META Reports: Client Systems Will Require More Processing Power

Situation Analysis: The recent slowdown in the PC market has revived old debates about the need for ever-greater processing power on client systems. While one camp contends that users can never have enough processing power, an increasingly vocal faction contends that computing power outstrips the needs of users and further improvements are unnecessary. This debate is being fueled by the continued technological progress in developing faster processors. We expect desktop systems of 10GHz or greater by 2005 – and more powerful systems after that.

In the consumer sector, we believe increasingly complex games and richer entertainment will drive processing demand upward. In the corporate market, we believe a wide range of new uses will emerge during the next two to six years that will consume more processing power at the client. Although no single “killer application” will drive PCs to 3GHz, 5GHz, or 10GHz, we expect a wide range of new software and components that will, in aggregate, severely tax current PC resources and necessitate the growth in computing power.

However, because the increases in demand for processing power will be steady and incremental rather than the result of a sudden change in software or hardware features, it offers no short-term panacea for PC vendors that have been struggling to find a way to jump-start the consumer and corporate PC markets. Likewise, user organizations responding to the current economic downturn by lengthening desktop and laptop life cycles beyond three years will face no near-term disadvantage from failing to immediately ramp up the power available on end users’ desktops.

To understand the innovations that will fuel the long-term need for more power, it is necessary to understand the following major trends shaping end-user computing in both the consumer and corporate markets:

  • Increasing collaboration, resulting from the combination of communicating and computing
  • The “always connected/always on” world created by the Internet and wireless technology, which is driving the need for faster response times, security, and availability
  • Digital replacing analog for all types of media
  • Increasingly global organizations struggling to foster worldwide collaboration and reduce language and cultural differences
  • Decentralization of the workforce (telecommuting, etc.)
  • Increasing prevalence of the “knowledge worker” model to encompass all employee levels and job types
  • The need to reduce computing complexity to enable end users to derive maximum value from their systems

    The most obvious driver for new computing power has always been increasingly complex applications. Although most business computing has remained rather mundane (i.e., pushing text and numbers around), an increasing number of advanced computing techniques are starting to find their way into everyday (albeit specialized) usage – including computer simulations, rich 3D visualization tools, advanced learning systems, and contextual adaptation capabilities. We do not expect all users to have an ongoing need for these applications, but developers will inevitably begin to use these techniques in a wider range of applications, fueling the need for more power in an increasing number of client systems.

    PC system administrative and maintenance tasks will also utilize more processing power as it becomes available. These includes system “housekeeping” tasks (i.e., tools that monitor, correct, update, and optimize the system), reliability enhancements (e.g., system file protection and redundancy), the elimination of performance “bottlenecks,” and synchronization of information between devices using the PC as the central hub. Microsoft has already begun to implement some of these capabilities in Windows XP and Windows 2000 Professional, and more advanced features will continue to emerge.

    Users will also benefit from improved information management capabilities to cope with the ever-rising flood of information arriving at their desktops via e-mail, instant messages, voice mail, Web sites, etc. New system capabilities will likely include enhanced e-mail management technologies, processing capacity to handle multiple streams of rich media as well as metadata (e.g., XML tags) associated with content and interactions, and enhanced encryption and other security capabilities resident on the client system.