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The complicated new face of personal computing

New platforms, new virtualization technologies, and new needs forever change personal computing.

By , Network World
January 03, 2011 06:06 AM ET

Network World - The next generation of personal computing is here, and it looks a lot like the holiday shopping list of a tech-obsessed teenager.

Also read: Virtual, mobile, social endeavors drive IT in 2011

Android phones to check e-mail. Apple iPads to give presentations and share documents, and Google Docs to store files in the cloud.

But the consumerization of IT isn't the only trend complicating the personal computing picture for IT management. There is the whole Windows 7 migration issue, questions about desktop and application virtualization technologies, bring-your-own-PC scenarios, and the big hairy issue of how to make a user's desktop persona accessible from a variety of business and consumer devices.

Cloud-based services like Google Apps and hosted versions of Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint also are on the table for companies that want to expand employee access options.

After all, for many workers the desktop of the future will no longer be a physical device that houses all their critical productivity tools, all their data, all their contacts, all their secure network connections to core corporate resources. The "desktop", if we may even still call it that, will be available from any device, anywhere, anytime, allowing access to both personal and work applications without running afoul of IT security and compliance policies.

Consider the rise of smartphones and tablets. Worldwide, shipments of business smartphones rose from 54 million to 77 million between 2009 and 2010, and are expected to rise to 166 million by 2014, according to IDC research published in September. Thirty percent of IT shops are already piloting or planning programs for iPads and similar tablets, and another 43% are interested in doing so, Forrester says.

Of course many employees are already accessing work systems from a variety of devices. Intel employee Matt Primrose, for example, reports using a work-issued laptop, a variety of tablets owned by Intel's lab team, and an iPhone he purchased himself.

"If I'm just going to a regular meeting I leave my laptop at my desk and take my iPhone," says Primrose, an Oregon-based engineer on Intel's business client prototype team. "I'll potentially take a tablet if I have one that's registered to get my e-mail account, and if I want to look at a document while I'm in the meeting. The only time I take my laptop these days is if I need Live Meeting for collaboration, or if I'm presenting something. I take whichever device I think I need at the time."

While workers like Primrose can use multiple devices in a piecemeal manner to get their jobs done, the "desktop" is not yet universally available across all platforms, so productivity and efficiency aren't what they could be.

Building the universal desktop won't be easy, but businesses are taking interim steps, largely because they are being forced to by the influx of employee-owned devices.

Ford Motor Co., for example, has instituted a program it calls ePOD - email on Personally Owned Devices. So far, Ford is supporting employee use of iPhones, iPads and BlackBerries, and is considering whether to support Android, Symbian and Windows Phone 7. 

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