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Within two years the majority of enterprises will have ditched desktop PCs in favour of laptops, tablets or thin clients.

According to META Group, by 2006, only 45 per cent of corporate users will rely on a traditional desktop as their primary information device, while 40 per cent will mainly use a notebook or tablet PC.

The analyst firm also reckons that the future's bright for thin clients with an estimated 15 per cent of enterprises deploying technology based on stripped down PCs or task specific devices within two years.

A key factor in this trend to ditch the desktop is the increasing percentage of users who will be equipped with multiple devices over and above the currently standard combination of a PC and a personal organiser.

Predicting a Borg-esque future for corporate computer users Steve Kleynhans, vice president with META Group's Technology Research Services, said that by 2007, the average user will "interact regularly" with at least four types of computing devices: a home PC, smart digital entertainment system, corporate computer, and mobile information device.

"This multiplicity of devices will force software vendors to focus on information synchronisation as well as 'thinning' or 'roaming' applications to enable users to access their information independent of the device they are using," Kleynhans said.

META advised corporate IT planners to pay close attention to the desktop alternatives coming on the market, warning that they must increase due diligence to gain an understanding of what the new devices will mean for their workers.

However, on the plus side META expects the shift away from desktops to help IT organisations trim operations costs and improve productivity.

On a technology level the analyst group blasted the current generation of tablet PCs (without an integrated keyboard) for lacking the functionality for most office users to rely upon as their only computing device. But improved form factors, coupled with declines in the cost of digitisers and a growing number of digital ink will bring the tablet to the mainstream by 2006, when one-third of all corporate notebooks are estimated to include tablet capabilities, META forecasts.

This growth in tablet uptake will be mirrored by increased popularity of smart display devices that enable users to wirelessly access their PCs using WinXP's remote desktop facility, META says.

Although Microsoft has discontinued further development on the current consumer-focused smart displays, the analyst expects that the technology could reappear in the corporate environment.

"There is an opportunity in the corporate space, where 60 per cent of information workers are 'corridor warriors' that roam from meeting to meeting, to provide users with access to basic information (e.g., email, instant messaging, Web browsing) and note-taking capabilities while attending meetings on premises," said Kleynhans.

"The devices could even be shared among users or possibly kept in meeting rooms. Any costs should be outweighed by the increase in meeting productivity for most knowledge workers."

The last of META's latest round of predictions centres on low cost blade servers, which the analyst expects will be confined to specific niches.

Most of the administrative benefit and potential cost savings of blades come from designing a truly roaming environment. However, the effort involved and the backlash from users unwilling to succumb to a locked-down PC environment are substantial, making this option appropriate only for some groups, META said.

"Blades will likely be used to augment traditional computing platforms as a means of delivering specific applications that may require alternative OSs (e.g., Linux) or dedicated processing power (e.g., real-time processing)," said Kleynhans.

"Blades will become a commonplace solution implemented primarily in the same places that Citrix/Windows Terminal Server (WTS) solutions are currently applied. Blades will remain a niche product - by 2006, blades will replace traditional PC form factors for roughly only 10% of users." ®

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