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July 16th, 2015

Laptops, PCs: Not Quite Dead Yet

About six months ago, I placed tongue firmly in cheek and wrote satirically in FOSS Force about how we are entering the “pre-post-PC era” in technology. Depending on whom I’m talking to about this topic, sometimes I bring it up just to watch their eyes glaze over.

But for all intents and purposes, I unequivocally believe that all the talk about desktops and laptops being obsolete is hilariously misguided nonsense.

Personal ComputerThe bottom line: In our mythical race to find The Next Great Thing™, people who know better — or at least are given too much credit in the intelligence department — are grasping at straws because, heck, sooner or later they’ll be right about something.

Apparently I’m not the only one who will not go gentle into that good night of laptop/desktop form-factor obsolescence.

Avram Piltch, online editorial director of Laptop magazine, writes in an online article this week that the “death of PC” hype is dangerous, and now “has the potential to limit the tools you can use to work and play.”

Hmmm. Where have I heard this before?

Piltch starts off comparing the “tech journalism echo chamber” with “a high school cafeteria where disappointing sales news gets passed around and amplified like gossip from the popular kids’ table” and posits that “[p]redictably, pundits repeated the popular mantra that ‘The PC is dying,’ a piece of common wisdom that’s become a dangerously self-fulfilling prophecy.”

He also points out that a declining PC market is not the PC dying, but rather it’s more a reflection of a maturing, developing market for both PC and handheld hardware.

“[R]eports show that media consumption on the PC is growing and is still far ahead of phones for certain content types,” Piltch writes. “Common sense also dictates that a full-fledged computer is still the best or only way to perform certain key functions.”

Right. Let me repeat that last line in case you were distracted: “Common sense also dictates that a full-fledged computer is still the best or only way to perform certain key functions.”

There are a lot of those, but let’s go to my favorite example – one that’s not too widely used, but serves as a good example. Let’s take a key function for programmers, like using vi or Emacs. As some cranky FOSS Force columnist once mentioned, both of these are available for Android. Go ahead and download them on your smartphone and then use them. I’ll wait. Or I can save you the trouble and say that using vi or Emacs on a smartphone or a tablet is akin to cooking a hot dog with a match.

Now try using Blender. Go ahead, I’ll wait, but I’ll also offer a spoiler alert: cooking a steak with a match.

The article brings up an interesting metric: “In a recent report, analytics firm comScore noted that digital-media consumption on the desktop continues to be in an upswing, though phone and tablet usage is growing even faster.

“‘While most of the growth in digital-media consumption over the past four years has occurred on smartphones (up 394 percent) and tablets (up 1,721 percent), these mobile platforms are not eating into aggregate time spent on desktop, which has still grown 37 percent over this time period,’ the report said. ‘The digital-media pie continues to get bigger, and Americans engage with screens during more occasions throughout the day than ever before.'”

Despite declining laptop/PC sales — for reasons ranging from hardware longevity (versus smartphones, which are replaced far more often than computer hardware, which the article explains in detail) — the laptop/PC form factor has established its place in our homes and digital lifestyles.

“Even though people won’t stop using (or buying) computers any time soon, the widespread but incorrect belief that computers are on the way out has serious implications,” Piltch writes. “Corporate executives, investors and developers read the same news stories as everyone else and change their plans accordingly.”

Piltch concludes with this: “The future belongs to those who can code and build new things with technology, all tasks that require the power of a PC. Let’s hope the PC ecosystem remains strong for them.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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Larry Cafiero

Larry Cafiero, a.k.a. Larry the Free Software Guy, is a journalist and a Free/Open Source Software advocate. He is involved in several FOSS projects and serves as the publicity chair for the Southern California Linux Expo. Follow him on Twitter: @lcafiero

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14 comments to Laptops, PCs: Not Quite Dead Yet

  • Eddie G.

