A desktop's job is to deliver applications to users. When the nature of those applications changes, desktops must follow suit.
Physical and virtual desktops are facing a significant change in the form of cloud-native application development. As more applications go cloud-native, virtual desktop use should rise. If all apps become cloud-native, there will be no need for the current iteration of Windows desktops, though it is unlikely the change will spread that far.
What is cloud-native application development?
Cloud-native refers to developing applications suited for deployment on cloud platforms, such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform. These new applications use the application services that these clouds provide, such as database as a service, message queueing or object storage services. Parts of the applications often run in Docker containers, and IT may use Kubernetes to manage these containers.
None of this has to affect the desktop; IT can have a cloud-native developed server application with a conventional Windows application user interface. But, because cloud-native apps are usually built from the ground up, users don't have to work with Windows clients. In fact, an HTML5 web browser is a far more typical client for cloud-native applications.
The dedicated client application for cloud-native apps is often a mobile application because it provides an excellent native experience on smartphones and tablets. The most significant desktop change that comes from cloud-native applications is that they eliminate the requirement for a native Windows application IT must install on the desktop.
How does cloud-native application development affect virtual desktops?
One of the primary results of cloud-native applications is that fewer apps are actually installed on the desktop. Users access most cloud-native applications through a web browser, and many merely require an HTML5 browser rather than relying on browser plug-ins.
As cloud-native application development continues to grow, the desktop should transform into a repository of links to cloud-native web applications, and it should become part of the integration path between these applications. Many viewed this as an inevitability from the start; seeing virtual desktops as a transitory technology until IT could deliver all applications through a web browser.
Cloud-native app development has accelerated the transition. A desktop for cloud-native applications delivers an HTML5 browser to which IT can add integration plug-ins that will link cloud-native applications to the browser.
Where does mobility fit in?
Mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, have been on the rise right beside cloud-based applications. Initially, mobile applications were limited subsets of the applications users worked with on their desktops. Over time, mobile applications have become more functional than desktop applications in many cases.
It is not uncommon for a user to sit in front of his large monitor at his desk and use his phone for a complex task -- such as banking, for example -- because the mobile application is more user-friendly than the desktop one. The desktops people use nowadays often span a traditional Windows PC and one or more mobile devices rather than solely a physical or virtual Windows desktop.
Will cloud-native application development take over?
In short, no -- but change is coming. Building new cloud-native applications is much easier than redeveloping existing applications to be cloud-native. There needs to be a significant payoff to justify the effort of redeveloping existing applications. Until the payoff is evident, existing applications will remain in place, and users will need existing desktops to access their applications.
In addition, large applications that took decades for developers to build are likely to stay as they are for many years. Maybe developers will add new features and functions to make them more cloud-friendly, but the core is going to be too expensive to redevelop. These legacy applications will require Windows desktops for many years to come, which could spark a rise in virtual desktop adoption. It could also lead to a rise in simplified cloud-native clients, such as Google Chromebooks in the place of traditional PCs.
Because cloud-native applications do not usually require a Windows desktop, just an HTML5 browser, it could lead to the rise of non-Windows desktops. Virtual desktops will remain a requirement for many years to deliver applications that are not viable to migrate to cloud-native.