Moving Beyond the Desktop Era to Whatever’s Next

VMware Server on Mac OS X -- but look at the dock

The traditional Windows desktop may not be going away, but it is no longer the only way employees are computing today -- and that creates complications for IT. (Photo credit: Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious)

When desktop computing began to emerge in the late 1970s, it attempted to solve a fundamental problem: how to automate the physical office of the time.

Paul Maritz, CEO at VMWare, speaking at EMC World this week, said he entered the industry as a programmer at about that time, but after all these years, that desktop metaphor is finally reaching its maturity stage.

Today, we need to find new ways to process and understand data that move beyond the office metaphor.

Martiz pointed out that the earliest attempts at creating business software were an attempt to automate the paper-based world. We had folders and files and an in-box and an out-box. We had a word processor to take the place of the typewriter. We had a spreadsheet to replace a paper ledger — and so forth. We even had a trash can to get rid of our waste.

And this worked well for the last 30 or 40 years, but he says, we now have a generation for whom this metaphor is not really relevant any longer. These employees grew up in a post-paper era (although a truly paperless business is still a long ways off) with real-time interactions.

He said this new generation of employees doesn’t care about files and folders or in-boxes and out-boxes. They want to “see and consume information in fundamentally different ways” and these employees won’t be satisfied with traditional enterprise approaches to computing.

It’s no longer a case of bringing a new employee on board and provisioning them with a corporate laptop with a Windows desktop and some clunky enterprise tools.

Scott Davis, who is CTO for End User Business Computing at VMware, also gave a talk at EMC World. He explained that the way we interact with computers and information is changing. Suddenly, it’s not uncommon to interact with 3 or 4 different devices on regular basis throughout the day, choosing the appropriate device based on the task and where we happen to be at the time.

And Davis says that employees have become spoiled by our consumer experiences, and are coming to work with similar expectations  –  and that’s having a profound impact on IT (as we have discussed here frequently).

Suddenly, we are not only interacting with the Windows desktop — although certainly many people still are using traditional desktop PC tools — we are also using web-based tools and cloud tools and apps specific to a given device. He said with this change, we are seeking real-time mash-ups of information from a range of sources.

These new employees want it all. They want to use their consumer devices. They want access to their stuff wherever they are, regardless of the device, and of course they still need to be able use and interact with business applications.

Scott pointed to data that showed that last year, the number of enterprise Windows business applications dipped below 50 percent for the first time, but he says, that doesn’t mean the Windows era is over.

In fact he says, you have to embrace a combined world of Windows applications sitting along side less traditional approaches to software.

As we move away from the desktop metaphor into the new era of business computing, it presents a tremendous challenge to IT, but Davis encourages you to embrace the change and find new ways to manage these devices.

VMWare’s approach is 3-fold: Make the traditional Windows desktop portable, provide tools to manage and provision newer kinds of apps with policy-driven controls and offer file syncing as a service to provide more control over content as it moves across devices.

Whether you use, VMWare’s tools or another company’s, this is certainly a good starting point for thinking about how to manage this changing computing world and moving beyond the traditional Windows desktop. How you approach it, will be up to you, but you can’t ignore it, that’s for sure.

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