How Virtual is your Desktop?


Think about it... Public cloud, private cloud, what is your digital workspace made of?
What is your digital sanctuary? How much of a PC is left in your desktop?
How close are you to being "PC free"?


A while ago (18 months?) I started writing a very complex piece of work I never got to publish, where I went through how many computers I have and manage, and in particular, how many "desktops" I use. I never quite finished it, because at the end of the day, I knew that in today's age, computers and desktops are not one and the same anymore and the article got too hard to make sense, let alone be interesting.

In the meantime, the end-user device market has flourished more than ever before, with particular mention of the iPad and Android tables filling a perceived gap of need (as in, do you \*really\* need one? It's up to you!)

So the question is all the more relevant these days, where we have so many devices that provide us with access to so much information in so many ways: What is your desktop?

Which got me thinking: what is my desktop? What is a modern day desktop?
- My desktop doesn't exist any more - it's a collection of local and "cloud" things
- That collection of things is my "digital workspace" of sorts, and the line between work and personal has never been so thin, because they can sit close to each other on the same device(s).

So, what's my digital workspace made of?
Rummaging through my digital things and my personal style, I managed to list what I really care about when it comes to the ole desktop concept. Note, I am not pointing out what my most used desktop has, I am pointing out what tools I use the most often.

Let's have a look at WORK first:

- Web Browser (Firefox mostly, sometimes IE 7)
- Email (Any, I use Thunderbird)
- Calendar (Any, I use Lightning)
- Files (I use OpenOffice, PDF, Images, Text mostly)
- IM (I use pidgin)
- My printers are on the network, and the scanners are on the network too, one and the same MFD.
- My only peripheral is a headset with a microphone and the occasional USB drive
- A few applications

And in reality, at work, there is only one mandatory application I need from time to time... Internet Explorer 7, to run a specific corporate web-based application I require that is not open enough (yet). As for files, my team and I exchange mostly OpenOffice and PDF documents, and many image formats - which I can open on any of my computers - Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and Solaris. The rest, I can handle from whatever device, including my iPhone.

My PERSONAL digital workspace is a bit more demanding (go figure), and I'll drill into specifics:

- Web Browser (Firefox)
- Email (GMail, always through IMAP, on Thunderbird)
- Calendar (Google Calendar, through Caldav/Lightning)
- Files (served by DropBox)
- Photos (massive amounts, on a file server) - all jpg
- Videos (massive amounts, on a file server) - AVI, Quicktime, h.264. mpeg-4
- My home printer is on the network
- My scanner is a the end of a USB server, shared over the network across all the machines I own
- And... I play games too (well, mostly Team Fortress so there's a headset there, but there is a PS3 in the house too.)

And as it turns out, all but gaming are shared among many computers and devices with multiple operating systems, but yes, the photos and videos are kept on a Mac and we churn too many pictures and videos in the family to put these in the cloud at the speed of production, so there's a need for a computer there. My gaming platform is a Windows PC - with a Sapphire HD5770.

The SUMMARY of my personal digital workspace is that I keep a whole bunch of pictures and I play games. Everything else is on the Internet. (As a side note, Steam also has a great cloud service for games, which I use, but I have to admit that the Mac experience for gaming isn't quite there yet, but yes, I have been getting my games from the cloud too!)

So, why am I writing about all this?
It has become pretty obvious in the modern corporation (and in the personal space), that whether you are a Microsoft shop or not, most of the stuff you already do, like me, is not on your device. The most flexible Windows PC deployments in the corporate world in fact use roaming profiles, so that all that shapes your corporate digital identity is kept elsewhere. As such, any PC that meets the requirements can be populated with your digital profile, and with the only showstopper being the applications, chances are any computer in your corporate LAN will work for you. How good is that? In short, if you've read this far, you will most likely agree that your desktop, is NOT your computer - the NETWORK is. (Ring a bell?)

Nevertheless, there is still a place we like going back to, that we can call our desktop, particularly if there are apps there that get used often. It is a digital sanctuary where we know we will find most if not all of the things we need, even if something like roaming profiles governs your digital workplace. The problem with this sanctuary is that it is still most likely under your desk. Mine certainly isn't, because it is quite useless when I am not at my desk with it.

This is where I stop to think about what's keeping the CIOs up at night when it comes to "desktop". A company with 500 desktops may have enough man power and skills to manage the challenge, but is it really done and dusted, or is it temporarily tamed? And are they getting the best bang for their buck, or are they still thinking about a yearly refresh of a third of the fleet, the constant re-provisioning and distribution of this fleet, and at the same time, providing other tools for employees to work away from their desks and even remotely, securely, freely? And are they bound (read "stuck") with the choices made, or can freedom of action be incorporated into their environment with the flick of a switch?

My job is not a secret, and the fact that I live and die by what I do isn't either. I'm writing this text in a Windows 7 Virtual Machine running inside an Oracle VDI platform, though a modest one - it's all in one box, running alongside a lot of other things, kind of like what's described here, and presented to a Sun Ray 3+ with a nice 24" monitor. This VM has been up for more than a fortnight, and it's as sharp as ever. So you can argue that my corporate desktop is a VDI desktop, running on a PC under my desk, but I can retrieve it from anywhere - and I don't mean from any RDP client or Sun Ray, I mean anywhere including my iPhone or somebody else's web browser. My corporate digital sanctuary comes to whenever I need it, always ready to go. Even my laptop can't do that.

So what can I not do? From a corporate point of view, everything except use the Cisco Communication S/W, which I haven't figured out how to run on my virtual desktop (and I have never been particular excited or interested by the idea, because I have a phone with me at all times.) I can do all the multimedia that my job requires using the Sun Ray Windows Connector Multimedia Redirection features and I can connect all the USB devices that I require. And I can feed desktops to some of my colleagues that require to run demos from time to time, from the same humble hardware. That PC under my desk is actually doing a whole lot more than most people's as well as giving me a lot of freedom.

So, public cloud, private cloud, What's your digital workspace made of? What's your digital sanctuary? How much of a PC is left in your desktop? How close are you to being "PC free"? I'm there already.

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