2.0 or nowhere to go?

2.0 or nowhere to go?

More than half of PCs sold in this country are now notebooks. So what does the future hold for desktops?

Point product releases have been a fact of life in software since forever. Once sales of a popular product start to dip, the vendor adds a couple of new features, changes the box and sticks a 2.0 version back on the shelf.

Products that prove to be popular over time get to run some serious numbers - next year, for example, is likely to see the arrival of Microsoft Office 14 if the rumours are true. It's the same 'new and improved' model that washing powder companies have been selling since the 1950s.

Although the line of succession isn't as easy to see unless you work in the industry, life isn't much different in the hardware market. Products sitting in a warehouse now have a shelf-life marginally longer than a box of fresh fruit; sales forecasting had better be up to scratch for anybody in that line of business or they're quickly going to be in big trouble.

But while products of all variety are regularly superseded without anybody batting an eyelid, the passing of a whole category would be worthy of much greater attention; especially if we were talking about one of the most important categories in the history of this industry, such as the humble desktop PC.

They've come an awful long way since microcomputers first started rolling off conveyer belts in the mid-1970s but, in mature markets at least, desktop PCs now look to be in irreversible decline. More than half of all PCs sold in Australia during the first three months of the year were portable, according to IDC analyst, Felipe Rego. The move to mobility, it seems, is quickly becoming a stampede.

There are a number of well-documented reasons for this - mobile is more convenient (even if you rarely move your notebook further than from one room to the next), price differentials have all but disappeared, and the extra performance of a top-end desktop is of little relevance to all but a small percentage of power users.

Those power-using gamers and graphic artists look like the niche markets where desktops will continue to survive - at least until the boffins work out how to make notebooks handle the same power without melting under the strain.

The other is large corporates that want to roll cost-effective standard operating environments out across huge fleets of machines.

But Citrix CEO, Mark Templeton, used the company's recent iForum event in the UK to suggest that virtualisation will soon dispel the notion that desktops need to be physical devices. This 'Desktop 2.0' world builds a particular user's PC from scratch every time they log on using a unique configuration, adding the necessary application and operating system components. When that user logs off, their virtual PC disappears and the resources can be used elsewhere. The PC is effectively rebuilt every day according to need and hardware degradation becomes a thing of the past.

Refresh cycles mean this model will be a slow burner but, if Templeton's vision proves to be right, maybe the humble PC will disappear without really going anywhere.

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