Death of the PC & Rebirth of Personal Computing

David Wagner, Managing Editor | 1/20/2011 | 18 comments

David Wagner
The PC's death has been predicted before; and it is happening again. This year, we're going to see the moment when more smartphones are sold than PCs. And if you count tablets, we've already gotten to the point where 3G-enabled portable devices have outsold the PC. Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) alone sold three times as many iPhones as it did Macbooks. And all these sales numbers include laptop sales in the PC category. The creaky old desktop is struggling even more.

So when I say the PC is dead, it isn't a surprise to anyone. Except the thing is that survey after survey shows that IT pros still prefer PCs to tablets, and 90 million PCs are still being sold per quarter. Dave Buchholz came on E2 radio last week and pointed out that people are using their tablets and their phones to supplement their PCs, not replace them. In other words, the PC is dying only to be reborn again. The explanation lies in the fact that we now lump desktops and laptops together as PCs.

The truth is, "form factors" are just marketing fodder. It's all personal computing.

It sounds so simple, but it is something the enterprise forgets. To end users, it doesn't matter if he uses a desktop, laptop, netbook, tablet, or phone to access a piece of data and deliver his response to it. It matters to IT because they have to deploy and secure the device, but it doesn't matter to the end user. He just wants to personally compute wherever it is he happens to be.

If the enterprise wants to serve the end user, they need to start seeing all the various devices their users have as PCs. Rather than trying to secure and control data at the device level, they need to do it at the user level. Thinking in terms of the device level makes it difficult for the user to move data from form to form. Not only does this limit productivity, but it also leads to users getting frustrated and not following good data security practices.

But if the enterprise can start creating better Web and device apps that allow users to seamlessly access data from device to device without email, thumbdrives, or cumbersome folder management, the end user can get back to personal computing. She can be more productive and is more likely to follow your lead when it comes to security.

This is going to mean a new look at security practices -- at which points should we scan files, what types of security software do we use, and what major changes do we make to firewalls, VPNs, email encryption, and identity management. These are long overdue changes anyway, and if they improve efficiency as well as security, they will be worth the investment.

So, the PC is dead, but personal computing is alive and well. It seems only a matter of time before we lump tablets (especially hybrid tablets) into PC sales figures; and heck, maybe even smartphones, too.

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catalyst   Death of the PC & Rebirth of Personal Computing   1/24/2011 11:55:15 PM
Re: Time for a change in Security

I think PC's will be around for a while...they are not going anywhere just yet!

I agree, the PC as we know it (desktop PCs and notebook PCs) will not go away anytime soon. I've been reading a few books on productivity and it seems we are most productive when we can concentrate on our work without distractions. Depth is required for quality work; we need to be able to think. I do my best work on my notebook PC that is disconnected. The display is big and the keyboard is just right. This new personal computing paradigm offers neither and gives you something else: lots and lots of distractions. I hope the PC that I know doesn't go away anytime soon and my bet is that it won't. The day I see a PC company not sell a desktop PC or a notebook PC will be the moment I'll be going on eBay or Craigslist to find extra parts for my PC!
JPoe   Death of the PC & Rebirth of Personal Computing   1/21/2011 10:28:43 PM
Re: many end users do care
The fact that IT puts up gates for them is what they care about. The form factor is just a tool in a tool belt on the way to them doing their job.

Yeah, I think that's a pretty important point. We IT types tend to forget the purpose of having these tools, resources and gadgets, focusing instead on which device is the most shiny, new, or buzzword-compliant.
David Wagner   Death of the PC & Rebirth of Personal Computing   1/21/2011 3:43:29 PM
Re: I'm all for ending their misery
I agree Curt though NAC has taken a bad rap becuase of the additional resources it takes up and becuase colleges have used it to put an end to illegal file sharing. It remains to be seen if younger IT pros hold a grudge since they couldn't download their pirated version of Avatar (or insert anything else here that is probably not cool enough and just made me look old).

But this is definitely the direction we need to be headed in and IT is just going to have to find the resources and mentality to make it work.
CurtisFranklin   Death of the PC & Rebirth of Personal Computing   1/21/2011 3:35:24 PM
Re: I'm all for ending their misery
@SaneIT, I think you're right -- we're moving toward a point at which the "desktop" lives on a server in the cloud and the device we use to access that desktop doesn't matter at all. I think part of my work last night points in this direction...

I began a project at my desk, saving all the files in a directory that mirrors to a cloud-based storage provider. An emergency came up so we had to make a trip to a location a bit more than an hour away. I took my tablet computer with me, accessed the files through a cell data connection on I-75 (while my wife drove the car!), and got a great deal more work done. At one point I realized that I had left one of the files open on the laptop computer in my office, so I grabbed my smart phone, fired up NTR to give me access to the laptop, and closed the file to avoid version problems.

In all of this, the work and the tools were abstracted from one another, and that's the way it should be. From an enterprise point of view, the work files could easily be under central policy control, security standards and backup regimens, while NAC handled many of the device-specific security issues involved in working on them. I think it's a win from every direction...
David Wagner   Death of the PC & Rebirth of Personal Computing   1/21/2011 12:20:56 PM
Re: many end users do care
@Cyrus- What I mean by "end users don't care about form factors" is that to them, they are doing a job. The device they use only matters because of their location and other factors. They don't want to be hindered because they are using a phone or a tablet. They just want to get their file, do what their job with it, and send it on.

The fact that IT puts up gates for them is what they care about. The form factor is just a tool in a tool belt on the way to them doing their job.

Nicky48   Death of the PC & Rebirth of Personal Computing   1/21/2011 11:46:27 AM
Re: Time for a change in Security
Some of our data can now follow is from computer to computer and to phone and tablet.

I use a Hosted Exchange server, so I can read/send email , update contacts , calendar on any device or computer and all devices and all computers reflect the latest data.

I also use Evernote to keep notes of all sorts of things - this is cloud based and I can run Evernote on any device, computer and all my notes are kept in sync.

I think this is the way most software will go.
LadyIT   Death of the PC & Rebirth of Personal Computing   1/21/2011 11:26:43 AM
Re: Time for a change in Security
@Broadway, from a security perspective, I'm with you. Another way in which user wants and IT nightmares intersect :-)
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SaneIT   Death of the PC & Rebirth of Personal Computing   1/21/2011 11:25:45 AM
I'm all for ending their misery
For years we've been seeing web based desktops like Orca and eyeOS, now cloud services are catching up to give us storage and applications.  I'm doing my best to go totally mobile this year for my computing needs.  Sure there will be a device somewhere running Mac and Windows OSes for me but they'll be out of reach and out of sight.  Once IT folks realize the flexibility and security issues are addressed I think we'll see the shift happen very rapidly.
Cyrus   Death of the PC & Rebirth of Personal Computing   1/21/2011 10:09:54 AM
many end users do care
While certainly the definition of "computing" has broadened to include much more than just standard PCs, I think many end users do care what kind of platform they use.

I can't tell you how many people I know who might read their e-mail on a smartphone, but wait until they have access to their laptop to actually reply, as they prefer the form factor of a standard laptop keyboard to that of a smartphone. And, quite simply, there are lots of things that a smartphone can't do, even when tied to a network.

I think the smartphone trend is going to cause the eventual death of the standard cell phone -- and perhaps more quickly than we might imagine.
PakMailFremont   Death of the PC & Rebirth of Personal Computing   1/21/2011 2:26:04 AM
Re: Time for a change in Security
I think PC's will be around for a while...they are not going anywhere just yet!  I have a desktop, laptop and smartphone - and I use all three equally.  I couldn't imagine being without any one of them.  
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