2015 and the Next Enterprise Software-Hardware Client

What combination of device and operating system will emerge victorious from the current crowded field?
Posted January 27, 2011

Rob Enderle

Rob Enderle

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This last week I was at Intel’s sales conference with Frank Gillett of Forrester and Bob O’Donnell from IDC. The topic was the enterprise client in 2015. While we didn’t agree on everything, we did agree on a few things in terms of trends.

One big one is that Google’s Chrome OS is premature and likely to fail outside of a small segment of the market that can live with thin client products. In that small niche it could carve out a small base but it simply can’t get to predominance by 2015, and it appears Google is already falling back on Android as a better horse for them to ride.

This week I’d like to share our thoughts on the client in 2015.

Why Chrome OS Won’t Make It: Two Words, “Thin Client"

The problem with Chrome OS is that it is a revision on the old concept of “Thin Client.” Bob O’Donnell and I have covered Thin Clients for what seems like decades and, to quote him, “The year for Thin Clients has always been next year."

This is because they simply can’t get the price/performance they need consistently to work outside of very distinct markets. Consequently they represent less than 1% of the current personal computer market. The irony, according to Bob, is that about 90% of thin client devices are actually PCs so the concept that was initially designed to replace both the hardware and software only replaced the software. This was showcased in the ChromeOS-based test machines Google sent out; they were basically nice little laptops.

The problem is that networks just aren’t reliable or reliably fast enough to support a pervasive product that is dependent on the web yet. You can do it with wired devices, and gaming services like On-Live are showcasing this in some areas. But even when wired, there often is too much latency or too little sustained bandwidth to provide for the vast majority of folks.

Given we started on the hunt for this concept in the late 90s and have advanced since that time we are getting closer. But consensus was, we won’t be there by 2015 and best guess now is sometime between 2020 and 2025 in the US, depending on how much Internet infrastructure is built out by them.

Areas like South Korea and Singapore, where infrastructure is vastly stronger, could be early adopter exceptions, however, and will likely be the canaries in this coalmine regardless.

So that’s what it won’t be. What will it be?

What Will: There Can’t be Only One

Sorry for messing with a famous line from the sci-fi movie Highlander , but the technology market goes from specialization to generalization and back again on cycles.

We started with word processors, data repositories (early mainframes), and calculators which all got wrapped into the PC. We then had cell phones, PDAs, hand held game machines, MIDs, portable media centers, and MP3 players, which got wrapped up into Smartphones.

Currently we are on a multi-device track but what makes this cycle a bit more sustaining is that each device is already the consolidation of others. The next consolidation will need to pull together Tablets, PCs, and Smartphones. And while Tablets and PCs could converge we are still likely at least a decade away from the technology that would allow us to physically scale down and up a device from the Smartphone, given that we seem to have a 5-inch max limit on screen size for devices like this at the moment.

This means there won’t be one client in 2015 but at least two and probably more than three. Currently there are four clients active in the technology and consumer electronics markets. They include Tablets, PCs, Smartphones, and SmartTVs. Coming are Smartbooks, which are kind of a blend of tablets and PCs. And several vendors have been playing around – with little success – with large Smartphones that have tablet attributes.

Blend of Consumer and Corporate

What we also all agreed on was that by 2015 there would be an even broader blend of consumer and corporate-oriented devices, and that employees will increasingly want access to corporate resources with both.

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Tags: enterprise software, iPad apps, Enterprise IT, thin client, Android tablets

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