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The cost of PCs has remained pretty stable over the past year, but people are expected to pay a big premium for hybrid devices. Is it time to rethink desktop IT?
PC market share data shows businesses are buying fewer laptops and desktops. PC shipments in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) declined 16.8% in the second quarter of 2013, compared with the same quarter last year, according to Gartner.
Apart from the immovable deadline of 8 April 2014, when Windows XP support ends, businesses have little incentive to buy new hardware.
In June, Computer Weekly asked analyst Context to compare how prices of PCs had shifted in the past 12 months.
The perception was that the prices of standard specification machines had skyrocketed since the introduction of Windows 8 in 2012, due to devices incorporating touchscreens and SSD drives, which are part of the Windows OS system requirements.
A standard specification was selected: Context looked at a laptop device running a 2.5GHz processor – chosen because it was the most common standard specification for mainstream laptops at the time – and equipped with an integrated graphics card (see table below).
In the enterprise space, Windows 8 appears to be cheaper than equivalent consumer grade PCs, said Marie-Christine Pygott, senior PC analyst at Context.
"It is cheaper in business. This could be because PC manufacturers are trying to push Windows 8 into businesses," she said.
Cost of laptop
|Operating system||Q1 2012||Q2 2012||Q3 2012||Q4 2012||Q1 2013|
|Windows 7/Windows 8||-||-||-||£486.72||£455.85|
In the notebook market, the Context analysis showed that Windows 8 notebooks are, on the whole, slightly cheaper than equivalent Windows 7 notebooks.
The situation is different in retail, however, when looking at the distributor selling price: "The take-up in retail is slow due to the poor take-up of Windows 8."
There is a lot less functionality on traditional notebooks, because they do not have touchscreens, but hybrid devices are fairly expensive.
Prices in retail are set to drop over the next month due to retailers discounting for the "back to school" season, said Pygott, but for now buyers can expect to pay around £800 for an Intel Core i5 hybrid device. For instance, a convertible device such as the Lenovo Yoga costs £780 on average, she added.
These figures illustrate the purchase price. PCs run Windows and Windows requires patching, anti-malware software and the hundreds of desktop applications that make up the corporate software image in a typical enterprise, so this must be taken into account when calculating the total cost of ownership.
But is there an alternative, especially given that many businesses will need to refresh desktop IT to migrate away from Windows XP?
Rise of the Chromebook
Now here is the crunch for corporate IT: the consumer does not care about the OS when they are buying a device. Why not consider a non-Windows enterprise desktop?
Pygott said cheap Android devices, such as the Google Nexus tablet, are doing quite well. For a full-size desktop or notebook device, Google offers Chromebook and its desktop cousin, the Chromebox, which provide a browser-centric user interface based around a Linux variant called Chrome OS.
The consumer does not care about the OS when they are buying a device. Why not consider a non-Windows enterprise desktop
The Chromebook (and Chromebox too) is an internet browsing and email PC. It represents a new genre of non-Windows, pared down device. Pygott expects it will eventually replace the netbook.
Mark Ridley, CTO of Reed.co.uk, has rolled out Chromebox devices to the job site's 100-strong sales team. They are using a desktop Chrome OS machine to access Salesforce.com and Google Apps. Ridley said these devices are considerably cheaper than Windows PCs.
At Grass Roots Group, CIO Danny Attias has deployed Google Enterprise across the company. He said third-party apps from the Google Play store are being used as core business applications. This suggests that companies are willing to use non-Windows business software, paving the way to devices such as the Chromebook becoming part of the corporate desktop environment.
In fact, a Forrester report titled It’s Time To Reconsider Chromebooks urges IT departments to take a closer look at the Chromebook as an alternative to a PC running Windows.
Certainly, Chromebooks offer a cheap alternative to Windows. HP's Pavillion Chromebook costs around £250, but when Computer Weekly spoke to HP, the device was only available in retail. But this will change as more corporates see the benefit of such devices to provide low-cost computing with a low maintenance requirement.
More on Windows XP migration
A browser-based user interface means no applications need to be installed on the desktop. There is no need for IT administrators to patch machines. In theory, security can be handled at the internet gateway, so the IT environment becomes easier to manage.
According to the report’s author, Forrester analyst J P Gownder, chromebooks require very little configuration: "Pilot users say any given device can be configured for a new user in under 15 minutes.” Perhaps this is why 20% of the IT decision-makers in large enterprises questioned by Forrester said they would consider deploying the Chromebook.
But organisations have a massive Windows legacy. Dale Vile, research director at Freeform Dynamics, recommends IT managers use the Windows XP migration as an opportunity to reassess their desktop IT strategy.
“Some users in the workforce may be classed as super-users who are dependent on MS Office, but these may be a small minority. Others, like sales and marketing, may have a dependency on PowerPoint. It is fairly easy to work around this and provide alternatives,” he said.