Our ‘desktop’ is evolving. Today’s mobile workers access IT systems from an ever growing array of devices, and the use of traditional PCs is declining. We are also seeing a move away from the traditional two-stage model of ‘first work, and then collaborate’ towards working more collaboratively as a single process. The exact shape of the future desktop is not clear, but we point to how it might evolve.
Emerging trends: Virtual desktops in the cloud
Mobile knowledge workers demand access to applications and data from any device or location. The trend is toward enabling this by moving the desktop into the cloud, allowing a consistent set of services to be managed centrally and accessed via any device. Virtualised desktops offer benefits such as greater security and ease of provisioning and the elimination of the requirement for remote access and synchronisation.
Does the future desktop require an operating system?
Assuming that such a cloud-based model for the desktop comes to dominate questions the role of the operating system itself. This tension is exemplified by Google’s attempt to move into the OS space that Microsoft currently dominates with Windows, with its ‘Chromium’ web-based OS, and the trend accessing cloud-based applications through a browser.
Modal computing and the rise of applications
The dramatic success of ‘App Store’-type models in the consumer realm coupled with an iPad-driven reinvigoration of the tablet computing market, suggests that people find the ‘app for the task’ model to be an intuitive way of working. This approach has been termed ‘modal computing’ and from an enterprise perspective poses a challenge of ensuring a suitable degree of consistency and back-end integration between applications.
Intelligent desktops adapting to behaviour
Our future digital working environments will become much more sensitive and adaptive to our needs, customising themselves according to user behaviour. Semantic technologies will enable applications to interpret and automatically share the reason and meaning behind data. Autonomic technology will make computing environments more self-aware and self-correcting. The future desktop will integrate social features to facilitate better communication and collaboration.
From folders to ‘shared spaces’…
Although still dominant, folders are regarded as an outmoded structure for organising data. They might be replaced by interactive shared spaces – permission-based and collaborative - and dynamic and accessible by web
applications wishing to move data in and out of them. Shared spaces will integrate storage, social networking and collaboration with better modes of organising,
managing, tracking, and searching data.
…and from information to attention
Spatial modes of organising information such as files and folders also contribute to information overload. A big challenge is in keeping up with dynamic information in order to extract value. A shift to organising information temporally (via timelines, blogs, rss feeds, etc) may be a better way of interacting with information. Tools for discovering and filtering will become the centre of the desktop as people no longer want to act as librarians!
Beyond the desktop – a new metaphor
Some propose radical new directions for the desktop. Microsoft wishes to build on the success of its gesture interface ‘Kinect’ in the business realm. Google acquired the 3D desktop start-up Bumptop last year (although this technology makes working with electronic information even more analogous to working on a physical desk!).More radical is MIT’s ‘SixthSense’ a wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world with digital information and uses natural hand gestures to interact with that information.
Although the mouse and keyboard will continue to dominate for some years, the savvy CIO will have an eye on the evolution of the desktop in order to capitalise on developments that may deliver business benefits now.
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