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Do You Think Desktops Will Be Irrelevant in Three Years?

Do You Think Desktops Will Be Irrelevant in Three Years?

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With the advent of mobile devices and the Cloud, Google's European director of online sales, John Herlihy, recently said that in three years time the desktop will be irrelevant.  Do you agree?

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  • Microsoft is still rumored to be using mainframes for its payroll processing. Very large companies still use working mainframes and Cobol code for payroll - if it works, payroll is the last thing you want to mess with in any company. :-)

    VAX/VMS systems are still being by Caltrans to keep traffic moving on the bay Area roads and New York uses the same to monitor Carbon monoxide levels and operate all the electronic signs in Lincoln and Holland Tunnels.

    The point is that nothing ever becomes irrelevant. The mix changes drastically. In the last 5 years we have seen a definite shift from desktops to laptops and in the next 3 years we will see the mix shift to tablets and mobiles with all other forms taking a hit.

  • Basically No...Moving everything to the cloud is like returning to an old mainframe environment, and the reason we moved away from that was for richer applications and distributed processing power. In addition to this, I dont want to have to have my private data sitting up on "cloud servers" (especially Google servers with their company track record on privacy).

    The cloud is great for particular business requirements, but to think it is the best solution for eveything and everyone is a grave mistake. The desktop will be here for a long long time...

    The future is not necessarily the cloud or the desktop - we need to think a little differently I guess. I posted on something similar to this early last year...think it is still relevant http://andrewonedegree.wordpress.com/2009/03/27/the-future-of-the-pc-social-media-and-the-impacts-on-our-lives/

  • Desktops are irrelevant already. Applications on the cloud, mobile and multi-device access have already dug the grave, it is just a matter of time before everybody jumps on board.

    Totally agree with Google in this regard.

  • I do think that desktop will be irrelevant in the future, but it will probably take more than 3 years. Currently there are more cellular phones than PCs and the number of Mobile PCs and Notebooks computers is exceeding the number of new desktops. I am using only mobile PC for the last 4 or 5 years.
    You can read more in my blog post titled: Do we need a Consumer Operating System? http://avirosenthal.blogspot.com/2008/04/do-we-need-consumer-operating-system.html

  • Not much to say beyond Nari's response.

    Mainframes were supposed to be obsolete a long time ago. But in fact, according to Gartner, the mainframe has gained 16 percent of market share in the high-end server category since 2001. IBM seems to believe this since it unveiled the z9 in the 2005, following a three-year, $1.2 billion development project and the z10 in 2008, which it spent $1.5 billion and five years developing.

    Last year we heard the proclamation that "SOA is dead." The fact is, however, that with the Cloud Computing boom, SOA is picking up even more steam as applications either migrate or get built for the cloud.

    Sometimes, I wonder if declaring a technology dead has the reverse effect on it. In that case, if Google really wants desktops gone, declaring them irrelevant may not be the best strategy after all. :)

  • The desktop as a form factor will never go away. Organizations will always need workstations with keyboards or other data entry mechanisms,with a display. It would be ridiculous to imagine workers and professionals crouched over their desks, attempting to do heavy-duty work inputting reports, records, or other stuff into handheld devices. It's a matter of ergonomics.

    That being said, the software within the desktop will change, and is already changing. Essentially, the operating system is simply now something that gets in the way of things -- collaboration, cloud computing, and so forth off the network.

    The iPhone, and now iPad, along with other smartphones, shows us a model in which everything is done from the network, information is maintained on the network, and any and all changes to their small-footprint OSes occur behind the scenes. Forget about software installation, worrying about disk space, and worrying about losing data in disk crashes. Forget about patching and upgrading OSes and applications, only to find you need more expensive hardware. Your device -- again, still desktop form factor in many cases -- is merely the interface to get you to where you need to go.

  • I think three years is incredibly ambitious given that corporates globally still use client based OS as part of their infrastructure. I haven't seen anything from Microsoft for example to suggest that a service based OS is worth moving to at this point, most clients I've worked with are still using XP, they failed to migrate to Vista and I don't see Windows 7 adoption yet either. Security and stability will always be high on the CTO agenda as it will be for the consumer. Other considerations are that you will inevitably have a mix of client and service based software so how these are run simultaneously and whether additional network and internet frameworks are required isn't fully understood. For a consumer having to invest in faster broadband on top of a lite OS via cloud needs consideration.

    Google may provide the alternative for the consumer and early adoption market to try out but for prosumers and corporates it's going to take a lot longer than three years to adopt as a main or only OS version. I see it being used as a secondary option while the kinks are ironed out and expect more mainstream adoption in five to ten years not three.

  • Not sure what his reasons are for saying they will be irrelevant - money maybe, energy consumption maybe? So it is hard to provide any real arguments.


