Yes, desktop computing has failed but there's a solution

Sometimes you have to beat a dead horse to make it understand that it's really dead. Desktop computing has failed. Get over it.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

My post, "Why desktop computing has failed," certainly stirred up a lot of controversy on both sides of the argument. Part of the problem is and was that some people don't read the written word very well. But, communication is a two-way interaction. It could be that I didn't effectively deliver my message. Let's look at the issues logically and see if we can come up with an answer.

I said that desktop computing has failed because, in my opinion, it has.

Desktop computing, not the PC, has failed. Remember, that I also wrote: "The Dawn of the Post-PC Era. Not.," just two weeks prior to the "Why desktop computing has failed" post.

It would be great if the world's population were made up of individuals who wanted the best for every other person on earth but, that isn't the case. There are people who want to rob you, kill you, or become you. There are people who want to break your computer.

That's one issue.

The other is a bit more difficult to discuss. I tried to be diplomatic about it in my first post but that didn't seem to be effective. In this one, I'll just lay it on the line.

Operating systems are very complex. Computers are complex. For technical types, maybe not, but for most people computers are black boxes that they don't understand.

In a corporate environment, system administrators can lock down the desktop if the following all apply:

  • Users work at a location staffed with IT support personnel.
  • Users can work remotely via VPN or other remote access points.
  • Remote control software installed to troubleshoot the end user's equipment.
  • The user isn't responsible for any updates or patches via client "pull."
  • The user can customize their computing environment.

Often locking down a user environment means that IT support personnel will be bogged down with trouble tickets that start out like: "I can't print," "I can't browse to <insert Internet site name here>," "I can't get email," or my personal favorite, "It says that I don't have sufficient permissions to perform that operation."

Locking down the desktop has some advantages and a lot of disadvantages. Sure, it's less work on the support staff, in theory, but even those locked-down desktops are a pain to maintain. How many Gold images do you have to keep hanging around because each time you order new laptops, you have to build a new Gold image that supports the new drivers? Pain.

How many times do you deploy your Gold image only to find out that you missed something and have to recreate the image and fix all those systems that had the Gold image placed on them? Pain.

And, now, the other issue. The bigger issue. The home user. You can't lock down millions of desktops can you? Someone always has a brother-in-law who is a self-proclaimed computer expert who'll come over and tinker for a few hours. Reinstall.

Viruses, malware, disk corruption, accidental file deletion, kids, tinkering experts or a drop onto the pavement when heading out to the coffee shop all make for very bad scenarios for individuals. Reinstall or replace.

At the corporate level, some have proposed moving the desktop away from the user because of this failure. That's called VDI or virtual desktop infrastructure. VDI is also a failure. I know I sound like a broken record on this issue but keep reading, it gets better. Trust me.

VDI moves the problem to the data center. Fat local desktops are still fat when you move them to the data center folks. What makes that better? Better control, you say? Yes, you can actually control 1,000 desktops better in the data center than you can on 1,000 laptops or mixture of laptops and standard desktops. I'll give you that.

You can lock down those virtual images, patch them, update software and repair them easily from that data center.

But, you want to know what the biggest fail for VDI is? Cost. Not just the cost of the hardware to serve up all of those virtual machines but think of the storage. Storage. Hundreds or thousands of terabytes of storage. Lots of dollars tied up in storage. And, think of the amount of network bandwidth that you need for a really snappy desktop user experience. Lots more dollars. Dollars, dollars, dollars. Fail.

What if we, as system administrators, decide once and for all that users are hopeless schmucks who can't be trusted with a computer because they just aren't smart enough to use them and then fix that for them? No, unfortunately we can't make them smarter but we can make their computers foolproof.

Remember that I said that this is not the Post-PC Era. There's nothing particularly wrong with laptops, desktops, netbooks or ultrabooks. There's nothing wrong with tablets except that extended use of one might make you want to head to the roof with a rifle and a copy of your manifesto for the new world order. OK, maybe that part is just me.

What if there were a way to have the best of all worlds? A PC, a fat desktop operating system, a foolproof...I mean user proof file backup system in case of virus, file deletion, broken laptop or other mishap plus centralized image and software management that doesn't burn hundreds of terabytes of space harboring a fat OS for everyone in your company.

You'd say, "Ken, I'll send you ten percent of my savings if this is true." OK, that part is what I want you to say.

Check out the answer to failed desktop computing at http://www.wanova.com. In the middle of the screen, on the right side, there's a list of videos that you need to watch. It isn't VDI. It isn't virtualization at all. It is the answer to solving your desktop management nightmare. It makes desktop computing successful.

They didn't ask me but they should have named the product Oasis because it's no mirage when you see it in action. I'm not endorsing the product. Look for yourself and then use the Talkback section to tell me what you think of the product. I'll be waiting.

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