Three Reasons the PC Era Is Coming To An End

These days, if you asked most people which company is out to destroy the PC, they’d tell you ‘Apple’. But it isn’t just Steve Jobs out to crush the personal computer. In fact, a much better symbol for the end of the PC came recently when Google launched an on-site video editing app on YouTube.

Why? It was one more step in a trend that moves computing away from the desktop and onto the web. And nowadays, you could even skip editing on the web – the new iPhone will let you edit movies and then upload them directly to YouTube, no computer required. Things that were unimaginable just a few short years ago are now a reality and, as we move more and more into the cloud, the importance of personal computers will continue to decline.

So here are three reasons the end of the PC era can’t come fast enough.

 

1. There's More Computing Power in the Cloud

So, you think your six-core i7 980 Extreme processor is the bee’s knees right? It can run Crysis at nine-thousand frames a second? Neat. But it’s a tiny fraction of the kind of computing power in use when you do something like a Google search. No, really. It’s only a tiny fraction.

See, right now we think of computing power in terms of how much you can fit inside a box under (or on top of) your desk. But given how fast computer technology changes – and how quickly the need for computing power ramps up – doesn’t it make much more sense to ‘outsource’ computing power to the network and just have a terminal at home?

This was the argument made by Nick Carr in The Big Switch. Much sooner than we think, computing power will be like electric power – we will simply plug a terminal into the wall and have our actual processing down elsewhere. By doing so, we have will have access to far more computing power, and power that is constantly being upgraded and refined without us having to buy a new box every 2 years.

Right now of course, all that computing power is constrained by how much and how fast information can be moved back and forth between your home and these server farms. But we know this will change soon – and once broadband speeds are fast enough, it will be one more nail in the personal computers’ coffin.

So while now you need a computer of a certain power to do something like HD video editing, once computing power is outsourced in won’t matter what terminal you have – as long as your connection is fast enough, you will always be able to take advantage of the latest technology and services.

 

2. The Cloud Is More Convenient

If you are among the many tech-geeks with more than one computer, how many times has this happened to you: you download a new album or movie onto one computer and then, a few days later, you find yourself annoyed because you forgot to transfer it over to your other computer. Frustrating, right? Sure, services like Dropbox are amazing steps forward, but it isn’t enough.

When all your data exists in the cloud, you will never again have to worry about where things are. And the thing is, you won’t need a PC to access it. All you need is a terminal – whether at a desk or mobile – to access and manipulate it through a web browser using something like Google Docs.

Moreover, we all now use multiple devices. When all data is in the cloud, it will be accessible from anywhere, whether a tablet, smartphone, video game console or whatever else. And it will be one more reason that a bulky PC in your home will be unnecessary.

It’s true that many people have privacy and security concerns. But there was a time that some people thought it was insane to hand over your money to a company – which we now call banks – and let them look after it. Data will be the same way. Specialized companies will emerge who traffic in data alone and they will become as central to our day-to-day existences as banks are today.

 

3. The Tablet Cometh

Of course, it would be misleading to talk about the end of the PC era without mentioning the tablet, largely because it’s the last piece of the puzzle. If the PC is waning because it makes more sense to move both data and computing power into the cloud, then you still need something to access all that.

The tablet makes the most sense because its touch-screen interface is infinitely adaptable. If you want to watch a movie it’s a TV; if you want to edit film, it’s an editing machine; if you want to easily organize your cloud files, a touch-based system is often vastly superior and more intuitive than a mouse and keyboard.

The tablet – regardless of which platform – makes the most sense since, when broadband is fast enough to realize this vision of the cloud, it will be the best device to become a smart terminal. It’s also often far more easy to use – think about your grandma using an iPad versus a a desktop PC – making it a better solution for opening up the market to more and more users.

It’s true that the “smart terminal” idea still is a few years – if not a couple of decades out – but make no mistake: it’s coming. The era of the PC is coming to a close.

Agree or disagree? Is the PC era ending? And what will be the benefits and drawbacks of moving computing into the cloud?

