The future of the desktop in the ‘new normal’

With a sudden surge in remote working, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, companies need to find ways to provide staff with an experience equivalent to being in the office. Mini PCs can provide it.

Johannesburg, 05 Aug 2020
Read time 4min 20sec
Xavier Nel, head of product, CloudGate
Xavier Nel, head of product, CloudGate

The concept of remote working has been discussed, punted and pushed for a number of years, and the technologies required to make it happen have, equally, been in development for some time. However, the sudden arrival of the novel coronavirus created a sudden and urgent need for the vast majority of workers to be enabled to work from home.

Apart from the basic requirement of stable Internet connectivity, probably the most important aspect of this sudden shift has been the need to find an adequate replacement for the desktops employees generally utilise. Since meetings, interviews and discussions had to revert to virtual ones, it has become imperative that the equipment provided to staff be up to the task of accessing virtual conferences and cloud platforms.

It is worth noting, explains Xavier Nel, head of product at CloudGate, that although most people are already comfortable with the portability and functionality of mobile devices like phones and tablets, these are not always the best devices from which to conduct the full range of business requirements.

“It is true that these devices can be used to access certain services, and they are no doubt easy enough for organisations to acquire on behalf of their employees, but laptops and tablets do not necessarily offer them a comparable ergonomic experience to their desktop PC one,” he continues.

“Remember that we are talking about people who have already experienced a significant upset to what they are used to. Unless they are provided with an end-point device that is not only as capable and simple to use as their traditional machine, but also as comfortable to work with, any minor issues they face can easily be magnified into major ones.”

What may appear as only small differences on the surface, he points out, can easily be the cause of enormous stress, particularly if – as expected – this ‘new normal’ lasts for an extended period of time.

“Think about it logically: a laptop has a much smaller monitor than a desktop, which in turn limits screen usability and increases visual strain. Couple that with a tinier keyboard that makes accuracy more difficult and a touchpad that is usually much more finicky than a mouse, and even simple tasks suddenly take up enormous amounts of time. Don’t forget, too, that with schools closed, parents are also home-schooling children, so time is something they have less of, rather than more.”

“Laptops simply cannot provide the same levels of ergonomic comfort as a desktop does, when you have to sit in front of it for hours. The answer to this challenge is the adoption of the mini PC, as it can provide similar capabilities to a desktop, while enabling a more ergonomic home office set-up.”

Essentially, the mini PC can be so effective, suggests Nel, because most people already have some form of home computing set-up. This would include a large monitor and an external keyboard and mouse, which means all that is required is to slot a capable mini PC into the mix and the employee has an instant virtual office.

“Moreover, with a mini PC – which is even easier to transport than a laptop, it provides employees with a ‘work PC’ and a ‘home PC’ option, all in one. Mini PCs can connect over WiFi or directly with an Ethernet connection, and allows the user to connect it to their home monitor, keyboard and mouse. Obviously, not every staff member will have the latter three, but even if the business has to buy all three plus the mini PC to enable that particular employee, it should still end up costing less, together, than an entry level laptop or desktop.”

There are many other benefits too, he continues, including the fact that these devices have no moving parts, making them more reliable and less susceptible to breaking, as well as being a lot faster, thanks to their use of SSDs. They also use less power – saving on electricity costs – which makes it easier to implement a cost-effective power redundancy solution, such as a small UPS. Furthermore, its small size makes it easy to install somewhere safe or out of the way, something that is also crucial, as many people don’t have a lot of space in which to operate a home office.

“When one looks at the many advantages these devices offer – agility, efficiency, increased productivity, reliability and lower cost – it is clear that not only are mini PCs ideal for providing staff with the support they need to deliver effective work in the ‘new normal’, but they are, in fact, the future of the desktop,” he concludes.

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