Where goes the PC?

It’s now hard to read technology news without some mention of the decline of the PC – which is usually taken to mean Microsoft Windows based platforms. The latest one from Gartner indicates that global PC sales have fallen for the fifth quarter in a row, making it the “longest duration of decline” in history – down from 90 million units per quarter in late 2009, to 76 million units in the latest survey. The report is summarised on the BBC web site which includes a chart showing the spectacular rise in sales of tablet computers (iPad’s and similar) – widely agreed to be the main cause of the decline in PC sales.

It’s not just the Microsoft world – although Apple has bucked the trend, things seem to be catching up with them too .

What’s going on here, and what does this mean for future computing devices at RGU? Two things – (1) the PC format is not going to disappear suddenly tomorrow, but (2) the tablet format is definitely here to stay.

Let’s take the PC first. For years, most of the innovation was around the PC format and people faithfully upgraded their (perfectly good) PC’s every 3 to 5 years to get the latest technology and software. Now the innovation is in the tablet and smartphone space. People are still using PC’s where they need more power or sophistication in the software, but the PC they have is “good enough” for now, and instead of upgrading their PC many feel there is greater value in buying a tablet. I don’t know anyone who has actually thrown out their PC and replaced it completely with a tablet. A decline in sales does not necessarily mean a decline in use of the same magnitude at this stage and there is a whole world of software and services built around the PC platform that remains essential to everyday work life. It’s a bit like at the start of the recent economic recession – sales of new cars plummeted. People were still driving like before, it’s just that for a while they didn’t buy new cars.

What about tablets? Tablets bring a new world of opportunity in terms of their mobility, “instant on”, ease of use and long battery life to name but a few. Software similar to that available on PC platforms is available at a fraction of the price. As the power of tablets increases, they will progressively start to encroach on the functions carried out by PC’s – although the pace at which this happens will be interesting, as PC’s will grow in power as well. Have a look at the book “The Innovator’s Dilemma” for some great insight as to what might happen here based on previous technology shifts.

Our overall strategy is to sustain the existing, mission critical, PC based environment and software, but position it, and our future services, to be available on a wider range of devices {see MyApps post}. At the same time, we want to start exploring new opportunities brought about by tablets as these become a greater part of the device portfolio used by staff and students.

What about Windows 8? That’s almost worth a post in its own right. There are many views expressed online, but it seems the general consensus is that Windows 8 is not a great user experience for mainstream PC use – unless perhaps you have a touch screen. Touch seems to work better on mobile devices, but for vertically mounted touch screens there are concerns about its ease of use and “gorilla arm”. And then there’s the start button, or not . . .

Remember that the Windows platform is still mission critical to organisations, 76 million shipments per quarter is still huge, and the traditional Windows 7 user interface with mouse and keyboard is still the most effective interface for everyday tasks. If Microsoft are trying to take a leaf out of Apple’s book by creating a closer integration between their Surface tablet, and the desktop – they should remember that Apple didn’t bring wholesale change to their OSX platform to achieve this when they brought out the iPad.

Moving to Windows 8 will not be a simple transition and will require significant training across the organisation in comparison with previous versions. Right at the moment, therefore, we’re not rushing to rollout Windows 8 across our desktop at RGU and will focus on Windows 7 and removing the remaining areas of XP. However, we can’t stay on Windows 7 for ever, so we will watch carefully how the Windows platform develops further and how people in general start to become more at home with the later versions.

Interesting to hear the news about Steve Ballmer and it’s effect on the Microsoft share price. . .

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Wi-Fi and Eduroam

Commissioning of the Wi-Fi system in the Riverside East building and Aberdeen Business School started on 14th August and will continue through to the 27th September. The service will initially be focussed on the Library tower, followed by the rest of Riverside East and finishing with the redeveloped are of Aberdeen Business School.

The initial service will cover Windows devices and apple phones and mobile devices. Other devices (e.g. android and Macs) will be added as commissioning continues.

Further details on the commissioning of wi-fi are available on RGyoU. Follow the link and enter your username and password to access the page.

Staff and students at RGU will be pleased to know that as part of implementing this new Wi-Fi system we will be implementing “Eduroam”. What is Eduroam? Very simply, it is a worldwide arrangement whereby staff from one academic institution can, when they are visiting another academic institution, log in to the wireless network at the other institution, but do so using the username and password they normally use at home. So, staff or students at RGU can visit other participating institutions and log in with their RGU username and password.

Likewise, visitors to RGU from other participating institutions can sign on to the RGU wireless network using their own username and password.

The key benefit is that when you are visiting another institution, you don’t need to request a “guest” username and password, you can just log straight in. It works on laptops and mobile devices, and some institutions may allow you to connect to their wired network as well if you need to.

We are implementing Eduroam as part of the implementation of the new wireless network this summer. This wireless network will be implemented in Riverside East first, and then Aberdeen Business School as part of its refurbishment, and then later in the year in the rest of the Campus. When the new wireless system is up and running, the SSID will just be called “eduroam”. This means that we will also be using Eduroam for the normal wireless access for our own staff and students on Campus – it’s easier just to have one system.

For a few months, we will be operating with two wireless systems. Buildings other than Riverside East and Aberdeen Business School will continue to run the current wireless system until it is fully replaced. However, as soon as Eduroam is available in Riverside East you will be able to use it at other participating institutions if you happen to be visiting them.

Before you can actually use Eduroam, there will be some things to check and configure on your own equipment, you will need to comply with Eduroam and institutional policies, and you’ll need to enter your username in a particular way – but more details of all of that will be issued nearer the time. There’s loads of information available about Eduroam, but a good place to start is on the Janet web site .

If you are looking to see where you can use Eduroam, you will see that each institution can be listed as a “Home” or “Visited” institution, or both. You want to look for institutions listed as “Visited” – these are the ones which will allow you to log in when you visit them.

There’s also an amusing animation which you can view to get an easy understanding of what Eduroam is about.