Evolution of the portable workstation

Personal editorial moment here. Then next week I’ll get back to resilient architectures, I promise.

I’ve been doing IT for 20 years now. And I’m not ashamed to admit I remember the days of the early “briefcase” portable computers from IBM. I’ve been carrying around a laptop for about 7yrs now with it being my primary workstation (replacing a traditional desktop tower PC) about 3 years ago. But in the last 4 months I’ve been spent most of my time on the road and become increasing dependent on my smartphone, then an Android Tablet, and of late, a slate device running Windows 8.

While taking with a colleague yesterday about mobile devices and their place, I realized that all these devices fill different needs for me. And that ultimately, they all are still just steps in an eventual evolution of the portable workstation.

When I’m “on the road”, I need a portable desktop. So I’m lugging around one of these 10lb monster “desktop replacement” systems with the 17 inch monitor. I like this because quite often I’m showing up on Monday at a client site and don’t know if I’ll have a external monitor or not and I need to be able to be self sufficient. So lugging this beast around gives me a full keyboard and decent sized monitor in one package.

But when it comes time to run off to a meeting, I’d grab my lightweight Android based tablet. It works great for taking notes, checking email, calendar, etc… And through the use of packages like Dropbox and Evernote I’m able to easily sync content between the tablet and my Windows 7 “laptop”.

Then along came the slate. It doesn’t have the batter life of the tablet (which I want on longer flights or for days when I’m travelling between client meetings). But it does everything my laptop does but is more portable. I’m not really keen on a 4hr power coding session on it, but its good for light use or travel

So different needs, but IMHO these are all just experiments. I need to use software to sync stuff between them. What’s really needed, and what I don’t think we’re too far away from is a single “logical” workstation that’s spread across multiple physical devices, all linked seamlessly via the internet.

Imagine in the next 5yrs that we can “link” our tablet/slate to a laptop or desktop computer. We can extend the displays and use a single keyboard/mouse to interact with them (providing everything isn’t running touch screens by then). Better yet, the storage and apps on each device are shared. I can see the storage on the table from the pc and via versa, even when I’m in a different room with only one of the devices. In a meeting and need that spreadsheet from the desktop in your office, just click and it opens on your tablet. No “syncing”, no manual copy. Best yet, the app you open it with is the same as the one you would use on your desktop machine and even knows the settings you had for it there.

Blurring the lines here is what I think will happen eventually. Its what we’re all really wanting it. Multiple access points into the same virtual machine if you will. We’ve seen the beginnings of this with the iPad’s integration with Apple TV and even with Microsoft and the ability to “play”something from a mobile device on my XBox. So when this does finally come to pass, I can point back here and say “see, I told you!”.

The cloud (to get back to my normal topic) will be a catalyst for helping make this happen for consumers. And as that evolution plays out, businesses will eventually follow suit. But regardless, it is certainly an exciting time to be working in IT. I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years brings.

Until then!

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