The decline and fall of the corporate desktop

24 Jul 2008 View Comments
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I have rarely met anyone who has a good word to say about that icon of the computer age, that soulless automaton of despair, the corporate desktop. Apart from, of course, the computer manufacturers who have profited immensely by pandering to that deep-seated desire of enterprises to regiment, control and contain their workforce in the name of security.

OK, so it’s a poor attempt at melodrama, but it seems to me that the thinking that has for many years propped up the corporate PC infrastructure is starting to unravel, and things could finally be starting to get interesting for people at both ends of the Ethernet cable.

Further reading

A couple of things prompted me to start thinking about this. One was a definition I trawled from Google while trying to work out what on earth “rightshoring” means. The result wasn’t pretty: “Rightshoring is a mixture of offshoring, outsourcing, nearshoring, two-shoring, global sourcing, insourcing and multi-sourcing.”

I’m sorry I asked. I don’t know much about any of these multitudinous “-ings”, but I do know the effect they’ve had on at least one multinational company. Offices full of people who perhaps once worked together are now split up, with some roles taken by staff, others by contractors, and with each trying to make sense of their own company’s reporting structures that were seemingly created by someone tossing a lace doily over a globe.

Even if my poorly researched definition is only half right, a “rightshored” company is going to have a tough time deciding exactly what a standard corporate desktop even means, especially if the outsourcing contractors are made up of companies that are actually bigger than they are.

The other, more concrete, prompt to my musings was at a recent event where I was chatting to the global security chief of another large multinational. I happened to mention corporate desktops and he launched into a passionate explanation of why he considered them doomed as a species.

It turns out that after years of trying to nail down PCs and laptops as “trusted devices” so that they’re little more than dumb terminals, and creating an entire generation of miserable PC users into the bargain, all devices connected to the network these days are viewed as potentially evil and malicious. End-point lockdown is the technical term, I believe. This has been around for ages, but when fully implemented in software, it is usually enough to bring most PCs to their knees.

In this scenario, products such as Yoggie’s USB or Express Card security dongles, which contain their own processor, memory, hardened Linux OS and all the requisite security paraphernalia, can come into their own by offloading the grunt work from the PC.

Working out elaborate group policies ­ and going insane trying to deal with the exceptions ­ doesn’t really matter too much, as any potential threat can be nullified before it even gets onto the network. This is all in theory, of course.

But once that step has been taken, the reasoning behind standardised hardware and software builds gently evaporates, and this happens even quicker if you are brave enough to trust your non-critical applications to the “cloud”. Indeed, my contact reckoned the best part of this approach was that business units would be free to buy their own kit, based on local availability and what their users actually need, rather than having a standard corporate desktop from a single supplier imposed on them.

And to me, that sounds like a rare example of genuine technological progress.

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