2013 review

Top 10 desktop computing articles of 2013

Cliff Saran

The past year saw a further decline in sales of PCs. Lenovo and HP have battled for the top spot in a market where people are taking longer to upgrade.

As bring your own device (BYOD) programmes become more popular, enterprises are thinking less about upgrading desktops.

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Because of BYOD, people no longer stick with a Windows desktop operating system (OS): they are happy to use iOS, Android, Mac OS and Windows, depending on the device they use. Microsoft has clearly lost out here. Its once dominant OS position in the enterprise is under attack from alternative client operating systems. It has attempted to stem this decline by reinventing itself as a software, hardware and services company, to bridge enterprise software, operating systems, cloud software, Windows Phone OS and the Xbox console.

Computer Weekly found the Surface Pro to be an excellent hybrid tablet device, but at almost £900 it was extremely expensive. Microsoft slashed the price of its tablets, and wrote down $900m, but the damage had been done. Surface Pro is expensive compared to an iPad or an Android tablet, even if it runs a “proper”, enterprise-class OS.

The desktop software market has taken an interesting turn. More enterprises are taking Google’s offering seriously, and Microsoft’s Office 365 Saas product is gaining momentum. Computer Weekly was particularly impressed by the approach Telegraph Media took in offering its staff both Microsoft and Google products, with integration between the two. This points to how IT departments may support office productivity tools in the future.

In 2014 the desktop sector will be affected by the end of support for Windows XP. Many organisations are battling to get their desktop PCs and laptops on to Windows 7. Not many have jumped to Windows 8 – a missing Start button did Microsoft no favours, and the 8.1 update made only a slight improvement. Organisations will need to assess how to maintain a locked down, virtualised XP environment, or use emulation tools, to help them through the next year, as they continue to use Windows XP.

CIOs used to refresh PCs because they wanted to run the latest software. Now, software is not compelling enough to justify a PC upgrade.

Businesses and consumers will not be buying more PCs for the next two years, according to the latest predictions from analyst IDC.

The continuing economic malaise is curbing IT budgets. While some argue that the popularity of tablets, such as Apple's iPad, have resulted in the PC's demise, the decline has been a long time coming. The PC is not dead; it will remain a useful business tool, but there is less need for CIOs to equip most business users with the latest powerful desktop or laptop computer. The killer app that will make everyone go out and buy the latest PC no longer exists in business.

Read Computer Weekly's top 10 desktop computing stories of 2013 here:

1. Pearson integrates Google Enterprise and Office 365

Publisher Pearson, which owns the Financial Times, book publisher Penguin and Pearson Education, has introduced cloud-based collaboration using Google and Microsoft products.

The project and deployment demonstrates how an IT department can remain relevant to users. “It has been a long time since IT at work was better than at home. We wanted to challenge traditional IT, and make mobile, social and cloud prerequisites. We wanted to build a vibrant environment where the stuff at work would be better than home PCs,” said Graham Calder, chief technology officer, global platforms & services at Pearson.

User choice was a key requirement, which meant Calder and the Pearson IT team had to offer both Microsoft Office and Google Apps, and the products needed to be integrated. However, 80% of the users chose Google over Microsoft. Calder adds: “I do not regret doing the integration as a mechanism to engage users. Giving them choice was more important.”

2. How improved user experience yields returns on investment

User experience (UX) is most often seen as relating to e-commerce or at least public-facing websites and applications. But it should be considered within enterprise applications.

The average enterprise employee will probably use numerous applications during the working day, all built especially for their company’s needs. In many cases those employees will tell you how poor those applications are to use and how that negatively affects productivity. So why is this and why do companies with such extensive resources fail to fix it?

3. Microsoft to bring back the Start button in Windows 8?

Amid lacklustre take-up of Windows 8 and a declining PC industry, Microsoft could be set to rethink its strategy for Windows 8. But it does have its uses according to Ollie Ross, head of research at IT manager's group, the Corporate IT Forum. She said the touch user interface is more intuitive compared to a normal graphical user interface. "It is a particularly attractive quality for those looking to deploy business intelligence or where the user requires additional information in the field, such as in a shop floor-type scenario."

4. Steve Ballmer launches Microsoft 2.0

Prior to announcing his retirement and plans to step down as CEO, Steve Ballmer unveiled a new strategy for Microsoft to link consumer tech with enterprise IT.

Prior to announcing his retirement, Ballmer sent a letter to staff discussing his vision for changing Microsoft. Addressing the success of Apple in creating a homogenous hardware and cloud environment with desirable devices, Ballmer said: “No technology company has as yet delivered a definitive family of devices useful all day for work and for play, connected with every bit of a person’s information available through one cloud.”

The company has also repositioned Bing from internet search into a knowledge repository. He said: "Our machine learning infrastructure will understand people’s needs and what is available in the world and will provide information and assistance."

5. Business Reimagined

Are you happy with the way you work? Are you engaged, energised in the office? Or do you sometimes feel that your days are dominated by process and technology?

Reimagining business is about waking up to a new environment, based on collaborative and flexible working, writes Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft UK.

The future of work must be based on being open, on focusing on results, not process and on empowerment, not hierarchy.

6. Windows XP migration: Reassess your desktop IT strategy

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? 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.

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 corporate organisations see the benefit of such devices to provide low-cost computing with a low maintenance requirement.

7. Interview: Martin Russell, head of IT services, Just Eat

Martin Russell, head of IT services at Just Eat, is test driving a £1,000 Google ChromeBook Pixel and tells Computer Weekly about his experiences of going Google. Russell did not give the staff any choice over whether to opt out of Google. "We didn’t tell people we were moving off Microsoft Office, and we tend to challenge any requirement for Microsoft Office." When people ask for Microsoft Word he explains to them how Google Docs can re-save Word files. "If you have complex spreadsheets then you can have Microsoft Excel. But for general use, we tend to challenge any requirement for Office."

8. Gmail outage: CIOs must be prepared for the unexpected

The recent outage of Google's Gmail service shows that even class-leading cloud services can and will fail. Google has been winning business over Microsoft by targeting the huge costs associated with running on-premise Microsoft Exchange servers. Analyst Forrester's Forrsights Hardware Survey for North American and Europe showed that cloud adoption between 2009 to 2012 increased from 9% to 46%.

However, given the scale of Google, a small problem can quickly escalate. The company experienced a major problem causing its dual redundant network to fail. The impact of the failure was that some users were unable to download email attachments and experienced delays of up to two hours.

9. Cern uses ITIL to rethink facilities management

Cern, the home of the Large Hadron Collider, is using IT service management to support operations outside the IT function. Cern is using ServiceNow to provide a unified process for handling facilities management helpdesk requests. The CERN Service Portal provides an interactive interface that allows employees and visiting scientists to request services from facilities management. The services covered include office and laboratory infrastructure, safety services – including medical services and the fire brigade – and computing infrastructure.

10. The challenges of using mobile devices in the public sector

The government is officially allowing public sector organisations to introduce BYOD schemes for employees to access data and applications using their own mobile devices. 

The Cabinet Office wanted to ensure that to join the PSN, certain thresholds of security standards were met. So it instigated a process of auditing local authorities' security with a deadline of the end of the year. Councils were finding it difficult to become compliant by this time and Computer Weekly understood local councils were at risk of being disconnected if they missed the deadline.


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