    As far as I can see it, the PC is here to stay. Tablet and smart-phones may have their place in the world, but there will never come a time when a person who needs to do long term, number-crunching, spreadsheet manipulating,document-editing, video-rendering work will EVER do it on anything other that a laptop or PC. Tablets to me are like straws, you can suck all the media through it you want, but in the end, that’s all it is, a way to siphon media from off the web into your home…office….car…etc. Smart-phones are in a different category, if tablets are straws? then smart-phones are coffee stirrers: smaller similar cousins to the straw. It can do the same thing a straw (tablet) does, but in smaller doses and quantities. Now, a person who needs to use Emacs, vim, GIMP, LibreOffice, and maybe work in a web-page or two, is going to ALWAYS reach for their PC / laptop first because that’s what these devices were designed for! Yes, you can stream media to your PC or your laptop, but that’s their SECONDARY use, the original intention of making “Personal PC’s” was to allow people to do what they did at work..at home. The laptop is a natural extension of the PC concept, this allowed people to do what they did at work…not JUST at home, but in the cafe, the park, the library etc. While I love tablets and smart-phones both for their excellent ability to catch things right there in the moment, their ability to stream all types of media easily, and their customizable, yet familiar interface, they can not and will not be direct “drop-in” replacements for PC’s anytime in the foreseeable future, at least not in my opinion.

  • Marcus Rhodes

    I think the biggest problem with the PC market is Microsoft’s perpetual reinvention of the UI/UX. This is obviously just clutching at straws in an effort to persuade the masses that their latest product is actually a different, and better product. But renaming and relocating features is just stupid engineering, and even worse marketing. Abandoning keyboard functionality for ‘one size fits all’ behavior is sheer madness. Tell me where I can get a newer laptop with the keyboard of my old dv3510nr. Tell me where I can get an OS like Ubuntu 10.04 or XP (in classic mode, of course) to run on it. (And, no, Mint/Mate are not quite there yet.) I’m just so disgusted with all the players, that I haven’t bought a new PC in 7 years. I buy used, most recently an MSI GT60, for the backlit keyboard, better battery life and processing power, cooler CPU, and SATA and USB 3. But the keyboard could be better. What’s with the menu-key on the right? And the bluetooth isn’t even stereo?! On a machine like this?! Seriously?! And the web-cam doesn’t seem to agree with Mint 17.1, either.

    Nothing but disappointment all around.

    Give me what I want, and I’ll start buying again. But you’re going to have to pry the industry’s rudder out of the cold, dead hands of that bratty, snotty, ‘Why can’t you luddites just learn something new?’ touchy-feely generation now calling the shots apparantly everywhere.

  • This coming autumn, we will do a sort-of, kinda, cannonball run to Indiana. The same type we took to the Hoosier state in 2009, to Sellersburg Indiana. This time, we’ll be plunging out vehicle into the heart of Indiana, and not just sticking our toe over the state line like last time.

    A good friend of Blog of helios and Reglue once said that if he was ever in a position to help us, he would. Well, guess what? He is. Sometime this autumn, we will rent a truck and pick up over 100 desktop small form factors and Dell laptops along with a bunch of 17 inch flat panels. These are all dual core machines and they will have 4 gigs of RAM when they leave the Reglue shop, ready to serve the next NASA system anyalist. What’s the big deal? These computers are from 5 – 7 years old and will work fine for our Reglue kids. And if that wasn’t enough…

    On my desk at work, sits The Beast. Aptly named for its insatiable power consumption and blinding speed. It’s a Xeon quad core at 2.66 GB with 24 GB of RAM and 2 TB of hard drive space. I picked this computer up from a curb on a rainy Saturday morning 4 years ago and just recently put it up on the bench. With a bit of cleaning, it fired right up…albeit with the sound of the space shuttle (RIP)

    My point to all of this long-winded ‘spanation is that computers built and sold 7 years ago have all the computing power the EDCU needs. Uh…ECCU, my acronym for Every Day Computer User. And have you seen the re-emergence of teh Celron chip in new computers? Really?

    Anyway. I think people have come to find out that newer doesn’t really mean better for most of us. I’m putting out 5-7 year old dual core machines with a minimum of 4 GB of RAM and they are easily meeting the needs of most of our Reglue Kids. Some…yeah. We’re putting out Dell E6420 quad cores with 8GB of RAM but those are rare. They will sit on the ready shelf until a legitimate need arises for that much horsepower.

    Celeron chips again? I dunno. They sucked when they first came out. Maybe the market hopes we’ve forgotten just how much.

  • Out of my cold dead hands.

    I’m not giving up my keyboard, even if my brother did just send me an Amazon tablet contraption.

    Heck, I just grabbed a 2010 era Lenovo ThinkPad T510 m560 core i5 with 8GB ddr3 ram for $200 and a valid Microsoft refurb Windows 7 Pro license. Windows runs now in an Antergos Linux (Arch) GNOME Shell Boxes qcow2 kvm virtual machine at near ‘bare metal’ speeds.

    I can’t wait for Microsoft Windows 10. Free. Then I can do my Windows Upstates on Windows 10. (That’s all I do with Windows, but I’m good at it and the whole VM thing makes for good cocktail conversation.)