Written by Navneet Alang

Navneet Alang is a technology-culture writer based in Toronto. You can find him on Twitter at @navalang
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Comments
  • doubting thomas

    You remind me of those wackos, who 5-10 years ago SWORE that in 5-10 years ALL software would be written in Java – even operating systems. It was a ridiculous idea, but they were all caught up in the hype.

    Computer users keep buying faster and faster systems, computer makers keep finding ways to shave nanoseconds off of access times, and here you are suggesting all data should be sent halfway around the country, instead of just 12 inches to your hard drive.

    Sorry, but your enthusiasm doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

    • Charles

      AMEN!

      I can’t stress enough how stupid this all is….And this article just screams “Propaganda” to me.

      By supporting cloud computing, people are basically saying “go ahead and take what little ownership of my data, programs, etc that I still have!” in favor of “on the go” access because they’re too lazy or cheap to buy a laptop with a wifi connection…

      I, for one, will NEVER store my data on some “super server”…The local (meaning, in your computer) hard drive is still, and always will be, the best and fastest method of storing and retrieving data.

      For business purposes such as collaborative software development, sure go with a cloud….

      But for the average user, gamers, and people that like their freedom of ownership and privacy….Cloud just isn’t the answer, and it never will be.

      For one, not everyone has a T1 or faster fiber-optic internet connection in their home (I know I don’t)
      So how on earth do they expect me and people like me to jump on a “get rid of your computer and pay us every month to use our “terminal” box to access your files!” bandwagon?? Are they crazy?!

      I will NEVER forsake the personal computer in favor of remote access…. And I think most of the Windows, Linux, and Mac users out there would tend to agree with me on this…At least I hope they would.

      the PC market is alive and kicking, stronger than it ever has been. Don’t let them fool you by saying it’s dying off or that people just don’t want to deal with “computers” anymore…It’s nothing but propaganda. Apple, HP, Asus, and Dell can afford all those commercials on TV and facebook advertising for a reason ;-) (the reason being that people are buying computers like crazy, just in case you didn’t get that)

      Cloud Computing will NEVER be more secure, private, efficient, powerful, enjoyable, or practical as having a PC/Mac.

      • http://spongefreddiespeaks.blogspot.com/ Sponge Freddie

        Amen to your amen!
        On August 16th of this year I posted a response to this silly article at my blog. It was almost too silly for me to even bother replying to, but apparently not. If you go to Sponge Freddie Speaks and look at the lone August post of this year, you’ll see most of the astute comments here that readers made regarding Navneet’s article are represented.

      • Palaone123

        The CLOUD ? And what happens if the cloud data has been compromised ? That’d means billion people depending on the cloud rallying on the streets because the CLOUD has just lost their data !!! This would cause civil was !!! hahaha And what about those for those countries where people lease DSL lines by-the-kilobyte ??? Do you really intend to suck up their wealth up to their last food so that they could do their profession and stuff?

        This article is STUPID and NON-SENSE.

  • Jo Dean

    No way dude, I’ll never give up my MacBook Pro!

    Lou

  • http://Digg.com Kevin

    I love how everyone talks about tablets being the way of the future because my grandma can use one, but has anyone stopped to this that my grandma won’t be around for “the way of the future”…

    Just a thought.
    K

    • Charles

      There’s also the problem that any touch-screen has…. condensation. Your screen gets wet, and you’re the proud owner of a $300-500 paperweight that can only be fixed by a specialty shop.

      it’s completely impractical…especially when the keyboard is, literally, plain english and easily replaceable if it breaks.

  • http://diesellaws.com Diesel Laws

    Great post. It’s all a matter of time.

  • Steven

    The PC market is not dying. Why would you even think that. The PC has a different purpose and thats to act as a media server or play games. A laptop or a tablet cant do that nearly as well. Hell I don’t even play games on consoles becuase the graphics are out dated. You cant upgrade the graphics on consoles tablets and most laptops. That’ts just more companies making you over pay for half assed hardware at best. The day the pc dies is the day I give up computers

    • Charles

      I completely agree.

