Are desktops turning into dinosaurs?

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Following a lively debate about the merits of Macs versus Windows PCs, John Stokdyk wonders if we might have been asking the wrong question.

Our Mac takes off in accountancy article obviously struck a chord. Apart from members like Nigel Harris who have already pinned their credentials to Apple’s mast, still more accountants came forward to pledge their allegiance to the Mac.

Adrian Pearson did a great service to us all by flagging up the user numbers for the site, which he admitted would probably have a deeper base of Apple users than He was right, as these figures illustrate: traffic - top operating systems

AccountingWEB traffic, Feb 2012

But look at the numbers again - for both communities 6-7%+ of the total traffic is coming from iPad/iPhone and Android devices. This is perhaps as significant a migration as the movement towards Macs.

AccountingWEB member listerramjet commented: “It strikes me… that one way or another Macs and PCs are the potential dinosaurs and mobile is the future.  After all the Mac/PC argument is mostly about how similar functionality is delivered.”

The next version of Windows is being structured to operate across desktop and mobile devices, and if it proves successful, it could spell the end of the traditional Windows PC (and by implication the Mac as well), he argued.

It’s a brazen argument, but the rapidly growing proportion of mobile traffic on the Web means we have to take it seriously. Looking at a website, or entering an order or checking your cash position from a smartphone or tablet is one thing, but would you really be able to run a business?

We’ve been looking at tablets and smartphones on the site recently and my initial reaction after using a Windows smartphone is no, the platform is not ready yet - but as listerramjet suggests, that position could change within the year.

Android, with its hooks into the Google Docs infrastructure shows more promise. The Samsung Galaxy SII I’ve been using this week is still a fraction on the small side to be ergonomically viable, but did allow me to do at least 80% of my work effectively on a test run to London.

And, of course, the device that is casting the biggest shadow over this debate is the iPad. The AccountingWEB community is still struggling to find a viable way to work with spreadsheets and Excel on the iPad, but the device seems to be finding a niche for those with less intense number-crunching requirements.

Is listerramjet right and are we barking up the wrong data processing unit? What are your experiences using tablets for business purposes and how do you think the hardware landscape will pan out within the profession over the next couple of years?

About John Stokdyk

John Stokdyk is the global editor of AccountingWEB UK and


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01st Mar 2012 16:55

Hosted desktop on an iPad/iPhone

Increasingly people want to use their iPads for business use.

Intsys UK are a Pegasus partner and increasingly users want their applications hosted in the cloud with access via their iPad's or iPhone.

We are now migrating many of our clients entire infrastructure to the cloud without the need to migrate to new applications.

They have the benefits of the cloud whilst retaining all the investment in their existing applications - which they can now access on their Macs/iPads or tablets - even applications like Opera 3.





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By Old Greying Accountant
01st Mar 2012 21:25

Depends what you are doing ...

... yes checking and making e-mails, updating the diary etc mobile devices are great when mobile, but for an accountant, IMVHO, they are not adequate for doing the hardcore work, especially if you are paperless/less paper as two screens are really a minimum, and really need to be 21" + minimum if you don't want to end up like Colin Blythe!

Also, you can't beat a full size keyboard!

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02nd Mar 2012 00:41

Not until you can do pivot tables on an iPad!

Which, actually, you can. Provided you live in the USA and are willing to risk client information to someone else's servers - - not available in the UK App Store. Yet.

This type of thin client (if it works, I haven't tried it!) could make quite a difference. You can pull off something similar with various apps that allow you to connect back to your computer (Windows or Mac) but this is the first one I've seen that uses a third-party system.

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to Portia Nina Levin
02nd Mar 2012 14:34

You can do this now....

afairpo wrote:

Which, actually, you can. Provided you live in the USA and are willing to risk client information to someone else's servers - - not available in the UK App Store. Yet.

