Virtualizing the User

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DNA of the User

The term DNA may conjure images of everything from "CSI" to Dolly the sheep or the Human Genome Project. In the context of this column, it refers to that je ne sais quoi that makes each user unique and causes challenges for wide-scale virtualization deployments.

As in genetics, the DNA of every user is singular to him or her, no matter how similar it may be to someone else's. That DNA plays a fundamental role in determining the success of enterprises' virtualization efforts.

User DNA should not be confused with personalization of the user profile, which is currently possible across Microsoft platforms. To me, the real DNA of the user comes into play when we consider other platforms and application types, like software as a service (SaaS) or cloud-based applications. In a couple of years, it will be essential for the makeup of "me" and the makeup of "you" to be found in a multitude of business applications that are not solely Windows-based.

Clearly Windows applications are the ones that most operators use today. Tomorrow, we shall see things like native applications for tablet PCs, iPads, the new TouchPad, the Pre, whatever device you can imagine.

At present, the focus is on ensuring that a user's information from Outlook (for example) will work in the virtual desktop environment; however, those personal settings are not transferred onto a different e-mail client. An e-mail you have sent using your desktop Outlook client will have your personalized signature emblazoned across the bottom, but the e-mails you send through the Web-based version of that same application will not. The reason is that they are very different platforms and so must be managed differently.

Soon it will no longer be about making sure that Outlook works correctly but that my personal information management (PIM) works correctly overall. To make this possible, there needs to be some form of extrapolated language that is mutual and that therefore will allow PIM settings to plug in anywhere, giving users their choice of applications in the same way that they have the choice of mobile devices or tablets they use. We will need to have platforms able to convert that data.

In short, we must catch up to the expectations that users already have. If I send some emails and create some data through Microsoft Office on my Mac whilst I'm sitting on my couch at home tonight, I would like my settings and all of that data I created--part of my user DNA--to be available on my PC tomorrow in the office or on my iPhone, TouchPad or whatever device I am using. This will not be the case today of course, because even though Microsoft Office works similarly on both the PC and the Mac, each platform stores its underlying user information in a very different way. The user data is dictated to the application by the platform on which it is running.

In fairness, we users are attempting to cram a load of incompatible items into the same space, and clearly that is not going to work.

We do expect it nonetheless.

Developing a DNA Standard
User DNA ultimately will need to be some form of ISO standard, and there will need to be a plethora of vendors involved in the definition of the user DNA standard--how the user's email address is stored, the user name, their time zone and so forth. Inevitably, the applications we use will have settings translated into this standard, though it is still some distance away from realization.

For a high-level example, think of Google Translate. When you type in a phrase to translate from English into French, the first step in the process is for Google to translate the English phrase into Google language. The translation from Google-speak into French comes next. There is always an intermediary: English-Google-French. Obviously there is a lot more done in the background with regards to understanding how sentences are constructed in the various languages, but the point is simple--there needs to be an intermediary step.

Or, let's say there are people from all different backgrounds--someone from the UK, another from Belgium, one from Kenya, someone else from Japan, etc.--that have been shoved into the same room. A couple of them will be able to communicate with each other, but they will not all be able to communicate and understand everyone else in the room. Some form of intermediary language is required in order for them to all communicate together.

Technologically speaking, it is fundamentally all about the interoperability of using applications. People want to use an application to perform a specific function without needing to worry who built it or how it is being delivered. All they are concerned with is being able to use the application easily and access all of their data.

For the foreseeable future, there will continue to be multiple platforms and devices. Apple iOS is a market leader, Google's Android will become a leader, and Microsoft Windows 7 is not disappearing any time soon. There is no way that within the next four to five years we will see only one platform and one developer of that platform and have everyone decide to use it. Some may die, but we are not going to have all but one of them disappear. Combine that with the fact that our personal and professional lives continue to become more enmeshed on the technology front, and it becomes increasingly important to have all of these applications stitched together via this universal user DNA.

There is clearly a long way to go, but we know we must form the digital DNA in order to interoperate across any device at any time to allow our professional lives and personal lives to function at a digital level as they already do in our body and mind.

Posted by Simon Rust on 03/01/2011 at 12:49 PM


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