      Desktops are, and will continue to be, the best solution for gaming, video, 3D, etc.

      I am right there with you in saying that the day the pc is no more, is the day I quit the IT field forever. I will never buy into cloud technology, and no amount of propaganda will change that.

  • Henry Mortg

    You’re article is absolutely ridiculous on so many levels. I like how 66% of your “reasons” are “THE CLOUD”. You have no idea what the cloud is or does based on how you talk about it. The Cloud is a COMPLIMENT to desktops and other computing platforms, not a replacement. I don’t understand your argument. There is always a need for fast CPU’s and GPU’s in a desktop and ram. I love being able to play 1080P x264 encoded videos on my desktop, can’t do that in the cloud and any STREAMING 1080P video is complete crap quality with no surround sound. Nothing like playing (locally without wasitng bandwidth a 20mb/s beautiful 1080p movie with lossless digital 5.1-7.1 surround sound. Let’s see Netflix or hulu do that. You need fast CPU/GPU to decode and process that. Not to mention there are TONS of scenarios where local FAST computing resources are much more convenient and necessary than CLOUD based services. Mostly scenarios where local resources compliment cloud resources. The cloud WONT replace PC’s.. you’re just stupid and don’t understand what it is..

    Also tablets have been around for decades.. the iPad is nothing new, it’s a crippled tablet. I don’t understand how touchscreens and tablets will replace PC’s anymore than Laptops were herald as the end of PC’s back when they first started to emerge.

    Go away and come back when you get something more than a Communications Degree from a community college.

  • Concerned

    As long as they still make desktops and I am allowed to have my own closed off system, I’m okay with the idea. But no matter what, and bank analogies aside, not everyone wants to have all their personal information on someone else’s servers. Think about it, what happens to all the illegally downloaded movies and software and god forbid you lose your internet connection, at which point you are stuck with a blank screen with no resources of its own whatsoever.

  • http://heptagrama.com Tedel

    I don’t agree. Computers are not that advanced to say we are coming to an end of PCs. Why do you think we still have keyboards, for example? There have been a lot of improvements lately, yet there is a long way to go yet.

  • James D Tabbert

    Great article Navneet! I couldn’t agree more and have been anticipating this for some time.
    It makes complete sense, with most computing tasks requiring much less processor power that the average system.
    Your “Crysis” reference at the beginning got me thinking about computer versus console gaming.
    “Gaming systems” defiantly provide much greater graphics capabilities than consoles, and can be upgraded constantly.
    With consoles, people must wait the requisite 4-8 years for the “next-gen” units to arrive before similar performance increases are realized.
    Computer gamers by the numbers are a much smaller lot, do you think the era of low-powered terminals will drive up the cost of graphics cards in the future and shrink this segment ever further?

  • Not really

    There’s a few things not taken into account here..

    1) is that computers are getting faster and faster, and there is very probably going to be another big leap in the nearish future. So we will never need to outsource our computing needs, as there will always be more then enough horsepower locally to meet users needs.

    2) Knowone wants to have everything of theirs stored in a cloud, privacy is only one of the concerns, theres also the fact that you wouldn’t be able to access any of it while not connected to the internet, and while the world is becoming an increasing massively interconnected environment, the majority of people will always want some local power/storage/usage.

    3) One of the golden rules is if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. An entirely cloud based model creates problems, but fixes none for the end user…. you’ll trade upgrade costs for a monthy contract to some kind of cloud service provider, you’ll trade 100% privacy, for the risk(and by risk I really mean certainty, google, facebook, etc – every time a massive amount of peoples data gets placed in a cloudish environment it has been abused to some degree).

    And the tablet, while it is going to be a part of the future of how we access the net, has nothing to do with the cloud model… you might as well have said that one great thing about the cloud model is you can look at pictures of puppies.

    That all being said the cloud does have major potential, and will be a PART of our digital lives in the years to come, but IMO it will never replace the PC, but rather be used in conjoin with it.

  • http://paulsanduleac.com Paul Sanduleac

    Agree.

