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I believe that one of the most disruptive rollouts this year will be the Windows Virtual Desktop, which promises to eventually provide what may be the Holy Grail of desktop experiences. Patching, updating and managing the platform largely resides in the service, and assuming latency is low enough, the user experience (given nearly unlimited cloud performance potential) should be substantially better than it can be on the desktop. This should evolve into the premier way to experience PC computing.
The best part is, it should work on anything that runs a current generation browser. With Microsoft embracing the Chrome platform for browsers, that should include Android smartphones and Chromebooks.
Coming out in parallel with the 5G rollout also means that there will be a revolution in mobile hardware as we shift from being gated by our notebook processors to being gated by the modem and network instead.
I think this will also force us to rethink what we need to carry. If your desktop exists virtually in the cloud and can work on anything with a browser, then almost any device can be your personal computer.
Toward the end of the Microsoft’s failed smartphone run (this still makes me sad because I was one of the last Microsoft phone users and liked the device), it came up with a concept called Continuum. The idea was you could run Windows on your smartphone and then use a dock and monitor to get to a decent screen size, saving the cost of a PC. The idea, that you could have your desktop on your smartphone, was compelling. But the performance, lack of compatibility with iOS or Android apps and the fact that only HP built a device killed the implementation. The problem was with the execution, not the idea. At the time, Microsoft just didn’t have the will to carry this compelling concept to success.
By embracing the cloud and the Chrome browser platform, that all changes. You can get to devices that run Android or iOS apps, you aren’t limited to one hardware vendor, and you potentially overcome the performance issues if you have 5G connectivity.
Everything that made Continuum fail is effectively fixed. Your 5G phone will be able to run Microsoft’s Windows Virtual Desktop, and that should make it interesting to again make smartphone docks you can connect to an external monitor (or the TV in your hotel room or the display in your car or the display on an airplane, etc.).
Suddenly you can be far more mobile and potentially leave a lot of the electronics you have now at home.
Mixed Reality and Going to the Next Step
At CES this year, you’ll see a bunch of advancements in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) headsets, and Microsoft is rumored to be launching the next generation of HoloLens shortly. These headsets have the potential to create a virtual display as large as you need it to be, given that all these glasses are basically eyeball interfaces. The VR headsets are getting cameras, so you can interact with physical objects like keyboards and mice more easily. And the AR glasses, which already allow you to see the real world, are coming down in price and size and already work reasonably well with accessories because they don’t fully occlude vision. However, this last has been as much a problem as a benefit because that makes rendered items translucent, ghost like. It is hard on your eyes to work with a translucent screen — virtual or otherwise — because you tend to constantly shift your focus through the screen (which can strengthen your eyes but tends to be fatiguing).
But now if you want to work, you just take out your headset, pull out a foldable keyboard and portable mouse or even digital pen, and you are off to the races.
The Big Shift
While “the cloud” has been a thing for some time, it mostly was a thing for back office applications, developers, and education. The rest of us may have used it as a file repository instead of an external hard drive but it hardly changed work habits (though it did improve syncing for those of us who use multiple PCs) or the hardware we used.
Thanks to the Windows Virtual Desktop and 5G, this is about to change significantly, and we should see it as a massive improvement. But it will also shift the power for those providing desktop solutions more solidly toward the cloud platform suppliers. Something I don’t think most on either the cloud side or the PC hardware side, are ready for at all. That should make the next two years far more disruptive than most realize.
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