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Elias Khnaser
Elias Khnaser
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PC Applications In The Post-PC Era

How do we reconcile a pile of legacy Windows apps with the era of mobility?

I subscribe to the school of thought that we're already in the post-PC era, simply based on the number of mobile devices we support. That point may be arguable, but one thing is not up for debate: PC-based applications, specifically those that run on Windows, are going to be around for a very, very long time, especially in large enterprises. Yes, we hear a lot about SaaS and Web-based alternatives, but who among us doesn't have some legacy software that we have to keep running?

Most IT teams have struggled to marry new devices, mostly tablets and smartphones with small displays and touch-screen keyboards, with Windows operating systems and the applications that love them. The main sticking point is that Windows is a point-and-click interface. Some smartphones, such as the Motorola Atrix, allow users to dock a phone in a laptop shell, thereby giving access to a full laptop screen and keyboard. Celio offers a Redfly mobile shell and dock. That is, however, another piece of equipment users have to carry. Newer phones also have some sort of video output, like HDMI, that would allow the projection of the phone's screen onto a larger display, provided such a display is available.

The form-factor problem is another issue. I don't believe anyone enjoys working on a Windows desktop from a smartphone screen, so people will still carry multiple devices when they move around -- a smartphone, a tablet for meetings or on a plane, maybe a laptop PC or Mac just in case.

This problem isn't going to go away anytime soon, especially because vendors like Citrix and Microsoft are releasing software that works or will soon work on any device, from Android to iOS and Windows Mobile Phone, all the way to BlackBerry and HTML5; users will be able to connect to PC-era applications leveraging VDI and other technologies. Your users may like seeing a Windows desktop or application on their favorite mobile devices, but this is just perpetuating the problem.

In response, many enterprises that have deployed desktop virtualization offer Bluetooth keyboards and mice for their tablet users to maximize the experience, but is that really the solution? There has to be a better way of addressing a PC-era computing architecture with the post-PC-era mobility frenzy.

We expect more vendors to start playing in this space, and we'd like to offer a suggestion: Figure out a way to zoom and project the keyboard and screen onto a larger surface, like a holographic display, that can be resized and that allows users to control the brightness and contrast. The technology exists. Now all of a sudden, that smartphone and VDI just became the ultimate computing device for PC-era and post-PC-era applications. We can use the full-size keyboard and holographic display when using point-and-click applications like Word or PowerPoint. The phone is always connected with Wi-Fi and 4G connectivity, so all social media and SaaS applications are available. What else would a road warrior need?

VDI has solved the problem of running Windows apps on smartphones. Now we just need those few missing pieces. We'll be watching to see what innovations arise.

Elias Khnaser is the technology officer for integrator Sigma Solutions. Follow Elias on Twitter: @ekhnaser

In the all-digital issue of InformationWeek Government: As federal agencies close data centers, they must drive up utilization of their remaining systems. That requires a well-conceived virtualization strategy. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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