  • Ryan

    Your an idiot… First off if your gonna talk about no more existence of PC’s because of a cloud environment then you also need to talk about OS X and Linux disappearing as well. Second you obviously have never tried typing on a tablet, It would take me 30 minutes to type this comment compared to a few minutes with a keyboard so a tablet isn’t going to be the best way to use the cloud you retard. Sure a tablet is easy to use but WTF does grandma need to use a tablet for? My grandma doesn’t need to check her email 10 times a day. By the time the cloud is ready to go 95% of people will be knowledgeable enough to use a computer for their basic needs so for a device to be “easy to use” is irrelevant.The cloud business plan is stupid. Sure its fine for the average person who checks their email and browses websites but for poeple who actually use their computer it would cost me $75+ per month to do all the video editing, movie downloading and encoding.Where did you get 2 years for a life span of a computer??????? Sure if you buy the Walmart $149.99 special it will be good for 2 years but if your a normal person and spend a little money on a computer you can get an easy 5 years out of it. Your article is irrelevant and who ever approved this awful excuse for an interesting and relevant article should be fired.

  • rinon 460

    what a joke. The author obviously has no idea how computers work.

  • http://gnu.org Gentoo

    What you’re referring to as Linux, is in fact, GNU/Linux, or as I’ve recently taken to calling it, GNU plus Linux. Linux is not an operating system unto itself, but rather another free component of a fully functioning GNU system made useful by the GNU corelibs, shell utilities and vital system components comprising a full OS as defined by POSIX.

    Many computer users run a modified version of the GNU system every day, without realizing it. Through a peculiar turn of events, the version of GNU which is widely used today is often called “Linux”, and many of its users are not aware that it is basically the GNU system, developed by the GNU Project.

    There really is a Linux, and these people are using it, but it is just a part of the system they use. Linux is the kernel: the program in the system that allocates the machine’s resources to the other programs that you run. The kernel is an essential part of an operating system, but useless by itself; it can only function in the context of a complete operating system. Linux is normally used in combination with the GNU operating system: the whole system is basically GNU with Linux added, or GNU/Linux. All the so-called “Linux” distributions are really distributions of GNU/Linux.

  • Andrew

    Enjoy playing Crysis at nine thousand frames per second in the cloud

    • Charles

      as long as you have a wormhole for an internet connection so you can get the game data, OS, and “hardware” streamed to your terminal at the speed a decent PC would run it lol

      I don’t believe the writer of this article knows much, if anything, about his topic…he found some pictures, went to a “pro-cloud” lobbying website for information, and obviously loves the iPad more than anything else because he bought that instead of doing the simple research to buy a good laptop.

  • Richard Stallman

    I’d just like to interject for a moment. What you’re referring to as Linux, is in fact, GNU/Linux, or as I’ve recently taken to calling it, GNU plus Linux. Linux is not an operating system unto itself, but rather another free component of a fully functioning GNU system made useful by the GNU corelibs, shell utilities and vital system components comprising a full OS as defined by POSIX.

    Many computer users run a modified version of the GNU system every day, without realizing it. Through a peculiar turn of events, the version of GNU which is widely used today is often called Linux, and many of its users are not aware that it is basically the GNU system, developed by the GNU Project.

    There really is a Linux, and these people are using it, but it is just a part of the system they use. Linux is the kernel: the program in the system that allocates the machine’s resources to the other programs that you run. The kernel is an essential part of an operating system, but useless by itself; it can only function in the context of a complete operating system. Linux is normally used in combination with the GNU operating system: the whole system is basically GNU with Linux added, or GNU/Linux. All the so-called Linux distributions are really distributions of GNU/Linux.

  • Timg555

    Why would any one want to not have a real computer in there home.

  • Johan

    Well, no.
    Because of one basic thing:
    You have no control in the cloud. Also no privacy and stuff like that.

