Cloud

10 reasons why desktop computers will give way to Web apps and mobile devices

Consumers are turning away from traditional desktop systems -- and now it appears businesses are following suit.

In the last few years, we've seen Web applications and mobile devices (accessing local applications and Web applications) start to push the traditional desktop out of its dominant usage position. For many consumers, the desktop PC is needed only for typing up a long email or perhaps to do some work in Office. And Office, a media player, and games are often the only local applications that get any use at all. But what about in a business environment? Well, it's starting to look like businesses are going down this path too. Here are 10 reasons why Web applications and mobile devices are going to continue to rise in use for businesses.

1: Lower TCO

Third-party Web applications often look more expensive at first when you compare the cost to a perpetual license. And tablets and phones are now more expensive than a typical low-end PC. So how are they less expensive? Well, the total cost of ownership (TCO) is better. The devil is in the details.

Locally installed application can become a huge time vacuum when they have problems. Even a "free" application isn't cheap when your staff is tied in knots trying to make it work. With third-party Web applications, your support role is minimized. And for mobile devices, there is no "troubleshooting" most of the time. You just grab a new device, log in, and transfer a SIM or Flash card, depending on the device. Even locally installed Web applications are easier to work with, since they leverage common architecture and industry standards instead of a mess of proprietary technologies.

2: Better links with the cloud

As businesses start to see fewer disadvantages and more advantages with public cloud offerings, it is increasingly important for the applications we work with to link to those products. And while there is nothing technically superior about Web and mobile applications for dealing with cloud services, there is a major advantage all the same: They were written from the ground up in a cloud-connected world. Too many desktop applications are bogged down with legacy code or legacy ways of doing things. Even if they wanted to change, they couldn't. But modern applications are built with modern techniques and attitudes, and what we see as a result is that the Web and mobile apps take advantage of cloud services much better than desktop applications do.

3: Security

Despite some high profile security issues lately, the overall security situation on mobile devices beats the pants off of the traditional Windows desktop, thanks to built-in application sandboxing and data isolation. And once you take the relatively insecure Android out of the mobile mix, it looks even better for the mobile devices.

Likewise, in the highly connected world of IT we find ourselves in, Web applications are no more exposed than any other kind of application much of the time. The administration teams can specialize in securing their apps (unlike the traditional IT department, which has to generalize just to keep the lights on). And attack detection, prevention, and reaction are concentrated in one spot, rather than requiring a vendor to create and distribute a patch and count on customers to install it. In any event, the network connection itself is far less risky than user actions, and Web applications are much more isolated and sandboxed than desktop apps. Other than turning ActiveX on, it is just about impossible for a Web application to infect clients like Office or Acrobat can, unless the attack is through a plug-in like Flash (which is a locally installed application).

4: Tighter control than you would think

It's always been argued that on-premise and desktop applications offer far greater control than Web or mobile applications. And in many ways that is true. For example, with a third-party Web application, you have no control over where your data resides. With that said, there are still some ways you do get a lot of control that you don't see with desktop applications. For example, mobile devices can be remotely wiped (and located, for that matter), but that's a tough trick with laptops. And with a device that does not allow side loading, you can connect it to a business-controlled app store account and monitor what applications are being installed and used; again, not easy with a desktop. With Web applications, you don't need to hope that your central management software can work with the application. You have the control you want and need from the get-go.

5: Built-in connectivity

Sure, your laptop may have WiFi built in -- but how many have 3G or 4G connectivity built in? Not many. Once you look at the cost and hassle of adding on a cell modem to your laptop, a smartphone or tablet looks like a great choice for mobile connectivity.

6: Sensors

The built-in data connectivity isn't the only piece of fun hardware hiding inside a mobile device; there's also GPS, motion sensors, cameras, and more! These unleash all sorts of application and user interface possibilities that a desktop or laptop just can't match. In addition, it makes the mobile device the go-to device in many situations that the PC used to dominate. As the mobile devices add more CPU power and RAM, expect to see the uses of these sensors explode even further.

7: Simpler UIs

If you really want to participate in a painful exercise, spend a few hours observing a typical non-techie user working with a computer. All of the things we take for granted, like multiple windows on a screen, application switching, even the address bar in a browser, are foreign concepts despite years of experience. How many times have you watched someone go to Google, enter in the URL to the site they want to go to, and then choose the first Google result, instead of just typing the URL into the address bar? The traditional desktop metaphor has proven to be too complex for anyone who is not dedicated to spending lots of time figuring it out. Meanwhile, mobile devices and applications are much easier to understand, and Web developers are getting much better about making clean UIs.

