What will you be using in 5 years time?

You will perhaps have noticed that a few of entries in this blog have been in relation to the “desktop”. We’ve had an entry about our “future desktop” project, the “personal environment” as a key priority in our new IT Strategy and more recently a summary of how we are setting about buying PC’s for 2012/13. Desktop devices are always going to be of great interest to our staff and students – they are the “first contact” with our IT resources, define a huge part of the user experience and how we can get the best out of IT, and we spend a lot of money on them!

I will shortly be opening up some wider consultation on how we see the future landscape here and what principles should guide what we provide to staff and students. The traditional desktop device – whether Windows or Apple, desktop or laptop – dominates the IT provision in most organisations today. Typically, depending on a combination of user / technical requirements and affordability, these are refreshed on a 3 – 5 year cycle. So, on current trajectories, some equipment that we buy this year will still be in use in 2017. In such a fast changing world, we will need to be very careful with our procurement year on year to make sure we don’t end up with excess legacy equipment and to make sure that we can keep pace with major changes in what people expect to use. In the post about “MyApps” I explained some of the steps we were taking now to allow our services to be delivered onto a range of devices in future.

So, what might we expect in five years time?

Some kind of workstation is probably going to remain important. The need for a full size screen / keyboard is almost certainly going to be essential for significant and complex content creation, media work, multi tasking etc. Behind the workstation might be still be a desktop PC (though it’s anyone’s guess what the operating system will look like), or it might be a laptop docked to the workstation, or it might be a low powered “thin client” device. In some cases it will be a tablet computer, such as a future iPad, or even a smart phone. These devices even today can be hooked up to a full size monitor and keyboard – it’s not quite the experience of a desktop computer, but surprisingly close – especially if you combine it with MyApps.

For mobile access, in some shape or form tablet computers such as the iPad and Android platforms will increasingly dominate. Today’s versions are not yet as good as a full power laptop for significant and complex content creation etc, but they will catch up year on year – I would guess in 5 years time still not a full laptop replacement device but much much closer than they are today.

We will (or should) print less. Mobile platforms are great for reading and some organisations are already giving out iPads in order to remove print costs.

So, still a continuing need for the workstation and keyboard, but the underlying platform shifting heavily to mobile formats. The nature of software applications will evolve during this transition too. We will still be using “desktop” style applications in 5 years time, but accessing them through a variety of platforms and mixing their use with mobile based apps and richer web environments.

We’re planning for all this to happen, but facing some uncertainties:
• the speed at which “tipping points” will be reached
• the balance between what the University provides and what staff and students will bring in themselves

We want to be poised ready to “catch the wave”.

The Gartner CIO briefing on “the future of client computing” makes an interesting further read.

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