    From a freedom stand-point I truly hope not. What would it be like to have everything you put on your desktop machine moved to an unknown place with unknown capabilities, not to mention "real" control out of your hands.

    Hate to sound a bit overly concerned but......

    A bit of a side, I am shying away from using Google altogether and into using Anonymous Search Engines that do not capture what it is I am doing, I personally would rather have that under my control.

    What I do see is that smaller "desktops" will still exist and be plugged into smaller separate storage devices - this is currently how I am using technology today. My laptop is now my desktop, my external storage is a 500GB running Linux and Windows and backed-up with a 250GB external storage device (all fitting in my briefcase to go). Desktop? - sure, ok if that's what you want to call it.

  • We can’t look at the world as desktop vs. cloud computing as black or white. The multipurpose generalized desktop as we know it today will change radically and morph into specialized devices that have specific roles and functions and will unquestionably lose its role as the multipurpose hub of “personal computing?.
    Why should I pay for fabulously powerful CPU that remains idle 80% of the time? Why do I need to load software and buy backup drives to secure my data? Why am I uninstalling operating systems patches that have been downloaded to my machine through a software update process that has created a conflict with other software I run locally?

    I think the iMac, iPhone, iPad and iTunes paints a compelling picture a future where specialty devices and cloud computing work in tandem to provide a compelling computing ecosystem and offers a more secure and seamless computing experience.

  • I agree with the position that there is no black or white here. When I think of desktop today I simply think about what I use on my desk, which at the moment happens to be a laptop.

    From this point of view - no way is the desktop ever going to become irrelevant. The nature of the device I use there will undoubtedly change, but the need to work independently won't.

  • Aren't desktops largely irrelevant today? For the mainstream, laptops/notebooks are a far more compelling purchase across both consumer and businesses

    I think the introduction of iPad and other mobile devices will further Google's claim

  • A lot of good points above with respect to the reduced reliance, yet continued presence on desktops due to mobile devices. And the fact that the desktop is still the lowest cost office computing solution will ensure that the form factor remains for a while.

    The one thing I haven't heard people mention so far was a move towards desktop virtualization. Perhaps with the move of more and more productivity, collaboration and enterprise apps to the cloud (or at least SaaS-based delivery) it might portend for the use of virtualized desktops to further reduce the costs computing resources for office-bound workers and allow for more portability of a workers' environment within the enterprise. E.g. why not enable a worker to pull up their desktop environment in a conference room on a shared device, rather than have to give everyone laptops to work/lead a meeting.

    Maybe the move towards SaaS/Cloud apps would also allow companies to give their employees iPad-like devices and just have a bunch of keyboard-dock devices in different locations (e.g. desk or conference room) to use when doing input-intensive activities, but enabling mega-mobility on their primary device and no longer requiring heavy local storage.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • I agree with Jim Sherburne's comment - I'm typing this on my Macbook Pro, which sits on my desk connected to a 23' display, external keyboard and bluetooth mouse (not to mention the external HDDs). So, my CPU is portable and can be used stand-alone, which fits my needs, and those of many others. There are scenarios when you do need more power than mobile devices can deliver today (think: computation-intensive math, graphics, audio operations). But the power-needed graph seems to climb slower than the power-provided graph today, so the use cases for desktop (i.e. stationary CPU) power will be driven out of the mainstream.

  • It ALWAYS makes me laugh when this question comes up and even more so when people think it'll really happen in the short term. I really think a lot of people just haven't walked into a large enterprise lately and stood behind a few groups of end users for a day or so to see what that user really does with their PC. I'm talking large groups of end users in the enterprise.

    Their are trillions of lines of code that make up all of the millions of rich, fat, transactional applications that run the enterprise. Most of that code today, sits on the server and the desktop with some middleware in between.It took 35 elapsed years to construct a lot of it. Where on earth does anyone think the budget's are going to come from to rewrite this stuff? Even if they had the budget, who's going to do it? And how long will it take? (and with what tolerable risk?).

    I know of just a small number of enterprises that have at least rewritten most of their old legacy applications (and not without prior failures). I know of one, which, now successful, spent over $100m and took 10 years to do it. This latter one, being the creme de la creme of IT in their industry. There have been a lot of multi-billion dollar project failures with "rewrites". Don't you wonder why? Because you cannot ignore the massive complexity of software, all software once it's live.

    So next time this question comes up, or the statement that desktops will be obsolete, lets put it into perspective. It just is NOT going to happen in the next 10 years, let alone 3. It can't. It's impossible, even with all the will in the world. Legacy technology is too great, legacy technology works and to replace it overnight with an entirely different architecture, even if we could all agree on the "right". It just isn't going to happen.

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