The “desktop” is an outdated concept

In terms of productivity, yesterday was a write-off – and it looks like today will be too. My company-supplied notebook PC is unusable and I need to get it fixed.

Understandably, a loss of service for one user is not allocated the highest priority and at least a desktop services technician can see me when I make it into the office this morning, for which I’m very grateful.

I hope he has a stock of hard disks though, as I’m not convinced that a simple PC rebuild will be enough – this machine, despite having 4GB of memory and a reasonably-capable Core 2 Duo processor, has been getting slower and slower to the point that, yesterday, it took 15 minutes to send an email and after a restart it wouldn’t even get past the Starting Windows screen. The hard disk light is almost never off, and the diagnostics I’ve run suggest that the disk is about to fail completely.

I did, thankfully, manage to get Windows running in Safe Mode, and managed to copy off the files I’ve updated in the few days since my last backup, but with data transfer rates of around 40 KB per second, across Gigabit Ethernet (security restrictions preventing access to USB disks), something was not right…

So, it’s a PC, these things go wrong from time to time, get over it, right? Yes, I will. It looks like I have my data and I’ll be up and running again in a day or so. But at what cost?

2 to 3 days of my time has a not insignificant price and, with a modern IT infrastructure, I could have been working on another device over that period. Unfortunately, I live in a world where mandatory full-disc encryption inhibits recovery tools, where VPN access is required for internal websites and applications, and where emailing documents to my personal account and working on an alternative device is a breach of security.

Some people would suggest a hosted desktop as an answer. After all, with that, I could just log in from another device and get on with my work. But that’s just applying old-world thinking in a new way.

First up is the VPN. What? HTTPS access to key applications ought to be the norm these days – and it is, inside the firewall. Time to open that up to other locations, surely? Thank goodness I had ActiveSync access to email from my phone (which is a step in the right direction and I should be grateful for small mercies).

Then there’s the full-disc encryption. Firstly, it’s a third party product (for complex reasons involving Microsoft licensing and the need to support a dual Windows XP and Windows 7 estate) but really, surely an encrypted volume (Trucrypt-style) would suffice? Then I could swap out the disc and, providing I can supply the necessary details to access the encrypted data, use it on whatever device I like…

Which leads me to devices. Working for an OEM does present some challenges when it comes to implementing BYOD policies (it doesn’t look good if your staff choose another vendor’s kit) but, if the data is secured, rather than the device, I should be able to use anything I like to access it when things go wrong.

I know the guys who create our standard builds, and I know the effort that goes into creating a standardised PC estate that works for all, even when half the users are technical and want to break things. But the cost of supporting a plethora of devices is tiny compared to the cost of lost productivity, particularly if the support is limited to application and data access, making any device or operating system issues an end-user concern.

In a bring your own device (BYOD) world, I would have bought a new disk (probably an SSD) and been up and running in a few hours. Instead, I’m looking at two or three days total loss of productivity, plus travel costs to see a desktop support technician. Now who thinks BYOD will cause more chaos?

Of course, BYOD is no panacea. I’d suggest that many of the answers to my issues may be found in architecting an IT estate (and supporting processes) where application access is not dependant upon the device or operating system – and that takes time, money and effort. But one thing’s for sure: thinking about “the desktop” (hosted or otherwise) is an outdated concept in 2012.

How does your organisation handle IT for its mobile knowledge workers?

3 thoughts on “The “desktop” is an outdated concept


  1. @Fabio Unfortunately, the solution you describe still appears to be predicated on the use of a “desktop”, albeit a remote one. The point I was making is that “desktop” management is an out of date concept and has limited applicability in the age of the “App Internet”.


  2. I agree with @Mark, its all about apps and web based services.
    In today’s web world a successful BYOD strategy has to be with applications over web/internet and not accessing same old corporate desktop image hosted in some data center and not even with application streaming.

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