Now that Synergy San Francisco has come and gone, one of the lasting big questions I have been pondering is the future of the Desktop metaphor. It was the demonstration of Podio, the business social service integrated with documents, GoToMeeting, Windows apps, SaaS and Web apps that got a number of big thinkers asking, ” could this concept emerge as the future of the desktop as we know it? ” Blogger Gabe Knuth, Technology Officer Elias Khnaser, and Desktop Virtualization Expert Dan Feller were among many who described the possibilities of a platform like this and how it could transform the desktop interface. I also had a great conversation last week with David Carr Editor of the BrainYard publication of InformationWeek, who likened it to Portal 3.0 , maybe …

Today’s Windows and Mac based desktops satisfy individual needs, but leave a lot to be desired when it comes to collaboration and providing an engaging work experience for a team. Think about how much time you spend logging in, searching for information, downloading/uploading, sharing documents, managing email, writing status reports, and checking different Web and Intranet sites. Is this 5%, 10%, 20% of your day? Even when you get into a repeatable routine, when you move to a mobile device, everything changes. Also consider how many times you have discovered that someone else has been working on a project related to yours, and you wish you had known sooner so you could’ve collaborated? Or you needed an answer or a recommendation, but you didn’t know who to ask? All of these “what ifs” leave room for improvement.

Working Out Loud

I love this term that captures the essence of what a social business platform can do for individuals and teams in an organization. (If anyone knows who coined this term, please comment). This does not mean posting what I had for breakfast at work. But if you are doing something that may be valuable to others, why not share it at the same time with an appropriate workgroup instead of including it in a status report that you email to others, filling up their inboxes. Do you even need status reports if the relevant information is always available? In today’s distributed and remote work environments, there is a loss of spontaneity from the casual hallway and coffee room conversations. The right platform can bring social engagement back, and even improve it considering global reach, asynchronous timing and the ability to initiate a video conference with coworkers who are visibly present online. In a knowledge- people- and innovation-based organization, providing the best tools can maximize the results of any team.

What about email?

Email is not going away, in fact many people spend the majority of their day inside Outlook reading, creating, searching, deleting and organizing messages. Much of the time spent on these tasks is wasteful overhead, such as clearing out email blasts and “Reply All” messages or searching for a critical one. On the other hand consider some of the significant emails you’ve created that deserve more for prosperity then to reside in your Sent folder and everyone else’s Deleted Items bin. Wouldn’t it be better if many of these impactful messages were posted in a workspace with comments, so they are easy to find and reference? A social business platform like Podio also has APIs that could allow these workspace activity streams to be visible within your email app; conversely, an email Inbox could be a stream within this new desktop interface. In the consumer world it’s easy to see that Facebook and IM are impacting the use of traditional email. Predicably the Consumerization of IT will include the the impact of how colleages communicate. Easy question, how much time do your kids spend on Facebook vs email … In business, I think email will remain a critical tool, but it won’t always be the tool that is most appropriate for every use. How many of you still email yourself a document to transfer it to another device? :-)

Security

Many IT pros will look at social business tools like Podio and think, ” it sounds interesting, but what about security? ” Some regulated industries have constraints about where the organization’s data lives and that can’t be ignored. Currently most social business tools are cloud services only, but industry demand can change that. In fact, one of the other announcements at Synergy was the introduction of a new ShareFile offering called StorageZones that allows enterprises looking for a safe Dropbox alternative to provide a premise-based solution that is under IT control.

Is the PC going away?

Just as email is not going away, PC’s, VDI and Windows desktops are not going away either. These may be the best platform to run the “new” desktop on, depending on where you are sitting and what particular apps or peripherals are required. However the future desktop will also provide an application or dynamically adapt to whatever mobile device you are using, and contextually provide you with the type of communication and information that is most relevant to you. As the ratio of work that is accomplished using mobile devices and cloud services continues to grow, the dependency of the future desktop on the current PC will decrease, but it will always remain relevant.

What are your predictions for the future desktop in the post PC era?