2011: The year personal computing will reinvent itself

The dominant desktop paradigm will finally wither and a thousand new personal computing models will bloom

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That capability is coming soon. According to Google, it's all about supporting the HTML5 offline features AppCache and Local Storage. This works on a Web-app-by-Web-app basis. Already, for example, the very slick New York Times app in the Chrome Web Store works offline. Google says offline capability will return to Google Docs in early 2011 ("return," because Docs dropped its Google Gears offline capability last year). A Google spokesperson told me that, along with being able to work without an Internet connection on cached data, you will be able to start applications offline.

Few people may make a Chrome OS device their primary computing device, but for travelers and light-duty workers content to use Web apps only, it should be a reasonable solution, especially as HTML5 apps gain greater functionality.

Mobile madness

No one would make a smartphone their primary computing device. Or would they? The Motorola Atrix calls that truism into question. Unveiled at CES last week, the Atrix is a sweet Android phone -- that plugs into a special docking station you connect to a keyboard and screen. It's a phone -- no, it's a desktop CPU! Of course, your choice of Android productivity apps is pretty slim, and even with a keyboard and screen, using Documents to Go may be an exercise in frustration. But with Android pads arriving en masse this year, you can bet more and more serious software will come.

Speaking of pads, last August, InfoWorld executive editor Galen Gruman wrote "An iPad at the office: Can it work as a PC?" Galen's answer was a qualified yes for workers whose lives revolve around email, Web access, and basic office productivity work. Since he wrote that piece, Apple has improved its iWork suite, which has become a model for how rich mobile apps can be. Plus, the Citrix client for iPad, iOS, and Android does pretty well running Windows apps remotely, as long as you connect over Wi-Fi rather than 3G.

By the end of this year, the application picture is going to look a lot richer for pads, and their role as laptop replacement will be more secure. And we haven't even seen the iPad 2 yet.

Desktop Linux

This dark horse is looking better and better. Desktop Linux doesn't change the desktop paradigm, but it sure lightens the endpoint security burden. Personally, I'm an Ubuntu fan, although I wouldn't unleash it on an office full of users without training -- or without having IT lock down a slew of options so that folks don't get into trouble. The improvements in usability and hardware compatibility over the past few years are hugely impressive. Yes, there's the perennial "where are the applications?" question, but honestly, if Firefox, some variation of OpenOffice, and the Evolution email client work for you, what other desktop apps do you need? If you hadn't noticed, most enterprise apps are delivered through the browser.

However, there is always that legacy Windows app that won't work on Linux or that pesky Web app that demands ActiveX. Plus, you need fully trained -- or fully zealous -- system administrators to keep the whole show running. The OpenOffice debacle alone is enough to give anyone pause. The uncertainties associated with going the desktop Linux route may be too much for many enterprises. On the other hand, for a certain class of user that primarily confines its activities to Web apps and light-duty productivity -- why not? At the very least, lean and mean desktop Linux can give old hardware ill-equipped to run Windows 7 a new and useful life.

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