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Rebooting desktop IT

Following years of decline, the PC industry is being reset. Windows 10 and an evolving range of PC devices are refining the user computing landscape

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Over the past five years, PC sales have continued to shrink. Worldwide PC shipments totalled 75.7 million units in the fourth quarter of 2015, representing an 8.3% decline from the fourth quarter of 2014, according to preliminary results by Gartner.

Breaking down the numbers shows that the corporate PC market fared better than the consumer market. End of support for Windows XP and the shift to Windows 10 drove PC upgrades.

Gartner predicts Windows 10 adoption will happen very quickly in business, which is why manufacturers are refreshing their corporate PC lines.

But Windows 10 marks a change in how Microsoft will update its operating system software, with new features to be released continually. Post-Windows 10, with no more big bang Windows launches to come, it is hard to see how PC manufacturers will stimulate demand for their products.

According to Gartner research director Ranjit Atwal, the manufacturers are beginning to look at device flexibility in a bid to drive corporate PC sales.

Dell focuses on staff personas

So how is this flexibility taking form? At CES 2016, Dell announced a range of products that aim to define a new workplace based on USB Type-C connectors and wireless displays.

It also improved security in its commercial PC line with the availability of the Dell Data Protection | Endpoint Security Suite Enterprise. According to Dell, this integrates Cylance technology using artificial intelligence and machine learning to proactively prevent advanced persistent threats and malware.

Fergus Murphy, product marketing manager for client solutions at Dell, said: “Michael Dell asked us to innovate in the evolving workforce. We looked at how the world of work is changing [and found] there is less office space compared to 10 years ago.”

In its research, the company found that there is now 59% less personal space in the office, but a lot more open space. It also found remote working has become more common, with 35-50% of people working away from the office on a regular basis. 

Dell’s study found that the devices and products people use at work will need to be more mobile. “Of the companies we spoke to, CIOs felt tech was a key to recruiting top talent in their organisation,” said Murphy. “If you look at the workplace, by 2020, the millennials and Gen Z, who were born from 1998 onwards, will be the majority. These people have grown up with the internet, social and collaboration is natural to them, and they are much more comfortable with the cloud. Work anywhere and any time is the ethos we are trying to respond to.”

Dell has defined four personas that shape its thinking and strategy for user computing:

  1. Desk centric – people who spend most of their time at a desk.
  2. Corridor warriors – who spend more time in office meetings than at their desk.
  3. On-the-go professionals – the so-called mobile workers.
  4. Remote workers – who spend at least 30 hours outside of the office.

“For an IT department, look at the user base. It is no longer a one-size fits all. To drive maximum productivity you need to look at individual users,” said Murphy.

As an example, he said the “corridor warrior” wants to wirelessly project presentations rather than having to worry about cables. They also need the ability to collaborate in a workplace quickly and easily.

One device to replace them all, says HP

At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, HP Inc launched a PC-based phablet device called the Elite X3, which it hopes will hit the mark in corporate IT.

Michael Park, HP’s general manager for mobility, said: “We want to reinvent enterprise computing. The whole world manages PC. BYOD [bring your own device] requires different software.”

HP Inc’s goal is that the Elite X3 will offer users a single device that replaces a PC, a tablet and a smartphone, and enables people to run the same Windows 10 applications across these different types of devices.

Park said HP Inc’s approach will alleviate the friction in IT caused by BYOD, where the IT department not only has had to spend money on extra mobile device management software, but it has also needed to support three devices, rather than just a single desktop or laptop.

Clearly, an application written to run on a desktop will not give a good user experience when used on a smartphone or tablet. Park said Windows 10 solves this problem. 

“Windows 10 is the first time the kernel is fully integrated across mobile phone, holo-lens, laptop and tablet,” he said, pointing out that this means application developers are able to write their code once and deploy it everywhere.

With Windows 10, Microsoft introduced the Universal App Platform, which, according to Park, enables users to gain the full benefit of the applications irrespective of which type of device it is run on. In other words, the Universal App application will have a different look and feel depending on which device is used.

Read more about end user computing

In terms of the specification, the Elite X3 is basically a mobile PC in a smartphone form factor, which offers wireless connectivity to a monitor.

A small mobile dock provides connectivity to a TFT monitor, extra USB ports and wired Ethernet. HP Inc has also developed a clamshell-style 12.5in screen with a keyboard combination and a built-in 48w battery, which offers wireless pairing or USB C connectivity with the Elite X3.

The idea, according to Park, is that users will only require the one device, which can be docked at a desk or used on the go.

The Elite X3 runs the latest Qualcom 820 system on a chip device, which, according to Park, gives the device PC-like performance. It features 4GB of memory and 64GB of storage. For heavy-duty networking, it also includes a Cat 6 modem.

Security is covered with both iris and fingerprint authentication, plus it meets the FIPs 140.2 cryptography specification required by government.

User-centric IT

The experts Computer Weekly contacted agreed that a successful device strategy requires IT to think about the use case: what will the device be used for by this user, or this class of user?

At Essex Council, CIO David Wilde offers employees a choice of five types of mobile device, so people can decide for themselves which device suits the way they wish to work.

Gartner predicts user computing will become more cloud-based, at least from a management perspective, and this is where Windows and the PC manufacturers seem to be heading.

There is an opportunity for manufacturers to capitalise on the major PC refresh in enterprises expected this year.

For CIOs, the question is whether to stick with a traditional Windows computing environment based on a Windows 10 upgrade, or to introduce wireless monitors, USB Type-C or a device like the HP Elite 3 to redefine the workplace. 

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