The Desktop is Dead. Long Live the Desktop!

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"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." Mark Twain

 

30 years ago business computing required a server and a collection of dumb terminals. As the personal computer became prevalent on the coat tails of the Apple II we began to see personal computers become a cornerstone of the office and by the late 90s nearly every office was running personal computers in a loosely connected workgroup. For those running Windows NT or 2000 you may have been big enough to setup a domain tying it together but it wasn't until Small Business Servers started appearing in the 2000s that this became common place. This led to a proliferation of small business networks setup to provide the services an office needed. Then there was internet...

When I started developing software in the early 2000s this was the environment I began with and personal computers were everywhere and some people had them on a domain but all software, services and applications were in and owned by the business. 

Somewhere around the 2010s this started to change. If I look at what I have done in the last 24 hours, I have admittedly used a local file server, but apart from that I have used multiple cloud (Software As a Service) applications including MailChimp, Office365, Typeform, Facebook and LinkedIn. I don't know where the servers are or how they work but instead I am using these applications and relying on someone else to look after the infrastructure that runs these. Best of all I don't need to manage them or maintain them, but what if I did?

I have had a personal website now for 20 years in 2016 and in that time I have followed the ebbs and flows of the industry and even though it has changed dramatically in that time I can still see the remnants of this history in the threads of what I offer. I started with applications like Lookup designed for workgroup business networks and an internet cafe manager which had a component for print management that grew into Print Queue Manager. As personal desktops became media managers, I wrote MediaCentre to manage, playlists, mp3 libraries and catalogue and burn CDs (pre iTunes). I migrated to .Net applications designed to update online but run locally and monitoring applications and system tools for managing individual desktops or small business networks. While some of these like Print Queue Manager have come on this journey with me, others have fallen along the way.

Now I see the start of the next generation. Where I started with monitoring apps designed for one computer (WyMI, Network Monitor, Drive Monitor), I grew to apps designed to monitor one or a few servers (Online!, Online.www, Msg, CJD Gadget, Print Terminator) and more recently I am moving even further beyond the desktop. In 2012, I brought Water Testing online and in 2013 it was Stalker Monitoring, a suit of tools to help you monitor specific activities on a server or servers, but still easy to use by administrators and in 2016, this is MonitorThis. An application not designed for users, but designed for servers, to monitor lots of things and feed it back to the people responsible for looking after them. I also have (not yet released) a tool for testing websites and HTML 5 applications. These are now the tools, that monitor and test the systems, that run on the servers, that someone else looks after, that provide you with the applications, you run, on your desktop.

The personal computer has gone from being a standalone machine, to part of a network of machines to now being one part of a much larger network of machines known as the internet. We still need the personal computer as it is a practical, powerful and effective tool but it is no longer for or of itself a hub of applications or services but instead a gateway or interface device, come to think of it, sounds a bit like those dumb terminals we started with....

 

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