And the centre of your desktop is...
The poll results are in
Reg Reader Workshop Well, if ever there was any doubt that what's going on with the desktop is a hot topic among IT professionals, put it to one side. We had an overwhelming response to our reader poll in this area with over 4,800 of you participating, so thanks to those who took the time.
The first thing we learned from the poll was that Microsoft Office still rules the desktop when it comes to office suites, and basically there are no significant commercial challengers. The only competition at the moment is from open source office suites, OpenOffice in particular, which around one in five Reg readers are personally using.
The other big news from this chart is that online alternatives to desktop office suites delivered via the "software as a service" (SaaS) model are really nowhere at the moment in terms of penetration, at least for business use. With all the noise we hear about these types of services, this may come as a bit of a disappointment for SaaS and Web 2.0 advocates. Clearly, the tales that Google is already beginning to threaten Microsoft's desktop dominance are wildly exaggerated.
Something we need to be aware of when looking at the above picture is that the highly discerning and tech savvy Reg readership is not necessarily fully representative of the business user population as a whole. During the poll, we therefore asked you to tell us about what was going on across your organisation in general, which gives us a more accurate view of the bigger picture.
What we notice here is that open source office suites have not penetrated as much across the broader business user community, and indeed if we break this out by company size, we can see that even the leading open source solution, OpenOffice, is not really being used to any significant degree in medium sized and larger organisations, and has, in fact, already been outpaced by Microsoft's latest release, Office System 2007 in this space.
We must again take into account the demographics of the Reg readership when looking at this, in particular the fact that readers from smaller organisations tend to be skewed towards the IT industry – small IT service firms, resellers, independent consultants, contractors, and so on. While we cannot tell directly from this data, the suspicion would be that penetration of open source office solutions among the broader base of small businesses outside of the IT sector would look quite a bit different.
Turning to desktop usage habits, we see messaging, PIM, and/or office suites are typically the centre of Reg readers' desktops, though a quarter highlight the browser as the centre of their personal computing world and a significant number point to their development or systems management environment.
Looking beyond the readership to the broader business user community again, it is clear that in the majority of cases (approx three quarters), users' desktops revolve largely around messaging, PIM, and office suites.
Again, there has been a bit of myth explosion here that the web browser has become the general pivot point for end user computing in a business environment, which is clearly not the case, at least at the moment.
In practice, this means that dependant on company standards and allegiances, the most common applications around which desktops revolve today are Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes, or some other messaging/PIM client and, depending on the nature of the user's role, Microsoft Office or, among more tech-savvy groups, OpenOffice.
So what are the implications of these findings?
Well, firstly, we started this investigation as a spin-off from our discussions on business intelligence, during which readers told us that generic office suites were the most important and fast growing method of delivery for business performance information, over and above portals and more specialist tools, for example.
The results of our poll here would definitely corroborate this as an understandable trend. Related to this, the results also lend support to Microsoft and IBM's assertions that applications like Notes and Office/Outlook should be viewed as "containers" for surfacing application functionality from other systems – e.g. the notion of embedding access to an SAP expense management system or a room booking system into whichever application is already central to the user's desktop. The arguments are that this boosts usability through both the convenience of access to broader application functionality and the ability to present that functionality more in context.
The other big implication of the findings is that whichever way you look at it, despite predictions of the death of desktop applications as part of the trend from client/server to server and web based computing, office suites and messaging clients are not going to budge from the desktop in a hurry.
This in turn obviously means the desktop management challenge is here to stay for the foreseeable future, so solutions like the Citrix Presentation Server, and emerging options for application streaming from Citrix (as a result of the Tarpon project) and Microsoft (from the Softricity acquisition) will remain important, as will classic software distribution and desktop management solutions.
Perhaps the bottom line here, therefore, is to shake all of those romantic notions of thin clients everywhere and just think "thinner" – i.e. shift as much back to servers as possible, and try to implement as much central management and control as you can, but accept that the pivotal applications we have been discussing will mean an ongoing software footprint on the desk for a long time to come. ®