The Death of the Desktop

by Dustin Puryear

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The operating system on your computer is becoming less and less important. Really. In the next three to four years, I think the desktop OS will become a minimal consideration. Why?

Because most people could care less what OS they are running.

They just want to be able to:

• Do their work.
• Access their documents.
• Read and send email.
• Goof around.

That’s about it.

So how is that happening? Well, obviously the whole Web experience is having a huge impact. Moreover, some things that before were a pain or at least difficult, e.g., using webmail as your only email client, is slowly going the way of the dinosaur. Look at gAttach, which lets you use Gmail as your default email application for Windows. You can email people, attach files, and even use Send To right from your desktop.

At a higher level, we have companies like Citrix and even Microsoft which is making server computing more critical every day to enterprises. Server computing is probably going to be one of the strongest motivators for minimizing the importance of the desktop OS. Really, does it matter if you are running Windows Vista if all of your enterprise applications are available via seamless windows on a Citrix server?

This is good for Linux and open source operating systems in general. If the underlying desktop OS doesn’t matter because application compatibility issues go away, then why not run Linux on all of your desktop systems in a corporate environment?

Naturally, this begs a future blog on how these organizations can manage Linux and other open source OSs in the same way that they can with AD and GPOs.


2008-07-08 10:52:46
>then why not run Linux on all of your desktop systems in a corporate environment?

And why should someone run it? People don't understand anymore why it's better. The just want some nice and shiny tool (Apple?) and don't bother with freedom, opensource, UNIX, security (what's that?) anymore. It's a big moment for the marketing machines of Microsoft and Apple, but it's nothing of worth for Linux and any other free operating system.

2008-07-08 11:22:32
How long have people been saying this? Pretty much since just after the web came to be and I still don't see it happening anytime soon. 10 years maybe but 4-5 I think is really pushing it.

You've got products like Office that still have a huge stranglehold on things for the office and then you have various video products where people need specific software/hardware to deal with their home videos. Photos aren't a huge issue but many still aren't sold on a 3rd party storing their private photos on them.

Alot of media folks talk about the OS becoming less relevant but frankly I think that's only because they can't envision any other features that could be added into an OS to make it stand out more from others. Sure, I think that usage of web apps and such will increase but to predict the death of the desktop....bah...there's still alot of refinement needed that desktop OS's can give you(consistent keyboard shortcuts across apps anyone?)

Don't get me wrong I'm not saying web apps or anything like that are doomed to failure but I don't see them replacing the desktop...if anything they will coexist just as they do now. Check back in 5 years and I bet we'll have heard many stating that the desktop will be dead in 4-5 years.

2008-07-08 18:01:28
I agree that people want to:
• Do their work.
• Access their documents.
• Read and send email.
• Goof around.
But they want to do these things as fast and easy as possible. That's where the OS kicks in. It provides a level interactiveness that browsers can't provide. And there are still many directions to explore in human-computer interaction(facial mimic recognition maybe).
2008-07-08 18:15:59
Well, maybe company's have already began to switch, and you didn't notice.

I was talking to a guy in IT working at a call center. All of the agent desktops were Ubuntu. All the agents need just a solid web browser and email client to do their job. All applications are on the web (both their internal applications, plus the call center's customers).

Office is a big issue for some company's, but in company's where no one cares about Office, making a step to Linux is not only practical, it is actually being done. OpenOffice is very usable for company's that have a soft requirement for Office.

@nomad: People are going to run it, because the IT department installs it. Simple as that. And the decision is going to be financial, not because of an political issues. The biggest holdback to Vista acceptance is not the Vista usability problems, but the $100 to $150 per desktop upgrade cost. Not to mention that Office upgrades are basically linked, so there is another $150 to $200 per desktop. And the faster you adopt, it seems the faster Microsoft moves the menu options around in Office, and releases a new version for you "upgrade" to. So you have the hard license costs, and a very real staffing cost to deploy this stuff every 2 to 5 years.

2008-07-08 21:28:34
I work for a Fortune 50 company, and although we run windows at work, I run Linux exclusively at home. I currently use Citrix to login from home and check my work email in Outlook 2007, I can open remote desktop connection and remote in to my system at work from inside Linux at home. I guess the next step would be that instead of remoting in to my physical machine, I'd just log in to a virtual image. I could see it happening.
2008-07-09 05:59:48
have a nice day!
2008-07-09 14:53:43
Excellent site!
Thank you
Dustin Puryear
2008-07-10 11:59:11
Hi nomad!

Hmm, it *can* be better. And I think when it comes to a stripped down desktop that relies heavily on server/remove/whatever computing, Linux seems to have several advantages over a heavier local Windows OS.

That said, I don't think a full-blown Linux is going to be any more secure that Windows (as we've seen). You need something really stripped down.

Dustin Puryear
2008-07-10 12:00:51

You're right, people have been saying this for a while now. And it's slowly becoming more true over time. Not as fast as people predict, but.. that's the norm, right? :)

Anyway, I want to make a distinction from home and work computing. Home computers are going to stay quite fat for a very long time. People want their toys.

In the office things are different though.

Dustin Puryear
2008-07-10 12:02:51
Oh, and Jim, I forgot to mention one more thing: Web-based apps. Frankly, web-based applications kill me sometimes. For example, we use SugarCRM here at Puryear IT, and as much as we love it.. The UI speed just doesn't compare with a local, fat application. They do cut down on your productivity somewhat, regardless of what the vendors try to tell you. :)

But pushing out traditional applications via publishing and seamless windows seems to be an excellent bridge.

2008-07-11 07:53:31

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2008-07-22 03:25:02
"The operating system on your computer is becoming less and less important" i don´t 100% agree with you. i think the OS are going to be a seamless "all-inklusive-package" for example think about the MS MediaCenter its a "OS" and a user software - all in one. its possible that the coming releases of the OS is pretty similar. but anyway linux rocks! visit me: Natashas home nothing more to say about ;)
Dustin Puryear
2008-07-29 19:01:09

I think you help make my point actually. If it's more about "Windows Media Server" and less about Windows, then it should, in theory, be easier to just make that "Media Server", no?