  • http://www.animateclay.com Marc

    I disagree. If your data is in a cloud “just an external server with similar components as a PC”, sure you can access it from any device. But what if cel phones and tablets were here first, and PC’s were a new invention? Would everyone be going to PC’s because there’s a cloud? No, and vice versa. The cloud is a cloud, the device you use doesn’t matter. Also – online editing of videos has been around for years and hasn’t really caught on. YouTube/Google is late in the game actually. And as far as there being some major amount of computational resources because it’s all in a cloud is nonsense when you’re talking about YouTube videos which are highly compressed and then you’re limited by your dial up connection somewhere in a third world country. It’s useless for any serious videographers. Try travelling abroad and test the internet, it’s brutally slow. Plus any simple editor that is PC based has about 1000 times the functionality. Just check out the basic functions of Sony Vegas and compare it to YouTubes editor. I agree that more information is becoming easier to access because it’s stored on servers and on machines at google. But how you access it depends on your personal needs. Remember, you still need a machine to upload your videos to before you send it to YouTube. Plus businesses will always need those big clunky things called printers. :)

  • whois

    Disagreed. This post is full of uneducated BS.

  • http://nVidia.com Jen Hsung

    I completely Agree

  • http://www.24bear.com/ Brian

    It certainly looks that we’re heading in that direction, but one of the huge drawbacks of cloud computing though, is if one day the cloud service collapses, so will your data. Example: OnLive! the online gaming stream-based system has an odd thing where if you do not subscribe their service after a year, you lose all the games you purchase from them. You’re also investing your own data to the hands of other people, so if the cloud computing service do not keep their security up to snuff, your data is potentially exposed. It is still important that we web users still keep our crucial information and data to ourselves. I don’t think true cloud computing era is here quite yet until ALL applications can be used (CAD3D, HD video, 3D games, etc.), as our bandwidth speed is still not optimal enough to stream at the speed of our desktop processing power. Not only that, the big ISPs are not fully committed to net neutrality, along with neutered 3G/4G wireless development.

    As for tablet, sure it’s a great way to consume media. Thing is, I don’t believe this will allow us to get things done as quickly with a traditional keyboard. There are still tons of codes out there that still needs to be inputted in order to keep things running.

  • who approved this article?

    after several years on portable devices, i’m going BACK to a standard pc/desktop because i’m tired of having cut back options + _power_. needless to say, most of our laptops are just sitting @ the same desk or on our couches 90% of the site.

    terrible article.. that’s strike 1 for you techi.

  • Casey

    Yup, the above mentioned technologies will kill the PC, like video killed the radio …

  • lark

    I don’t think you understand how computers work, try researching into that before you blog garbage onto the internet. Good day sir.

  • Petros Michaelides

    I like the post and it is fun to read but If I wish it was a little bit more specific and I will give you an example. I think that eventualy data will live on the cloud but instead there is going to be a combination of technologies involved and I’ll explain. For instance iTunes library will surely keep original files up on the server but it will sync with local machine. Just like emails, caledars, and contacts are synced across different platforms and devices much like microsft exchange and MobileMe, if you are familiar with the technology, the server accepts changes and makes sure that to updat the rest of the subscribers whether be it mobile devices or computers with a client. So in the case of music the client is the iTunes. By the way, did you see the sync services for iBooks, which automatically syncs you notes, bookmarks etc. That’s where I think we are heading.

  • athwen

    Navneet Alang I suggest you get a more general overview of how computing really is, for casual users, hobbyists, gamers, professionals and other groups that use the computer on a daily basis. Politely I’d like to point out that most of the points you attempted to make, in defense of why the “PC Era” is dying are in fact irrelevant as other better/faster alternatives have existed for some time already. For example in your first paragraph you mention that video editing can be done online now, and soon we won’t even need those “i7 processors” that can run Crysis at 9000 frames per second…. in your own words. So everytime I want to do video editing, I have to log on and do whatever I want to online? A reason exists, as to why most workstations in studios are not connected to the Internet, and programs like Adobe Photoshop etc allow you to capture your offline registration/setup information and bring it to another PC with Internet connection to register/activate the product.