This type of thin client (if it works, I haven't tried it!) could make quite a difference. You can pull off something similar with various apps that allow you to connect back to your computer (Windows or Mac) but this is the first one I've seen that uses a third-party system.

Afairpo, we provide hosted desktops and only work with accountants. Most of our clients use Office 2010 as part of this (along with their choice of compliance software). As such they can all access full Word/Excel functionality, produce accounts, file tax returns on their iPads if they wish. This is easy to set-up and many find it useful when they visit clients. It is not for everyone but I thought I should mention that this is available right now.

In addition you are correct that ideally you want your data stored in the UK. 

With regard to the discussion as a whole - I still have a laptop but it just seems so big to transport these days, and looks ridiculous compared to the MacBook/iPad crowd who simply breeze past me on planes/trains/in the street! 


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02nd Mar 2012 13:04

Specialisation & optimisation

It used to be the case that technology, especially for business / productivity was marketed in terms of "all-in-one solutions" - why bother with three separate devices or platforms when there was one product (typically a desktop) with enough power and flexibility to tackle any task. As consumer electronics branch further and further out, however, and (compared to even just 10 years ago) the average family has more devices in the house, we're becoming more accustomed to justifying multiple purchases to suit increasingly esoteric needs.

For example, I currently own / use (some things are kindly provided by my job!) a desktop, laptop, tablet, personal smartphone and business smartphone. All of them do what used to be restricted to just my desktop. To me, however, this doesn't feel as if my PC is losing its relevance and usefulness but more that I'm using other options to suit needs where greater mobility would be of benefit. 

It'll be interesting to see how Cloud service platforms like OnLive or app-based solutions for tablets / phones develop the trend - whether we'll end up moving back to a single "catch-all" device (albeit in a slimmer, more portable wrapping) or if use will continue to fragment and become more specialised. 

Either way, I'm going to need a bigger bag...

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02nd Mar 2012 17:53

I need a hub

Steve Jobs had the idea of the PC as a hub from which you access your music, pictures and work documents, perhaps using peripheral devices like your phone, camera, music player etc, but it was the hub.

Bill Gates had the idea a very long time ago of low powered computers which simply needed to access the internet to enable you to have access to your pictures, music and work documents.

Whilst I stopped using a desktop machine about 12 years ago and have used laptops ever since, my main reservation when I made the switch to a Macbook Air last August was that the storage capacity would not be sufficient at 256gb. Then I realised that since the arrival first of a netbook, then the iPad, I have been selectively transferring material from the "main" computer to a peripheral device for some time now, very much like I used to do when I had a desktop and a compaq laptop all those years ago. External hard drive storage is now so cheap - I guess I've got a couple of terabytes - that the hub idea, whether it's stored on external hard drives, a server or the cloud, has arrived, for me, almost by stealth, but it's definitely the way I now work.

In a similar way the first iPod I bought with 80gb of storage and which could hold the whole music collection has been replaced by a 16gb Nano which is loaded up from time to time with whatever I want to listen to for the time being.

So my prediction, for what it's worth is that the hub idea will grow. The location of the library of files may be on a server, or it may be in the cloud, depending on security worries and cost. TV and music players will all be linked in. If you need a keyboard, you'll use one, if not, the tablet will do. You'll access the same files from your phone/camera/music player, no problem, but the limitation will be the size of the device and what you want to actually do with the data.

The big change from my early days with my desktop and laptop arrangement will be that, if you forget to transfer the file you need when you're out at a client, you'll just call it up - back then you needed someone to courier the floppy disk to you.

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15th Mar 2012 11:34

Agree with Nigel

I agree with Nigel, except for one thing ... I though the HUB had well and truly arrived ... for me certainly, as a long-term Mac user —does that make me a flasher?!— I have been using large mirrored hard drives for all my storage, and swapping files in and out of computers, laptops, etc, as I need. The only thing which is kept separately is client data, which is stored only on dedicated encrypted disks. 

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