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Decline of the Desktop

The PC still rules the desktop -- but not for long. Laptops, once considered an expensive luxury, will soon claim the mantle as the personal computing platform of choice in the enterprise.

By Robert L. MItchell
September 26, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - After almost a quarter of a century as the personal computing device of choice for business, the desktop PC is sliding off its pedestal. It has withstood assaults by technologies such as the Windows terminal, the Web and the network PC, but the mighty desktop has been humbled by user demand for the one thing it can't deliver -- mobility.
The laptop, once a corporate status symbol, has already gained acceptance as a mainstream device. Now laptops are poised for a corporate takeover as enterprise use widens beyond its traditional constituents: traveling executives and other "road warriors."
The movement away from desktops has been under way for some time. Business use of laptops has risen from an average of one in every five PC users in 1999 to one in three today. That figure will pass the 50% mark in the next few years, according to IDC.
"When I first joined this organization in 2000, laptops were a novelty," says Jerry Polcari, director of IT at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Inc. in Wellesley, Mass. At the time, just 2% to 3% of the health insurer's 1,800 PC users had laptops, he says. "Now it's 54%. Any part of the workforce that's mobile or that does any kind of analytical work has a laptop," he says.
Harvard Pilgrim is ahead of the curve, but not too far out front. For several years, laptop sales have grown at twice the rate of desktop sales. "Last year, for the first time, we had higher dollar sales of notebooks vs. desktops," says Robert Enochs, a ThinkPad product manager at Lenovo Group Ltd. IDC projects that by 2008 unit shipments of laptops will eclipse those of their beige-box cousins.
Laptop use is being driven by changes in work habits as much as by advances in technology. And work habits are changing because wireless technology is breaking the link between location and connectivity. Increasingly, users expect to carry laptops with them on the road, at home and into meetings across campus, using wireless connections to facilitate collaboration as well as to keep up with e-mail.
Wi-Fi is expanding the adoption of laptops at Kichler Lighting Group in Cleveland. "The ability to undock your laptop and take it from conference room to conference room without ever leaving the network is powerful," says director of infrastructure Mike Sink. Today's laptops are also more likely to make it through back-to-back meetings on a single charge, thanks to newer designs based on power-saving technologies such as Intel Corp.'s Pentium M processor. "A typical notebook today will



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