For Cisco, because they are a hardware company, the goal is more end to end, and has at its core an appliance which may not actually run much software but which provides the majority of value, and thus captures the majority of related revenue from the desktop.
Both companies are executing very well right now, with Ciscos next big push due in a few weeks and targeted at the home, and Googles being teased as almost any day now (but likely to be phone-based first).
I believe both vendors understand the need for a rich user interface (only a blind person would have missed the clear message the market sent when the iPhone came out, something that it is now clear Apple didnt really expect either, given the new iMacs shortcomings).
Wrapping Up: The Race is On
After thinking through what Apple did with the iPod and iPhone I think there is a real opportunity to make a major shift in the desktop. Microsoft, as the entrenched vendor, has the inside track but their next OS (Windows 7) isnt expected until 2010 and that is a long time in this new Internet age, particularly given the low corporate demand for Vista.
Google and Cisco are coming hell bent for leather and HP, strangely enough, looks like they are setting up to make a run for this crown even if it means they have to modify Windows to do it. Think of what the iPhone did to CES, how fast the iPod (once it ran on Windows) dominated that segment, and how badly people seem to want a better PC experience.
There is every indication that, with the right solution (and solution with an emphasis on user experience is the right term), the right well funded vendor could cut through the PC market like a hot knife through butter. IT is already having problems keeping out iPhones. Think what would happen if employees started demanding next generation iPhone like PCs.
One other technology you may want to have in your back pocket is the Mojopac, which allows for an IT application set to run securely on a guest PC with minimal support impact on IT. Think of it as virtualization without the cost (in money or performance). Also think of it as another technology that could change the way we view PCs.
Of course I still look at the Intel vision for the UMPC (in this video) and begin to wonder if we arent seeing the beginning of the end for our even caring what OS is on the device. I dont know about you, but for a tech guy, this is my dream and I still wonder if that dream will be delivered by Cisco or Google who might make a dream like this a reality.
The future is coming on a bullet train folks, better suck it up and get ready.