8: Increased user satisfaction

I know that from the IT perspective, it can often seem like all that really matters is that users can get their work done efficiently. But at the same time, liking a system does play a role in user efficiency. After all, if users keep looking for workarounds to the IT-provided systems because they have too much friction, we're just wasting our time, right? Users do seem to be very happy with their mobile devices and Web applications. The "It just works" factor is powerful and undeniable. Why not give them systems they are actually happy with and will want to use instead of circumvent?

9: Better battery life

The low-power CPUs found in mobile devices lets them have a battery life for a semi-ready state that is much longer than what you see in most laptops and notebooks. Sure, PCs can go into various power-saving modes that are pretty close to "instant on." But if you want to receive incoming emails and other messages, the battery life goes down the drain. Meanwhile, it is not too hard to find smartphones with 24+ hours of battery life with moderate usage. And Web apps contribute to longer battery life by pushing the heavy duty CPU and storage usage off the user's device and onto a centralized server.

10: Consumerization of IT

Regardless of whether IT departments are ready for it, the "consumerization of IT" is happening, and it is happening right now under our very noses. While we may think we run a tight ship of highly controlled, locked down PCs, the users are choosing to move their work onto their personal mobile devices or to Web applications they signed up for outside IT's control. We can either keep trying to fight this, which means data is constantly leaking onto devices and services we have no input into, or we can find a way to cooperate with it. And the harder we push back, the faster folks run to their mobile devices and Web applications. It is fairly inevitable, so we need to learn to deal with it now before it overwhelms us.

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

11 comments
CarlosBacco
CarlosBacco

Each time I read an article like this my disdain for architects increase. So many bullshit, so many hype keywords. Things aren't being moved to the Web because it's good. They are because architects say it so, and CEOs unfortunately believe them. Usually the best guys on the team (the ones that really get the hands dirty) become mad when such sacrilege occurs.

umair.hp
umair.hp

Desktop PCs will still stay for a long time to come in the market. There is a very good article published on [url=http://technorati.com/technology/gadgets/article/are-desktop-computers-still-in-demand/]technorati[/url] which also suggests that Desktop PCs will still be bought by many consumers. Even blogs have not given up writing reviews for desktops yet. [url=http://www.binary-store.com]Binary Store[/url] has published some very good reviews on the latest Desktop PCs being introduced in the market.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Cloud links, control / remote wiping, 3G / 4G, sensors, battery life; none of these matter to someone who works in a cube. I don't know about other manufacturing or office facilities, but the majority of my computer users stay put most of the day. I'll freely grant these advantages to other users, but I still question how large a percentage of computer-using workers require mobility. Also, moving to cloud apps imply the company has assets to convert existing client-based apps to web-based ones, or that there's ROI in doing so.

IT Support23
IT Support23

I think despite the the things that mobiles apps can offer, I still prefer to use my desktop while working because its more convenient for me.

csudholz
csudholz

1. Multitasking - Mobile and web as terrible as multitasking devices. 2. Multiple Screens. I love my desktop set up because I can have multiple screen screens. Have three could use more. Having many things open is essential in doing complex tasks 3. Complex tasks. You must work in some very simple industries Mr James if you think Office, Media Play and games are all that get used on Desktops. By that attitude I could say that people only uses mobile apps for games and facebook. I would hate to program a web app from a mobile app. In agricultural R&D for example the power and flexibility provided by desktop machines are essential parts of daily business. 4. Desktop UIS will improve with learning of Mobile. I agree that desktop UIS are poor in some cases but they will learn from the new guys and in some cases probably do better. 5. Peripheral devices - I have an ergonomic keyboard & mouse, headset, mouse table, specialist printers, scanners and multiple screens all hooked into my desktop machine. These make my working environment highly productive. Mobile and web are not designed for this. I think that mobiles, web and desktop will never replace each other. They will all serve their own purpose. I expect that in the end they will all have their own market and it will not be a case of this vs that.

