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5 end-user computing trends for 2020

With Windows 7 coming to an end and more businesses developing cloud strategies, 2020 is set to bring end-user computing changes for IT. Here are five trends to watch.

The decade that ushered in the iPad, saw the meteoric rise of voice assistants like Alexa and the ascent of Google's Chrome browser is drawing to a close.

The next ten years will, no doubt, introduce a whole new set of end-user computing trends that IT pros will have to wade through. Although no one has a crystal ball, tech industry experts shared their predictions about what could be on the horizon in the year ahead.

Increased cloud implementation

The presence of new players, fewer technical limitations and evolving attitudes toward the technology may make 2020 a banner year for business adoption of cloud.

Holger MuellerHolger Mueller

"I think 2020 could be the year we finally see a breakthrough for desktop as a service [DaaS]," said Holger Mueller, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

While the trend has been driven by firms like Citrix and VMware, he said, tech industry titans like Microsoft and Amazon have committed to making virtual desktop infrastructure hosted in the cloud a reality.

Mark Bowker, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, sees potential for DaaS to be an end-user computing trend in 2020 as well, as the promise of the technology has not yet been fully realized.

"We've seen some success there, but the success has been limited to smaller implementations and very specific uses," he said. "[Businesses] have cloud strategies that go beyond kicking the tires… the way applications, desktops and data are delivered are part of that strategy."

Mark Bowker, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy GroupMark Bowker

Microsoft's Windows Virtual Desktop service, released last fall, could spur businesses to make the switch. Bowker said that while Microsoft has had false starts before, a confluence of factors -- among them the company's Azure cloud infrastructure and the continued dominance of Windows on endpoint devices -- will catch the attention of firms.

"Over three-quarters of the folks we talk to have a hybrid cloud strategy in play, and I would expect that to be higher in 2020," Bowker said. "No one is turning off the lights on their on-premises investment, but they're also looking at ways to use cloud resources as well."

Browser wars reignite?

After a period of peace, the browser wars may heat up once again. Steve Kleynhans, research vice president at Gartner, said Microsoft was getting ready to release its new version of its Edge browser, hoping to drive Google Chrome from the enterprise space.

Steve Kleynhans, research vice president at GartnerSteve Kleynhans

"Microsoft has definitely positioned its browser to be the primary canvas or vehicle to deliver applications," he said. The company, he said, had worked to integrate Edge into many of its own platforms, like search and Office 365.

Although some organizations may be used to Chrome, Microsoft could be pinning its hopes on a different kind of inertia to deliver Edge a victory, according to Kleynhans.

"You actually have to do something to use Chrome," he said. "Edge works inside the operating system; I think many enterprises will find it's actually less effort to use it."

Bowker, too, saw renewed hostilities in the browser arena as a potential end-user computing trend next year. For years, the choice between Chrome and Edge has been a big decision for businesses; Microsoft has been making updates to give Edge an edge, he said.

"It will be interesting to watch if people switch," he said.

A farewell to Windows 7

Microsoft will be ending support for its venerable operating system in the very beginning of 2020; the product's end of life is slated for January 14. J.P. Gownder, principal analyst at Forrester Research, said firms will likely vary in how they react to the change.

J.P. Gownder, vice president and principal analyst, Forrester ResearchJ.P. Gownder

"Some will run Windows 10, some won't get upgraded at all -- there will be a balance," he said.

The end of support could cause some businesses to reconsider their choice of OS. Mueller noted the change comes after a year in which Microsoft rolled out several Windows 10 updates that had to be pulled back after problems such as an April patch that caused devices to freeze. He attributed this, at least in part, to the platform not having one clear leader after the departure of Windows and devices department head Terry Myerson in 2018.

"Their biggest mistake was leaving Windows rudderless," he said.

Kleynhans, though, said many organizations have already decided on Microsoft's latest OS.

Windows 7 was a great operating system in its time -- it served the market quite well -- but it needed to change.
Steve KleynhansResearch vice president, Gartner

"Windows 7 was a great operating system in its time -- it served the market quite well -- but it needed to change. We're in a new market now," he said. "By and large, Windows 10 is quite well established in the enterprise … most companies are in the final stages of wrapping up their migrations."

To the extent that Windows 7's end of life does prompt change, it will not be about displacing Windows, but about changing how it is delivered, Kleynhans said.

"It's not as binary as it sounds," he said of the OS choice facing businesses. "Companies have taken other avenues, but that didn't necessarily mean they didn't go with Windows."

For example, he said, some businesses may have moved to virtual desktops, but cloud systems are primarily Windows-based.

New form factors debut, but old ones linger

The types of devices on which employees work will be another end-user computing trend that continues to evolve in 2020, although the old standards will still be relevant in next year's workplace.

Kleynhans pointed to dual and folding-screen devices announced in recent months, with many set for release in 2020. The Microsoft Surface Neo and Duo, for example, are both dual-screen offerings set to hit the market in the 2020 holiday season. The announcements have driven a lot of excitement around a new form factor, but it will be up to developers to create applications for it to gain traction, he said.

"I'm not convinced there's a specific use case or demand there. It's more a case of, 'This technology seems compelling, but we're not sure why,'" he said. "It never hurts to have more screen real estate. The screen is where work takes place."

Forrester's Gownder predicts further specialization of the market, with devices increasingly adapting to a variety of uses. Such a trend will require balance; IT pros must weigh their employees' desire to use specialized devices against their preference for reliability and simplicity.

"This is going to be a year when pretty pragmatic enterprises are a little more intelligent in their approach, rather than 'one-size-fits-all,'" he said. More IT departments will consider what type of employees they have and make device decisions based on their needs, he said.

Despite this, the traditional PC will likely continue to be a part of the enterprise's daily life. Gownder predicted an 80/20 split -- where 80% of a user's work would take place on light or mobile devices, while 20% would remain on more traditional machines.

"Those 20% of things are still quite business-critical," he said, adding that, although mobile devices have caught up in certain tasks like email, the PC provides a superior experience for things like word processing and business applications.

"In 2020, phones and tablets will matter a lot for certain jobs and circumstances," he said. Knowledge workers may spend the majority of their time with heavier devices, but mobile is an ideal solution for certain customer-facing employees. "If you're returning a car to Avis at the airport, [those employees are] not going to use a PC."

An evolving role for IT

Another 2020 end-user computing trend to monitor involves IT administrator work, itself; experts said it may be in for a change. Constellation Research's Mueller said traditional IT tasks, like setting up a desktop and making sure it can print out documents on the office copier, may be a prime target for disruption, given the tight labor market for IT administrator roles.

"It used to be that desktops and PCs were expensive and people were cheap," he said. "[Now] labor is scarce and hard to find… Who wants to be a PC administrator all their life?"

Many users are literate in basic technology now, and a lot of IT functions have been retained through corporate inertia, Mueller said.

Kleynhans predicted the way IT professionals manage end-user tech could be in for an evolution.

"I think this is the year we see enterprises move to more modern management platforms for PCs," he said. "One of the strengths of PCs has been that it is an open platform; it can be extended, and there's a lot of customization and freedom for the user. That's always been problematic for the IT world."

In response to these challenges, IT has installed heavyweight management solutions, which are intrusive and create a "locked-down" environment, Kleynhans said. Such systems, however, are brittle and, with an explosion of new applications, don't work as well as they once did.

Kleynhans said he thought more lightweight options -- analogous to systems used to manage mobile technology -- would gain popularity.

"It may not happen overnight -- it may not even happen this year -- but this is where we start to turn the corner," he said. "What enables IT to do this is the fact that the Windows 10 migration is in the rear-view mirror."

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