Rumors of the Demise of the Windows Desktop are Greatly Exaggerated…
Those who follow me are familiar with my affinity with Brian Madden’s take on the future of windows desktop. Specifically, that after the nuclear holocaust we will be left with cockroaches, Twinkies and Windows applications. The Twinkie isn’t doing so well but Windows applications are still a critical line-of-business in the enterprise. Sure, SaaS has replaced some on-premise, traditionally-installed Windows applications, but many still remain.
Why Windows Applications Are So Sticky…
In-house Development: Many organizations have proprietary windows applications or customized applications in their environments that are developed using a wide variety of new and old languages and development platforms (Delphi, pre-.NET Visual Basic, Borland, MFC, etc.) Some of these are still supported and some are not. More commonly, the people who developed those applications have gone, and the skills to manage the applications have gone with them. However, the old application is still in use and critical to the business, so compatibility fixes and workarounds keep it alive. This is one major reason many enterprises are stuck on Windows XP.
Too expensive to update or replace: In addition to the in-house applications mentioned above, there are applications where an organization saved expenses by not renewing maintenance contracts on it, and there are even more applications where the vendor has gone out of business. Nonetheless, those applications are still vital to the business and replacing them is a very expensive project. When replacing applications, consultants need to analyze the use cases and requirements, identify a replacement, test it, negotiate costs and if that weren’t enough, retrain users and integrate with all other systems. Alternatively, if the vendor is still in business, they might have to pay back years of missed maintenance payments and still go through a major upgrade cycle.
Web platforms are not good enough (yet): HTML5 promises to reverse gravity, cure sicknesses and make a perfect cappuccino. But seriously, the reality is that it’s a work-in-progress and many web application vendors and even networking services like Facebook have called off all bets on HTML5. Some applications that fully exercise the local hardware resources (gaming, CAD, video and audio production) are always going to require local installation and execution, even if they can be streamed from the cloud.
Lack of visibility: It can be surprisingly hard for IT departments to find Windows applications in use on their networks, especially if they do not use a recognized Windows installer. Many continue to live in the dark, quiet corners of the organization, critical to some part of the business and usually the only time they come to light is when an infrastructure upgrade breaks them!
What does all this mean? Well, Windows applications will not disappear any time soon from the enterprise, and the fact is that there is only one fully-supported way to run Windows applications … the Windows desktop. Tablets, mobile platforms and OS X are hugely popular, but these are generally being used in addition to the Windows desktop, and not as a replacement. Perhaps it will just be virtualized, but VDI is some way behind the expected rate of adoption too. Finally, as a lesson from history on the longevity of supposedly “dead” platforms, consider that over $5 billion is still spent every year buying mainframe servers.
How many Windows applications do you expect to be using in 5 years?