly independent from specific devices. Users will have a desktop with their set of devices and gadgets for both work and personal use and all this will follow the user from device to device.

One of the near-term developments is file sharing. Files are one of the most common containers for both work and personal content. There are a few good file-sharing solutions for personal use like Microsoft SkyDrive or Google Drive, but they are not very well suited for business use, especially for businesses with high security standards.
Businesses need solutions that satisfy both their security needs and their users’ needs for simplicity, ease of use and ready availability at any location on any device. As file sharing at work is most commonly used to exchange data with people in the same organization, enterprises will need to look for solutions that integrate the user and their device via Active Directory. This will allow them to leverage their existing back-end/data centre/private cloud infrastructure with interfaces that match the ease of use and cross-platform availability of public cloud offerings.

Security and device management will continue to be important factors, but much of the current concerns can be addressed by shifting focus to enterprise integration. Unlike the systems that still dominate enterprise IT, enterprise integration of new desktop paradigms and new device types will offer a holistic view and control of IT resources without increasing the overall system’s complexity.

Still, the traditional office desktop choice, Microsoft Windows, will not completely disappear from enterprise IT anytime soon. We will, however, see a strong increase in desktop virtualization as the overall systems become more affordable due to innovation and strong competition among multiple vendors. This trend, separate from post-PC, will still offer a better and more cost effective Windows type workspace for more traditional office tasks. It will also bring some added attention to necessary improvements of the office infrastructure, such as printing. All these IT improvements are likely to deliver a good return on investment and, for the most part, should combine well with post-PC needs.

Over the past few decades, desktops have evolved from complicated machines to today’s productive workspace. The desktop has progressed this far by adapting to technology, leaving both IT and users to take advantage of the benefits and convenience of being able to work on any device at any time. It will be interesting to see how future developments will shape the desktop and what opportunities and challenges will be part of these developments.

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