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Top 10 end user computing stories of 2018

Processor flaws, browser-based desktop IT and the idea of a fully managed PC service were among the hot topics this year

The year of 2018 kicked off with revelations that security researchers had built a proof-of-concept attack that undermined the very heart of modern computing, with the Spectre and Meltdown variants demonstrating how attackers could make use of the performance tweaks in modern processors to bypass low-level security measures, enabling them to run arbitrary code.

There was no quick fix, and the industry issued patches that effectively disabled some of a processor’s performance tweaks to reduce the risk of a Spectre or Meltdown-style attack.

As more applications are delivered as a service, Computer Weekly started investigating the idea of running browser-based applications instead of a desktop operating system. While Microsoft Windows and MacOS can be used this way, Google ChromeOS is an operating system that has been designed from the bottom up to run browser apps on relatively cheap chromebooks.

Google’s Pixelbook, which first began shipping in late 2017, is the exact opposite of a cheap chromebook. It represents state-of-the-art technology, to showcase the best of ChromeOS. It is the same strategy that Microsoft uses with its Surface family of PC devices, to show off how good Windows 10 can be.

The bring your own device (BYOD) trend has forced IT to recalibrate what it means to deliver a desktop IT service.

Clearly, Windows is not going away. Far too much has been invested in the enterprise on desktop Windows IT to make the shift to a different OS viable.

Instead, corporate IT is having to deal with multiple devices, Macs, PCs and tablets and multiple operating systems: Windows, Android, MacOS, IoS and ChromeOS. All require access to corporate systems and some need access to Windows applications delivered via a virtual desktop.

1. Why the browser is the computer

When he was CEO of Sun Microsystems, Scott McNealy once said the network is the computer. Today, users spend most of their time in a browser.

The emergence of compelling business applications now delivered as software as a service (SaaS) and the growth of browser applications presents an opportunity for the IT industry to look at whether it is now time to drop the Windows graphical user interface (GUI) for a more lightweight internet browser interface.

2. PCs shape up for the digital workplace

For many, smartphones have replaced PCs as the truly personal device, and are commanding most of the attention from software providers and customers.

However, PCs continue to be the primary devices that most businesses rely on for day-to-day operations, and still offer the richest options for interaction and functionality. The rise of the digital workplace is forcing a renewed interest in modernising the PC fleet, and is spurring an increase in sales.

This new digital workplace demands increasing functionality, mobility and connectivity. Computer Weekly looks at how desktop IT is changing.

3. How to make sense of desktop as a service

If a business already has data in the cloud, there is an advantage to running hosted desktops with the same provider to benefit from low latency between the data and the clients. Users can still get a PC experience via a thin client, but the PC operating system runs remotely on a cloud-hosted virtual machine (VM)Does it make sense to move the desktop to the cloud? Computer Weekly looks at desktop as a service (DaaS) and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).

4. The value of unified endpoint management

For users, diversity means flexibility: the same applications and data could be accessed from any device anywhere. For IT teams, life has become more complicated: more devices, diverse operating software, increased security threats and, to cap it all, multiple management tools.

What they needed was a single console to manage all endpoints. Given the diversity of devices people can use for work, IT needs to look at how it can unify device security.

5. Chromebooks and G Suite: a good working alternative

Chromebook cannot compare to a Windows or Mac laptop for in-depth productivity. Its appeal hinges partly on the extent to which a firm has adopted Google’s G Suite in place of Microsoft Office.

But the dominance of Microsoft’s suite in business inevitably introduces some friction, even for those who are working in G Suite. Computer Weekly looks at Chromebooks as collaboration clients, both in Google-oriented and mixed-platform environments

6. How a new ISO standard helps you take control of your IT assets

The updated ISO standard 19770-1:2017 offers IT managers a way to bring their hardware and software assets under a single management standard. It is not a minor update. It feels more like an overhaul in that it now meets the requirements of a “real” management systems standard, such as ISO 27001. In relation to IT asset management (ITAM), the standard helps to address some significant problems when it comes to reducing risk and establishing a best practice for managing your IT assets

7. The future of network-connected device security

Wireless functionality has improved workplace efficiency and organisations are no longer restricted by cabling access. Unfortunately, many of these devices are poorly secured and rarely have their firmware updated. The proliferation of poorly secured network-connected devices has prompted the UK government to publish new best practice guidelines. Do these go far enough?

8. Chrome OS: Why it may be time to approach desktop IT in a different way

The managed desktop has been running for nearly 20 years. Surely there must be a better way? With ChromeOS, there is no real concept of local applications and local storage. The idea is that everything is accessible online. Chrome OS is designed to run browser-based applications as efficiently as possible. The experts Computer Weekly has spoken to believe it not only achieves this, but surpasses the web experience on fat client operating systems such as Windows and Mac OS. We investigate.

9. Windows Virtual Desktops: Microsoft takes virtual Windows mainstream on Azure

Microsoft likes to present itself as a cloud company today, but desktop Windows remains a key element of its overall platform. Office 365 web applications are handy, but no substitute for desktop Office.

Further, countless business-critical Windows desktop applications keep organisations tied to their Windows PCs and laptops. Microsoft has now begun fleshing out its virtual desktop proposition by allowing enterprises to access Windows via its Azure platform. What does this mean for its competitors?

10. Spectre: How reverse-engineering a microprocessor revealed a fundamental flaw

On 3 January 2018, Google’s Project Zero reported that a technique used to improve the performance of modern microprocessors could be abused to efficiently leak information, leading to what it described as “arbitrary virtual memory read vulnerabilities across local security boundaries”. The Spectre flaw affects every modern CPU. Computer Weekly finds out what went wrong from one of the engineers.

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