A New Deal for the Desktop

“Do more with less” has been the official mandate for IT departments every where for some time now, and considering our economic climate, that refrain will ring more loudly than ever in the year to come.

However, before we return from the holiday break and set ourselves to work busily doing more of the same, I think it’s worth examining the areas in which we can accomplish more by doing less. In particular, I’m thinking of the mainstream desktop, that marvel of the late 20th century that, when studded with useful applications, serves as the tool belt of the modern knowledge worker.

The problem is that companies are spending an inordinate amount of time and money fiddling with their workers’ tool belts, which means that companies are left with fewer resources to spend on the applications with which knowledge workers create value and fewer opportunities for IT departments to focus on contributing to their company’s bottom line.

With all the time we spend on deployment, patching, malware scanning, backup, personality migration, license management and the like, you might think that the creation, care and feeding of individual desktops–each one snowflake-like in its uniqueness–is the end goal of companies’ IT departments. To be sure, there’s a product to buy for every client management ill under the sun, but the piling-on of more products to plaster over the architectural deficiencies of our desktops simply amounts to more toolbelt fiddling.

The fact that Windows Vista failed to excite users was interpreted as a failure for Microsoft, but perhaps the real failure is in the premise that a client operating system should be exciting at all. It seems to me that for a piece of software with the clear mission of managing hardware and hosting applications, silent and reliable operation should be considered the pinnacle of success.

We’re working on a feature for the first issue of 2009 about desktop virtualization, which promises to reduce client management burdens by enabling companies to relocate their tough-to-manage physical desktop instances to somewhat less tough-to-manage virtual instances. While a the trend toward ferrying our desktop workloads from one spot to another is a modest step, I do believe it’s a step in the right direction.

In the end, our goal should be to relegate the client operating system to the background, ceding the spotlight to our data, our identities and our applications.