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Is the End Near for the Company Laptop?

Today is the computer apocalypse, apparently, the day when the Apple tablet will destroy all other known devices in the universe and Steve Jobs and his band of hipster techno-warriors will begin their Cabernet-soaked 1,000-year rule of the planet. Resistance, as you might imagine, is futile.

Seriously, has anything ever received more hype than the Apple tablet? Anything? A Super Bowl? A Windows launch? New Year's Day 2000? We can't remember anything that has moved presses and pixels as much as this long-awaited reinvention of a model that's actually been around for quite a while and has never really been all that successful.

Apparently, people want this thing despite the fact that they (probably) haven't seen it until today and likely aren't even sure of exactly what it will do. Tablet mania is so rampant that it appears to have already eaten into sales of plain ol' laptops...including those made by Apple!

Of course, the Apple tablet is really a consumer play, so the last refuge of the laptop might just be the enterprise, along with small businesses. This tablet thing isn't even going to have a keyboard (we don't think -- but we're writing this the evening before launch day), so it won't show up much around the office in any serious way. Or will it?

It could, apparently, and not just because its appetite for devouring every other computer in the world is insatiable. No, the reason the Apple tablet might end up in use in the workplace is because...well, somebody might just want to use one. The prediction-happy folks at Gartner (aren't predictions wonderful when nobody ever checks up on them later on?) say that by 2012 -- that's two years from now -- 20 percent of businesses will just let folks work on whatever kind of machine they want. Check this out from the Gartner gurus:

By 2012, 20 percent of businesses will own no IT assets. Several interrelated trends are driving the movement toward decreased IT hardware assets, such as virtualization, cloud-enabled services, and employees running personal desktops and notebook systems on corporate networks.

The need for computing hardware, either in a data center or on an employee's desk, will not go away. However, if the ownership of hardware shifts to third parties, then there will be major shifts throughout every facet of the IT hardware industry. For example, enterprise IT budgets will either be shrunk or reallocated to more-strategic projects; enterprise IT staff will either be reduced or reskilled to meet new requirements, and/or hardware distribution will have to change radically to meet the requirements of the new IT hardware buying points.

In other words, all of a company's applications and back-end stuff will sit in the cloud in some vendor's (or possibly the company's) datacenter, and users will just tap into the cloud using whichever device they choose -- probably an Apple tablet, if the hype comes even close to becoming reality. That's 20 percent of businesses -- likely small ones, we're guessing -- by 2010. Again, two years from now, or so says Gartner, anyway.

Whether the number actually ends up being that staggering, we see where Gartner is going with this. And while there are enormous potential ramifications of this prediction on many levels, we'll stick here with discussing laptops. It's very possible (hardware partners take note) that the company laptop will someday become a relic. Microsoft partners, that means no more hardware refreshes and mass sales of new operating systems, like Windows 7 -- everything will just reside in the cloud, and Google or Microsoft or Amazon or (hopefully) some Microsoft partner will just upgrade it from time to time.

That would create a massive sea change in the way vendors and partners do business and in the way companies consume technology. No IT infrastructure? That sounds like an opportunity for partners to offer outsourced services. No more company laptops? That sounds like a potential problem for partners that still make money primarily by selling software -- if there are any partners out there like that anymore. (Surely everybody's consulting-oriented, right? Yes? Let's hope so.)

Anyway, this little tidbit should give us all something on which to chew for a while -- but not too long, if Gartner's timing is correct. RCP the magazine has a great feature in its February edition about how partners should deal with the explosion in the portable-computing (i.e., laptop and netbook) market. It's a really useful read -- except, of course, if the Apple tablet wipes out everything we've ever known and rules the technology world with an iron fist. (And even then, partners would have to support Apple tablets -- so go ahead and read the story, anyway.)

How does your company or how do your clients handle work laptops? What's your take on the future of portable computing? Do you want an Apple tablet, and why? Sound off at [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on January 27, 2010


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