Over the past few months, I've become increasingly convinced that we're on the cusp of a transformative cycle that will rival the rise of the Internet. And it's going to hit users where they live: the desktops, laptops, and mobile devices they use every day.
At the heart of the matter is virtualization. In the data center, no technology I can think of has enjoyed the hockey-stick adoption curve exhibited by server virtualization, where admins can now scale capacity by spinning up virtual machines with the click of a mouse, instead of provisioning physical hardware.
[ Also on InfoWorld: Find out "What desktop virtualization really means." | Read Neil McAllister's eyewitness account of Google's Chrome OS announcement. | Download Paul Venezia's comprehensive Thin Client Computing Deep Dive Report. ]
Yet for all the scalability, availability, and hardware utilization benefits of server virtualization, I believe there's an even stronger argument for wrapping up user desktops as virtual machines (although, as you will see, I mean that in an abstract sense). There's more to it than the usual pitch for desktop virtualization -- which asserts that desktops should be packaged as VMs and run on a server because physical desktops now incur unbearable security risks and administrative overhead. That's only half the story.
The other half is portability. The user environment people experience today as tied to a physical desktop device should not simply slink into the data center. That virtual machine should be fully portable, so users can take it with them anywhere, even if they lack a network connection; also, when they reconnect, it should sync with the server VM. Plus, that virtual machine should be downloadable -- or, worst case, remotely accessible -- from any device. Ultimately, the operating system UI for that VM should adapt itself to whatever physical device is available, from a PC in an Internet café to an iPad.