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The Future of the Desktop

written by: KennethSleight•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 2/7/2011

The pace of web development may soon make us rethink the utility of standard desktops in the technology-driven fields most dependent on computational science. To understand the future of the desktop, one must consider the merging of information, storage, presentation, and communication.

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    Present Use of the Desktop

    computer monitors The present use of the PC desktop involves using applications and other computer-compatible data management systems to produce documents and store them in files and folders so they can be managed and shared according to the user's requirements. The desktop is also enabled through web browsers as a communication device using e-mail, networking sites, chat rooms, etc. This allows employees and management to be in constant touch with each other, their contemporaries, and even social acquaintances. Future computer trends seem to point to the desktop, as rendered by the World Wide Web, enabling the user to access voluminous information through search engines so that he can apply this information in the way that he desires.

    Image Courtesy of David Wright

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    Cloud Computing

    In this the third decade of the web, we are increasingly seeing typical productivity activities taking place using web-based applications negating the need for native desktop applications that quite often require a lot of space on the individual desktop. Products like Office Live, Google Docs, Zoom, ThinkFree, DabbleDB, and Basecamp allow the user to get a complete range of office productivity applications and manage their files and folders without going through the trouble of opening and closing the relevant applications. This is called cloud computing. Similarly a lot of enterprise applications are directly available from the web. Remote storage of unimaginably huge capacities is also available on the web, further reducing the dependence on the storage capacity of the individual desktop.

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    So Where Does This Leave the Desktop?

    Increasingly the desktop is being used as an adjunct to the web browser, as almost all activities start from the browser. If cloud computing becomes the norm, desktops will be only a means to access the web, while all applications, whether office or enterprise, are all managed over the net.

    Remote storage will ensure that the user has all his required data at his fingertips, and he will be able to access this data from any other desktop or through any other communication device that can give him access to the web. The number of these devices is increasing and the day may not be far away when desktops as we know them today may become obsolete. In a way the browser would have swallowed up the desktop and made itself the prime device for communication, office activities, and social interaction.

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    The Future Desktop Will Still Have Its Uses

    The desktop can still survive if it adapts itself to the role of an organizer. As we increasingly become dependent on the web for all various activities, we will need a virtual assistant able to keep track of our information. This information would increasingly come from feeds, micro-blogs, live streams, and timelines. We will require assistance in managing this information and help in sifting the relevant from the irrelevant.

    The desktop can be reengineered to fulfill this function through applications that would enable the user to put in his own personal filters, so that only relevant information is retained. This way the desktop will act as an attention getter to remind the user of his activities, priorities, and productivity requirements. This would enable him to save a lot of time otherwise spent in wading through information overload, which seems to afflict most desktop users.

    Future computer trends look toward desktops as having very powerful tools for search, so that the user’s information which he has stored is immediately available to him. There may be future developments in desktops which would enable you to communicate with them directly through the spoken word and be answered accordingly. One can also look forward to desktops which would automatically search and filter information based on the work you are carrying out on it at the time.

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