The industry


Stop what you’re doing for a second and take a look around your office. I bet many of your co-workers are sporting the smallest and hippest cell phones available. See any executive laptops? I’m guessing that they’re super light, super fast and boast lots of screen space for watching the X-Men DVD during long flights. And check out the new PDA/RIM/handhelds that pop out at the conclusion of all those staff meetings.

Now walk into the average cubicle and consider what that ancient and tattered white-box PC – and its cousins scattered throughout the office – really means. That one equipment blindspot says a lot about our attitude toward IT procurement, and the current state of the industry.

Although by no means a minor expense, it’s safe to say that the cost of buying and maintaining a fleet of PCs has dropped considerably over the past 10 years. Today a medium-sized firm could outfit its entire staff with new, fully equipped desktops for roughly the upfront cost of three executive salaries. Since everything has a shelf life, and office equipment tends not to be treated with the utmost respect by rotating waves of employees, it would stand to reason that most of the PCs we’d see in the office would be reasonably new.

But as we all know, this is not the case.

In some ways, you can’t blame IT departments for putting PC refresh cycles on the backburner. A desktop may be slow, it might crash more often than they’d like and it may not be pretty to look at, but it works nonetheless. In a form of inter-office Darwinism, the slowest and weakest simply make their way down the corporate food chain until they hit the bottom rung, so that office interns spend their entire morning listening to their hard drive’s wizened attempts to log onto the browser’s default homepage. It’s well understood that, in this world, you have to work for your RAM.

As well, users have long complained, and not without merit, about the artificial upgrade regimen they feel is placed upon them by the Wintel empire. That makes the act of recycling not only a point of pride in departmental efficiency, but a form of political nose tweaking to boot.

At the same time, as those same Wintel reps pointed out during a Toronto seminar last month, it’s that attitude that could be contributing to our collective black eye when it comes to IT security and ROI. One IDC analyst said PCs pushed for longer than three years have higher failure rates and sport operating systems with outdated security, leaving them vulnerable to viruses or hackers. And as we continue to wireless, old PCs could represent a barrier.

Regardless of how you feel about PC lifecycles, for an industry that was built on the success of the PC, we remain surprisingly ambivalent about them. And as IT departments on one hand try to control their spending, boost ROI, increase competitive advantage, and vendors besieged by tough times try to pressure sell on the other, what happens to the plain-old corporate PC could be a harbinger of what’s in store for all of us.