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Potential PC replacements poised for enterprise prominence

The PC has long been the top dog in the enterprise, but new, inexpensive devices such as the Raspberry Pi and Google's Chromebook could threaten its title.

PCs have had supremacy in the enterprise desktop market for as long as users have worked with computers in the office. But a series of nanocomputers, thin clients and 2-in-1 devices are laying siege to the PC stronghold and looking to swoop in as PC replacements.

The Raspberry Pi for example, which supports products such as Microsoft Remote Desktop, VMware Horizon and XenApp, is a single-board computer that costs only $35. Google's Chromebook is another device threatening to replace PCs; it is also inexpensive and simplifies IT management in many ways.

Find out about the enterprise viability of the Raspberry Pi, Google Chromebook and 2-in-1s, and learn why these PC replacements aren't about to take over yet.

What is Raspberry Pi?

The Raspberry Pi could fit in a wallet but performs most standard desktop functions and is compatible with modern web browsers such as Google Chrome. The Raspberry Pi has not taken a firm hold in the enterprise just yet, but its simplicity and low cost make it an intriguing alternative to the traditional PC. It runs Linux, so it can connect to a variety of servers, run many different apps and work with many programming languages.

A user can even add tools such as a USB Wi-Fi chip, keyboard, mouse and more to create a homemade notebook. To set up the Raspberry Pi, admins just have to burn an image onto a micro-Secure Digital card and insert it into a device's onboard slot.

Admins can enable remote login capabilities with Secure Shell. Users can also set their time zones, and they can choose to boot to the command line or start the Raspberry Pi as a desktop. The Raspberry Pi allows admins to make remote changes over the network, including revisions to the operating system.

What about Chromebooks?

A series of nanocomputers, thin clients and 2-in-1 devices are laying siege to the PC stronghold.

It might seem like traditional PCs offer the best security and management capabilities, but that's not always true. In fact, Google's Chromebook can outdo PCs in many ways. First of all, Chromebooks are much easier to manage because many costly and time-consuming tasks -- such as patching, updating antivirus software and doing security audits -- are automated on Chromebooks. For example, admins do not have to worry about operating system updates because every time users log in to their Chromebooks, the operating system automatically updates.

To fight against hardware-related threats such as keystroke loggers, the Google Chromebook performs a verified boot every time a user logs on. It checks to make sure nothing on the Chromebook has been compromised or altered. If it detects an issue, the Chromebook automatically resets itself. Security is also simpler because no data actually lives on the Chromebook; the device accesses everything from Google's virtual servers. As a result, a lost or stolen device does not pose the same threat as it would with a traditional device housing corporate data. In addition, Chromebooks are cheap so the financial hit of a lost device is not as damaging.

What is keeping PCs in front?

One of the main reasons thin clients are so appealing is the price. They are far cheaper than traditional PCs because they only include the bare necessities, which also simplifies management. In addition, most thin clients have a longer lifecycle -- around five years -- than the traditional three or four year PC lifespan. As a result, companies do not have to replace hardware as often.

But thin clients are not always the best fit. If users need high-graphic media or anything else that requires more compute power, admins might have to make alterations to their thin clients that start to drive up the price. In addition, Raspberry Pi cannot use a web camera or dual monitor support, which can be a problem for many users. Thin clients are really best suited for offices where all the users' needs are the same.

How do 2-in-1 devices fit in?

Another set of devices looking to push PCs from their perch is 2-in-1s. The goal of 2-in-1 devices is to combine the functionality of a PC with the mobility and convenience of a tablet. Most vendors, however, are still trying to find the sweet spot. For instance, Lenovo's ThinkPad Yoga 12 is too bulky to be a true tablet, and HP's Elite x2 1011 has an optional keyboard, so users may find it doesn't function well enough as a desktop.

A 2-in-1 device should work in four main modes -- laptop, tablet, tent and stand -- and new Windows 10 features such as Continuum should help the 2-in-1 market. Continuum constantly monitors for the presence of a keyboard. If a device has a keyboard, then Continuum orients the device to act like a laptop. If it does not detect a keyboard then the device takes on a touch-friendly tablet interface.

Next Steps

Citrix helps push Raspberry Pi toward enterprise

How to prepare for the influx of Raspberry Pi

Mobile advances hurt PC market

This was last published in June 2016

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