    Then you mentioned storing files/data online for users who have multiple PCs and as you put it,
    “When all your data exists in the cloud, you will never again have to worry about where things are.”.
    For users who have multiple PCs, its EXTREMELY common for them to have 1 PC setup as a file server for the exact purpose you have mentioned. You don’t have to be online, and your files/folders can still be synced with superior ease.

    Please before writing something like this on the Internet, do your research thoroughly beforehand. Its all good to try to make wisecracks and inject humour, but it backfires spectacularly (as shown in your case) when it fails hard. Good day.

  • Belinda

    The biggest thing holding back the cloud computing era, in my opinion, will be the speed of wireless internet connection. Here in Australia, it ain’t great.

    There is an interesting article and subsequent comments here http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/04/why-steve-jobs-hates-flash.html that talk about some similar themes. I found it a great read.

  • http://www.playboy.com Belinda is hot

    The cloud is just a resource that can be tapped into by all manner of devices, it’s not some Jesus technology created to deliver us from the torments of the PC as this articles seems to suggest. Cloud computing is actually a fairly old idea, in the context of a desktop user it amounts to a thin client with some server hosted applications.

    If you wrote an article stating that PCs will be replaced to a large extent by smaller computers, ie. mobile phones, then I would agree. Current smartphones already have the ability to be used with Bluetooth mice and keyboards and some new phones offer the ability to use an external monitor via HDMI. So if a phone can be used to surf the web, check email, view photos/videos and other basic tasks on a larger monitor then you’ve already replaced the proverbial PC with a mobile device. But guess what. It is still a personal computer except it finally fits into your pocket.

    Please don’t confuse the trend for computing devices to continually shrink in size with cloud computing somehow making locally run applications obsolete. Just look at the number of applications currently available across all desktop and mobile platforms and you’ll realize that your dream of everything running in the cloud is not practical.

    But who knows, maybe this article isn’t meant to be insightful. The ‘shocking revelation’ in the headline is sure to attract clicks and generate some ad revenue for the site.

    Cheers.

  • MrWar

    Gaming will keep the PC alive, it is that simple.

  • stupidyou

    this guy is only freelance writer and blogger..not technology expert……thats obviously from what he write here…..he is know nothing about how those computer things done

  • Cooper

    The PC will someday become obsolete. But we are nowhere near that day.

    You have no idea what you’re talking about, and frankly, you sound like an idiot.

  • Apple Lion

    This reminds me of a speach to move people toward communism. No I don’t want the corporations that own server farms to lease me a computer terminal connection for the rest of my life on top of the already expensive internet bill… then charge me extra because I want to play games that require more processing power than Joe Blow.

    I have no interest in having all my personal data stored off site when I can easily buy a hard drive and access the data I need whether I have a connection or not. That’s all we need is one central location for hackers to focus on in order to steal all the data people have stored there. Not to mention the ability for the government to sieze this information in seconds before you even realize what is happening.

    There is no need for average every day users to need any kind of processing power beyond what we can buy and bring home. Good luck working on your term paper while on vacation when all you have is a terminal and no internet connection. I know comcast has been a great 70% connection for me with so many interupts and disconnects they are lucky to still have me as a customer and I live in a city… I can only imagine what people out in the country think about this article… LMAO.

  • http://www.m48v.com/blog Vicente

    What exactly IS the future?

  • Mark Meier

    smaller pc’s or laptop are always welcome. But you will always have the
    screensize (the bigger the better, especially when getting older) and
    the size of the keyboard, as long as data input will be given through
    typing instead of talking.

    The cloud is a nice thinking wish but what I hate the most is the fact
    that everything would be more controllable, which I don’t like

    I still like my standalone environment where I can do stuff without being on the net or cloud

    And I want my privacy. We would need a complete new concept of
    connectivity to guarantee all mobile users a safe connection. Cell
    towers will never be able to cover the rural areas.

    The idea of centralized or decentralized computer/intelligence is
    decades old for manufacturers like IBM and both have their advantages
    and disadvantages

    For me the most concern is: controllable data and independence

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Tysoe/711623798 Matt Tysoe

    Try and find me an alternative to my 4hgz o/c hex core CPU. Then we will talk.