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Why rumours about the death of desktop are exaggerated

In the enterprise segment, desktop still enjoys a respectable 38% share, from 73% in 2010.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Dec 01, 2019, 06.52 AM IST
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Companies prefer desktops for a number of reasons.
A smartphone is the computing device those entering the workforce today are most familiar with. Only when they start working from an office, in sectors such as banking, insurance, technology, manufacturing or healthcare, do they encounter the computer from their daddy's era - the desktop.

A big monitor that sits at the centre of their workspace, attached to a bulky keyboard, a mouse the size of a mouse, and a tower placed on the floor next to the dustbin.

Ten years ago, computing devices were getting smaller at such a vengeful pace that few could have predicted the survival of desktops in 2019. Yet, amazingly, desktops aren't dead. In an era when powerful little computers reside everywhere, from your phone to car to refrigerator to earphones, this boxy vestige from the early days of personal computing, often with less computing power than the smartphone in our pocket, continues to survive.

The market share of desktops in India has shrunk in the last decade, from 61% in 2010 to about 30% now. But in the enterprise segment, it still enjoys a respectable 38% share, from 73% in 2010. At homes, however, it now enjoys only an 18% share, down from 46% in 2010.

Companies prefer desktops for a number of reasons. Security management is easier when the machine is connected to your networks and do not leave the premises; maintenance costs are lower; and desktops last longer than laptops. Besides, some tasks, like being an elite gamer or discovering the next big drug, are done better on the desktop form factor, easily customised to be hooked to big, multiple display monitors and related accessories.

"Predicting the demise of technology is dangerous," says Richard Lobo, EVP & head, HR, Infosys. Many among the 250,000-odd employees of the IT giant don't even want to carry a laptop and are happy with just a smartphone.

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"Yet demands on tech are getting bigger - 3G to 5G, normal video to HD, digital sound etc- besides programming is highly suited for a desktop environment," adds Lobo, explaining why desktop computers continue to be favoured by many companies. Almost 70% of Infosys employees use desktops, while the rest use laptops.

One-third of Cognizant's workforce of around 290,000 uses mobile phones or tablets for work, says Rakesh Bhardwaj, CIO, Cognizant.

"Desktops are likely to make way for laptops and other mobile devices over the next few years, but desktops will remain relevant for certain scenarios."

Younger companies don't necessarily think the same way. Bengaluru-based foodtech startup HungerBox, for instance, doesn't have a single desktop user. "For all intents and purposes, the desktop is dead," says Ankur Singh, CTO, HungerBox, which has a staff of 1,500. HungerBox uses desktops only to host a few internal applications.

"Today's work environment is not characterised by a typical 9-to-5 job. One needs to be connected, be mobile and work remotely quite often," adds Singh.

Sure, mobility is a compelling reason to ditch the tethered computers and opt for notebooks and smartphones. Besides, the smaller devices can today be as powerful as the desktops. But for many tasks, enterprises continue to prefer desktops and this is unlikely to change at least for five years.

Gartner analyst Tracy Tsai says the shift to smartphones is mainly for content consumption and not content creation.

"For public sector entities like government and schools, desktops remain the better alternative," says Tsai.

Vickram Bedi, senior director-personal systems at HP India, adds: "Value proposition on commercial side is security and productivity." Banks can"t have employees walk out with sensitive data in laptops. At hospitals, radiologists use large screens for accurate diagnosis, making desktops the preferred device.

Desktops are about 20% cheaper to maintain than laptops and have a longer life.

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Rahul Agarwal, CEO & MD, Lenovo India, says: "Desktops can have a life of up to six years (parts can be replaced to extend life) against a notebook's around four years. Desktops give users more graphic card options for running applications that need high processing capabilities."

HP's Bedi adds: "Desktop tasks can be done on laptops as well, but that is the best versus good experience."

At India's largest computer hardware market, Nehru Place in Delhi, vendor Dinesh Chopra says the resilient appeal of desktops stem from being customisable. When a gamer or a designer needs a machine tailored to her specs (like more RAM, memory, graphics card), they go to people like Chopra, who owns the company Softek Surya, also a seller on ecommerce marketplaces.

"80% of my sales are for laptops. Though if you need a monitor bigger than 15.6 inch, you'll have to go for a desktop. And there are buyers who want up to 28 inch screens," says Chopra.

While the market for desktops is shrinking, manufacturers are coming up with form factors that will keep them relevant for some enterprise users. Jaipal Singh, associate research manager, client devices, at IDC, points to all-in-one devices. These are devices with integrated monitors and detachable screens.

Lenovo has shrunk the CPU from a box of about 15 litre capacity to 0.35 litre. "With data on the cloud, form factors will evolve," says Bedi. So information won't be stored on the machine but in the cloud - it could be private enterprise cloud or public cloud.

Business application software provider Apttus, founded in 2006, describes itself as "born in the cloud" and has stopped using desktops.

Cloud will reduce the dependence on desktops, especially as smartphone makers improve desktop connectivity features. Eventually, workplaces might just provide a monitor, with the smartphone acting as the computing unit. About 400 million people in India carry a smartphone.

Does Dell, a leader of the personal computing revolution, think the era of desktops is over? "We don't," says Anand Subramanya, director, product marketing (consumer and small business), Dell Technologies India.

"Desktops will continue to stay relevant, with change in form factors and improved features."
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