Speaking at the Digital Landscapes conference at UCD, Herlihy said that the cloud-computing opportunity will make sure that every mobile device will be capable of doing rapid-scale applications.
"In three years time, desktops will be irrelevant. In Japan, most research is done today on smart phones, not PCs," Herlihy told a baffled audience, echoing comments by Google CEO Eric Schmidt at the recent GSM Association Mobile World Congress 2010 that everything the company will do going forward will be via a mobile lens, centering on the cloud, computing and connectivity.
I suspect this reflects more Google's consumer's eye view of the world than of business computing. Even for business, though, it's correct in the broad sense that we'll use fewer big, honkin' machines wired to a desk, and mobility will be prized.
But most CIOs don't have the luxury of writing off any form factor, including the desktop, even as they prepare for a massive proliferation of new devices. They understand what Herlihy's getting at--that employees, just like tech consumers, will demand mobile computing. Smartphones will get more powerful and common. Places such as General Motors and Ford are in the thick of programs to let employees use their personal smartphones for work e-mail.
Yet CIOs also still have engineers using CAD systems, statisticians doing data visualizations, call center reps using real or virtual desktops, and any number of other uses that don't lend themselves to laptops, let alone netbooks or smartphones. It's actually one reason to enable work access via personal devices--employees want and need some mobile access, but companies don't want to mobilize everyone's total work experience. So give them just the e-mail slice on their smartphone.
Instead of thinking of "desktop" as a machine, CIOs must think of "desktop" as a result: giving employees access to their files, mail, workflows, and the like, often regardless of the device.
So if in three years, someone calls up a work environment on a iPhone, checks e-mail, then plugs the phone into a big monitor and keyboard to make some Excel refinements, then sends the results to a SharePoint repository, and her traveling colleague uses a Google Chrome netbook to check the changes, while another in the office uses a full-sized notebook, and another uses a home PC … is the desktop dead? No, the CIO's challenge has just spread over many more devices.
Mobility is the very real challenge. The notion that its kills the desktop is wishful thinking for most CIOs.
Related coverage: Global CIO: UPS Provides Peek Into Future Of Wireless Google Chrome OS Coming. Got A Netbook Strategy? Global CIO: Fear Of Facebook For The Enterprise Global CIO: Will Google Miss Its Moment In Enterprise IT?