its constructed by a community, not by a big vendor," IDCs Kusnetzky explained. "When you look at how it was constructed and who did the work -- if you go down and read the list of names on the modules themselves -- it reads like the whos who of computing. There are people out there contributing to this software who work for Oracle, Sybase, Informix, IBM and Hewlett-Packard."

Desktop OS Goes Extinct?

Kusnetzky sees a pattern emerging that could spell the end of the desktop OS. He noted that vendors such as Sun and Oracle are pitching a strategy that would forego the typical arrangement of PCs as clients of some heavy-duty server.

"Were seeing a lot of people rush to Web-focused, server-centric computing models," he said. "They want to move to server-centric computing where the client can be anything. The question is, Will they get there?"

The browser model does hold promise, said Rick Webb, managing director of state and local practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers and former CIO of North Carolina.

"I think youre going to see more of a browser approach as we go forward," he said. "The Web is going to deliver a lot of the services that were now getting off the desktop."

Although government workers clearly need access to office-suite applications and e-mail to do their jobs, its not as certain that those programs need to reside on individual desktops throughout an enterprise, he added.

Microsofts .NET, with its focus on distributed computing, is at least a nod in that direction, but the company firmly believes that the desktop OS wont lose importance in the coming years.

"For the foreseeable future, the desktop PC really will be the hub of all the things that people want to do, from the corporate perspective and the home user perspective," said Microsofts Laemmel.

Despite the lure of a browser-based approach, Laemmel believes that most people appreciate the functionality a fully equipped laptop or desktop PC gives them and would be leery of making a total switch to a browser-based computing model.

"Its been two or three years since thin clients have been hailed as the next generation of things," he said. "But what happens is that people realize that its not all that easy, and certain things wont run. Having a processor there -- having a hard disk and having the RAM there to work it all out is important to people, especially to knowledge workers."

There is perhaps another path to server-centric computing, said Mark Silverberg, manager of Compaqs global Unix Marketing and Technical Expertise Center, speculating on the future relationship of the desktop OS and back-end servers.

"As Linux now becomes an interesting play on the desktop, its fair to say that Linux on the desktop connects and attaches to and interoperates with Unix back-end servers a lot easier and a lot cheaper," he continued. "Theres a lot of commonality between the Linuxes and the Unixes because of the common heritage. The question is, over time, will the cost and complexity of managing large numbers of desktops become a factor as enterprises decide, Do I want a desktop that has very tight interoperability and low-cost and simple integration with these back-end Unix servers? Or will I spend the additional money to have a non-Unix-like desktop product?"

If Linux does continue to grab market share in the desktop OS arena, there is a real possibility that the OS will simply be absorbed into proprietary Unix code that runs the back-end servers, he said.

Convergence Blurs the Lines

While technological advances might spell the end of the desktop OS, the concept of the desktop itself could disappear as convergence becomes a reality.

"We carry this tremendous legacy environment everywhere we go," said Roy Cales, Floridas CIO. "We have to drag it along behind us." Cales noted that it will take time to replace or adapt the legacy systems to permit browser-based access to the data. "Once it happens, I think youre going to see a whole different world."

"Wireless is also going to change everything," he continued. "Weve got backlogged, right now, a request for 40,000 wireless devices as soon as the state decides that this is the route we want to go. As you move to that, then the desktop becomes less and less important. You get a much more mobile workforce."

Cales believes this evolution will blur the lines between the devices that people use.

"What we define as the desktop is going to change," he said.