    I’m sorry. I agree with Larry. Real work requires a keyboard. End of story.

  • Eddie G.

    I think the next generation of computer users are HOPING that the PC goes away for good, but most REAL techs, the ones in the trenches, the ones who would rather sit around on Saturday putting parts in an old Optiplex husk with the latest and greatest heardware-wise, the ones who see nothing wrong with installing openSuSE running KDE on an old Gateway laptop with 4GB or RAM, and a 320GB HDD…these are the peopel who will ALWAYS buy PC towers and laptops. As I had said earlier tablets and smartphones are nice toys, but real techs don’t wotrk on toys, they need machines that have hot-swappable parts, machines that can have their RAM boosted up from what’s normal and standard to levels of Olympian proportions. We’re the ones who will keep PC’s alive, the market may ebb and flow, but they’re not going anywhere, anytime soon!!!

    As for Microsoft? AS we all can tell they’re in the middle of an identity crisis, they are not sure if they want to be a PC-centric compant anymore, or if they prefer to dabble in phones, tablets, and other devices (X-Box One anyone?). Their push for WIndows 10 is once again more of the usual MS standard operating procedure. Remember Windows 98?…it got redesigned as Windows NT 4.0…which was redesigned again in Windows 2000 but was the same thing, Windows Vista? was the pre-cursor to Windows XP…and Windows 7 was the re-birth of Windows XP. Guess it’s just gonna remain this way until Windows 47?…..LoL!

  • I agree about the PC not going anywhere, however, many of these tablets and smartphones are capable of replacing laptops and desktops. There’s not much difference between a quad core laptop with no optical drive, USB and HDMI, and a tablet with the same. Pair with the tablet a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and plug into a 24 inch monitor and that’s all you need. Now I’m speaking of a tablet such as the NVIDIA Shield, Nexus 9 or Sony Xperia. Tablets running Android with specs the same or better than many laptops. Install Linux, which doesn’t require root anymore, and you’re in business. As easy as it has become to do, many are too lazy to figure it out, and that’s the main reason we keep our desktops. I’m all for and love my desktop computers. Just saying…

  • tracyanne

    An then the Ubuntu phone brings the whole thing full circle. Plug it into a dock a with a mouse keboard and Monitor and suddenly it’s a PC.

    No the PC won’t die, what it looks like might change, but the form factor is too useful.

  • Tramonte

    PC is not dying, it’s shrinking. Latest figures of sold PC are telling something important: only 68.4 million new PC sold in Q2 2015. At the same time even tablets have declined (50 million sold). But smartphones are selling well, over five times more than PC. I have witnessed the change when younger generation doesn’t see PC necessary. Many of them have actually abandoned PC and are using just tablets and smartphones. Older folks are more locked to Windows PC ecosystem. They are like Neanderthals.

  • Tramonte

    Personally i have continued to use PC. I bought Intel hardware laptop with no OS pre installed. I checked the Linux compatibility and found it very good and installed Linux Mint 17 on it. Very good choice, no issues so far. Decent, stable, secure and fast laptop for – i hope – next 5-6 years.

  • Frank

    The weight of PC is declining. PC sales figures are suggesting that there are hardly much more than 1.5 billion pc (average cycle of pc 5-6 years?). There are now much more mobiles and they are dominating internet in the morning, in the evening. PC rules only at daytime (10-15 AM) Monday-Friday. Mobiles are more flexible. There are lots of families with 5-8 mobiles but just 1-2 PC. Especially younger females have moved from PC to mobiles.

  • Larry Cafiero

    tracyanne said:

    “And then the Ubuntu phone brings the whole thing full circle. Plug it into a dock a with a mouse keboard and Monitor and suddenly it’s a PC.”

    And then get up to leave, taking your PC with you in your shirt pocket . . . but not before stopping in the bathroom first. And in bending over the toilet, your PC unintentionally and accidentally flies into the bowl.

    Don’t think that’s a possible scenario? It happens all the time. A friend’s smartphone lies now, probably forever, at the bottom of Lake Tahoe after it slipped out of her hands and over the side of the boat. Funny, that never happened with any of my ThinkPads. But these things happen with smartphones, which is probably why that form factor should remain the domain of temporary and conveniently quick communication.

  • Larry Cafiero

    Tramonte said:

    “But smartphones are selling well, over five times more than PC.”