spdragoo
spdragoo

Point 1: What about the huge time vaccuum that happens when a) the connection to the Internet needed for the Web app goes down, or b) when the 3rd-party's Web app goes down? That's right: it's just as big, if not bigger. Not to mention I saw no evidence provided for lower TCO for 3rd-party Web apps vs. in-home apps. Point 2: The assumption appears to be that, "If it's not using the 'new' way of thinking, it's automatically bad". Unfortunately, there's another adage that holds just as true: "If it isn't broken, don't 'fix' it". Just because a CPA firm [b]can[/b] use a cloud provider to store all of the sensitive financial documents, email messages, and other proprietary information it's privy to, doesn't mean it [b]should[/b]. The CPA firm is held responsible [b]by law[/b] for who has access to the proprietary & sensitive information it has access to. They can't just tell the SEC, "Sorry that our client's information was hacked into, but it's not our fault, it's the cloud provider's fault" won't cut it under Sarbanes-Oxley requirements. Point 3: That's the nice thing about "legacy" apps, though: because they're not tied into Web services, a virus that hijacks your Web connection isn't going to affect the legacy app. Not to mention that corporate backup policies make it very easy to deal with potential data corruption. As for exposure to outside attacks... well, if your IT department has restricted your access to the Internet anyway, it's kind of hard for the bad guys to attack in the first place. My employer, for example, places heavy restrictions on websites that have bandwidth-intensive apps & files (i.e. pictures, video, music, etc.), so certain websites (*cough* Youtube) can't ever be accessed. Other websites (Yahoo Mail, Gmail, etc.) are only allowed during a certain time of the day (being blocked the rest of the time)... & even then, the Java/Javascript/Flash/other "enhanced content" interfaces are so locked down that you're pretty much just seeing plain HTML & text emails only. I'm not saying it's perfect, but I honestly can't see any "sandboxing" or other lockdown method on a mobile device providing that much more security. Point 4: Not sure what company you work for, but for the majority of companies I've worked at, the IT departments had [b]no[/b] trouble tracking down & undoing any "unauthorized" app installations, if not completely blocking the capability in the first place. I'm not just talking Win7, either, I mean even the older Win2K & WinXP. Point 5: Hmm, let's see... use a wireless connection (WiFI, 3G or even 4G) that has the potential for signal interference or simply being "sniffed" from the air... versus a hardwire connection that will generally have superior bandwidth and would require someone to physically tap the wire in order to break into the signal (assuming that they're tapping the twisted pair section of the connection, since fiber-optic cables can't be "tapped" per se -- does bad things to the fiber). Point 6: If a feature isn't very useful, it's not a "feature", it's a toy. Kind of like a heated Shiatsu massager built into a car seat; most of us don't make hours-long car trips on a weekly basis, so it doesn't meet a "need"... & therefore is an expensive "toy" added to the cost of the car. Same with digital cameras built into a device when your work environment has strict document access requirements because you're able to view people's financial records -- name, address, SSN, etc. -- that the general public isn't supposed to have access to. That's what happened at a Teleperformance call center a few years ago: some employees were using their camera phones to take photos of their desktop screens with customers' names & SSNs showing, then using the info to steal the customers' IDs. The end result was that Teleperformance had to enact a policy prohibiting employees from even having their cell phone out while sitting at their terminals. Point 7: Speaking as a techie, I find that the browser UIs on smartphones are nearly identical to the desktop versions... but are actually harder to use than the desktop version. And you're assuming that, because they're on a smartphone, that the user will suddenly learn how to enter the website address directly into the mobile UI's address bar. Most non-techies will [b]still[/b] type "ESPN" or "CNN" or "Yahoo Mail" into the mobile UI, not "www.espn.com", "www.cnn.com", or "mail.yahoo.com", because they don't know any better. Point 8: From my personal experience, the main frustration factor involved in "it's not working right" has had [b]nothing[/b] to do with the device being used at work to access the system, & even very little to do with the UI of the system they're trying to access. Rather, the primary problems have been: -- Connectivity issues causing server errors & issues; and -- Actions made by prior users caused something to go wrong Neither of which are problems that can be solved by substituting mobile devices in place of desktops. Point 9: Only 1 thing to say: desktops don't need batteries, so they trump mobiles any day. And with rare exceptions, if there's no power for the desktops, then there's no power for the Internet routers & the data servers anyway, so all you'd be doing with your mobile device is playing Angry Birds at work... at least until they show up with your pink slip. Point 10: [b]Who[/b] is trying to move their work to their personal mobile device? First off, over 90% of the co-workers I've ever had are happy to leave their work at work. The last thing they want is their personal mobile device to send them a work-related alert. Second, the majority of my employers have not used Wi-Fi for the primary network source in their offices, so unless you can hardwire your smartphone into an RJ-45 jack it isn't going to be able to connect to the company intranet... which means your smartphone will have zero ability to perform any work. So just exactly who are these people you claim are trying to "work around" IT policies to use their [b]personal[/b] devices to actually do their work duties... versus those trying to use the company Internet connection on their laptop so they can play online Poker or update their Facebook wall?

TsarNikky
TsarNikky

Reasons #2, 7, and 8 are good reasons why laptop or desktop PCs will be around for a long time. Even more so for PCs that are used as standalone or in home network settings. The "cloud" will always be fraught with the risk of losing your application and/or data. Possible simpler UIs are not guaranteed with the use of tablets. Increased user satisfaction is not device-related, but UI-related.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

The article has been up for 5 days and the blogs are speechless!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"For many consumers, the desktop PC is needed only for typing up a long email or perhaps to do some work in Office. And Office, a media player, and games are often the only local applications that get any use at all." Justin is referring to consumers, not workers.

JLogan3o13
JLogan3o13

predicting the demise of PCs. If the author has nothing better to write about, take a vacation.