Internet killed the desktop star?

It will happen ... just wait and see, says one high-profile IT executive.
Written by Fran Foo, Contributor on

Recent predictions by Sun Microsystems' president piqued the interest of many in the community.

The outspoken and sometimes puerile Jonathan Schwartz took centre stage at the American India Foundation in San Jose, California to espouse his views on the future of PCs and Internet access in third world countries.

Fran Foo

He forsees a decline in the use of desktop-based applications as users flock to Web-based services. "The majority of the applications that will drive the next wave of innovation will be services, not applications that run on the desktop. The real innovation is occurring in the network and the network services," Schwartz said.

This reminds me of the early days of the application service provider model, when everything was supposed to be on the Web -- anything from database to customer relationship management applications.

You can bet your last dollar that vendors like SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft won't be actively lobbying for this approach. Well, not unless they can make the equivalent amount in licensing fees on the Net that they do traditionally.

And when every company in the world can manage their inventory on the Web like Amazon.com, or rely 100 percent on the likes of salesforce.com's online CRM solution, then perhaps the world will be one, small step closer to Schwartz's crystal ball gazing.

At the Foundation, he also claimed the computer, as an access point to the Web, will be replaced by the mobile phone. "The majority of the world will first experience the Internet through their handset," he said.

In some developed countries, the mobile phone has long been used to connect to the Internet. In Japan, the outrageously popular i-mode mobile Internet service, operated by NTT DoCoMo, has a subscriber base of 45 million.

In a population of 128 million, Japan counts 80 million people as Internet users. But Schwartz believes poorer nations will lead the charge in using mobiles as "the" gateway to the Internet.

On bridging the so-called digital divide, he was quoted as saying: "Our collective generation believes the desktop PC is the most important thing to give to people. I don't buy that. The most important thing to give is access to the Internet.

"Clearly it's in my company's best interest to have 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa join the network."

No, Mr Schwartz. The most important thing is to give these people access to electricity (after food, shelter etc).

In 2004, Jan Murray, the World Energy Council Deputy Secretary General, told a conference in Mumbai, India that electricity eludes more than one quarter of the world's population.

"I regret to say there are two particular access laggard regions, accounting for over 80 percent of those lacking access. Some 500 million in sub-Saharan Africa are still without access to electricity, the highest percentage of people (77 percent) of any region. Until that situation is reversed, economic development in Africa will continue to lag that of the rest of the world.

"The largest number of people without access to electricity, however, is in this sub continent, estimated at 800 million, with 580 million, or 53 percent of the population, in India alone," Murray said. I'm not sure if Schwartz has seen these figures. Then again, he might argue that mobile phones run on batteries and not electricity. And how will batteries be recharged? Perhaps the answer is in the network ... somewhere.

Fran Foo is ZDNet Australia managing editor.

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine before Microsoft announced its Windows Live and Office Live.
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