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12/15/2005
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BI: Shaping The Desktop

Seemingly basic but key BI advances such as Web delivery, portals and personalization are influencing such mainline vendors as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo in what they offer on the desktop.

BI has been leading the way in IT n-tier systems for the past dozen years by virtue of its pioneering data integration. But something that has gone less noticed is that BI also has been pioneering desktop innovation -- driving the way information is put at your fingertips. This article examines how key BI initiatives such as Web delivery, portals and personalization are influencing such mainline vendors as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, among others, in what they offer on the desktop.

Desktop Preface

One of the fundamental attractions of the PC is that it is a general purpose computer with all the basic software and computing prowess (but not OS support plus scale and power) of a large server. In the early days of personal computing, I squandered a lot of time and money on game computers and music machines before finally buying a CPM Kaypro box. Despite its limited 8-bit CPU, 64K of memory and dual floppy storage system, I could run a remarkably wide array of programs from dBase database and Star Wars adventure games through WordStar word processing and basic financial accounting. With programming languages like Pascal and Basic, I could do anything.

A few years later, the Apple Macintosh arrived and changed everything by raising the importance of the presentation layer. The Mac proved that graphical user interfaces (GUIs) could make accessing and using computers and their data much more approachable. What Apple did was raise presentation onto a par with functional processing.

Twenty-five years later, specialized processing boxes like game consoles or music machines, which fell by the wayside during the PC's beginnings, have re-emerged as game boxes, mobile phones, MP3 players, iPods and PDAs. And they are now starting to mix, merge and match into unique computing devices.

At the same time, another dynamic -- the 80-20 rule -- is increasing in importance. The simple fact is that 80 percent of desktop users work with well less than 20 percent of available PC apps. Most users need e-mail, browser, word processing and maybe one to three specialized apps on their desktops. Therefore, more organizations are asking why they shouldn't limit operational costs and security risks, and just give 80 percent of users a simplified client station with Web portal links to their essential applications. As we shall see, this reasoning has been influenced by developments from the BI desktop.

Meanwhile, as one might expect, Apple and Microsoft have strong "we beg to differ" sentiments, as exemplified by their smart clients. Also, Microsoft is pushing to integrate its Office Suite with a wide array of third-party Windows applications plus new Web interfaces to ensure that Windows and Office on the desktop remain a prime center of IT business.

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