Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Replacing the Enterprise PC

“Enterprise PC” is an oxymoron to begin with. “PC,” after all, stands for “personal computer,” and whenever you put the words “enterprise” and “personal” together, something has to give. In the case of the enterprise PC, there is nothing very personal about it. As I wrote yesterday, the typical large business goes to a great deal of trouble to nullify most of the powers of a PC, crippling its workers’ desktop and portable computers on the theory that a fully capable PC would represent a security threat.

It is a lot of extra work to build capabilities into a PC, then to negate those capabilities through a combination of add-on hardware and software when the PC is installed in the enterprise. A far more efficient solution for the enterprise desktop would be a device that never had full PC capabilities built into it in the first place. A better enterprise desktop would be a second-class device, dependent on its connection to another computer to do much of anything. This would be a device, in other words, more similar to an entry-level iPad.

The iPad can have a keyboard plugged into it, but not much more than that. For anything else, even printing, it depends on being able to connect to a first-class computer. Meanwhile, built-in restrictions on applications and files make it unlikely for the iPad to be the focal point of the kind of disruptive software that is so easily installed on a PC.

The iPad itself is not the answer. It is not easily bolted down. Its screen is a little too small, its price a little too high. A built-in camera would have corporate managers and workers alike worrying about spying. But imagine a stripped-down, low-budget desktop version of an iPad. The entire device could cost less than corporations pay for just the operating system of a desktop PC. With its limited capabilities it would require hardly any configuration or maintenance, and even that could be done automatically and remotely.

Mind you, this is all a pipe dream at this point. As far as I know, no computer company has anything like a desktop iPad under development. Inevitably, though, sooner or later something of the kind will come along, and it may take over the corporate desktop before anyone knows what has happened. And then, we really will be able to talk about the death of the PC, at least as far as the enterprise is concerned.