    Correct. And if you read Avram’s article, the primary reason for that is simple: Smartphones have a much higher turnover than laptops and desktops, since a great majority of people — probably everyone — exchange their phones when their two-year (or whatever range) plan expires.

    Tramonte also said:

    “I have witnessed the change when younger generation doesn’t see PC necessary. Many of them have actually abandoned PC and are using just tablets and smartphones.”

    Depends on what the so-called “younger generation” uses them for, sport. Web surfing, gaming, and goofing off with their friends? Sure. That’s the best tool for that particular “job.” Getting real things done? Not so much. My daughter illustrates ebooks and, as one of the “younger generation,” she uses a laptop and desktop to get her work done. Thousands, perhaps millions, of “younger generation” programmers are not programming on their smartphones.

    Tramonte went on further to say:

    “Older folks are more locked to Windows PC ecosystem. They are like Neanderthals.”

    Ageism aside, I would completely disagree with this statement. I see many people of my generation and older (I’m 57) surrendering to the crutch of smartphones and tablets for the convenience of the superficial digital use they have for these form factors (e.g., calling their kids, exchanging photos with friends and family, watching Netflix on their tablet, etc.). And that trait extends to all generations who have no use for technology other than communication and entertainment.

    Some of us, though, have to make the software that makes these people’s lives work on their smartphones and tablets. That software isn’t going to be made on smartphones or tablets and — in case you weren’t paying attention to my article or Avram’s — people repeating the misguided mantra that the “PC is dead” causes hardware makers to mistakenly and tragically reassess the importance of desktops and laptops.

  • Eddie G.

    Oh no!…PLEASE let them CONTINUE to say that the “PC is dead”! All it REALLY does? is drive the price of some super-powerful desktop PC’s into the range that I can afford! So instead of having to “make do” with an i3 or spend a bit more for an i5 I will be able to snag an i7 with 32Gb of RAM and a 2TB hard drive for PEANUTS!…since…after all…no one’s buying these things and I’m sure the manufacturers don’t want to draw a loss for their merchandise! AS for the younger generation, make no mistake about it. whether they like or dislike using a desktop PC if they intend on having REAL JOBS!?..they’d better get used to the idea! I just don’t think companies like Sears Holdings, Exxon, most of the businesses along Wall Street, or any firm in the Financial or Insurance sector will be giving up their PC’s for tablets and smart devices. Understand, as a corporate entity, it’s so much easier to keep track of and secure a desktop PC which is big, sometimes heavy, and clunky (you ain’t walking out of the lobby with THAT thing under your arm without being caught on film and questioned by security!) As opposed to tablets (fits in a manila folder or briefcase!) or smart phones..(even worse, back pocket, under your hat!) So no. the PC isn’t dead, it’s just that for the interim a lot of ill-informed companies and those so-called IT pundits (always wondered why they’re called that!?..wonder if they haven’t changed the meaning of that word! LoL!) might be lauding the ascension of mobile technology, but as I said before, real techs….real developers….real programmers?…even CPA’s, Real Estate managers, CEO’s, VIP’s and anyone else who matters in the world of BUSINESS!? will be perfectly happy to keep spending money on a desktop PC.

    Also of note: While it might seem that the latest and greatest of mobile tech is making the world go round, observe this: If for whatever reason my 500GB HDD in my desktop PC dies?…all I need is a quick trip to Wal-Mart……Radio Shack….Best Buy…heck even Game Stop, and I’m back in business, you even try to change out your permanent storage in your phone or tablet? Also while you can spend the money to upgrade the RAM in one of those things YOU’RE not putting that in, you’re taking your device to a certified licensed tech store to have THEM do it! I can replace not only the HDD, but increase memory, replace my power supply, my CPU fan, graphics card right down the to the very motherboard. You ever try to increase the RAM on your device? what about increasing the display? yeah….no. It’s not something people think of doing….instead, when your 8GB storage, 1GB RAM device gets outdated, you scrape up some more money and buy an :improved” more loaded device, which will eventually become old as well, in which case you’ll have to scrape up some more change and buy…hey wait!….this seems familiar! LoL! Bottom line..is people who might have the monetary means to replace devices at will, love the entire mobile technology market…for those of us who have responsibilities that outweigh spending $399.00 for the newest Samsung Galaxy “Whatever” or the iPad?…there’s the comfort in knowing my 4 year old desktop PC will be getting a refresh when I up the memory yet again to 64GB…and I’ll rest easy in knowing that with openSuSE Linux running on it, I won’t have to worry about it becoming obsolete for a long time to come!