Thursday, March 4, 2010

Will the desktop computer ever become obsolete?

Can the desktop computer be replaced with new mobile smartphones? John Herlihy from Google Europe thinks so. Silicon Republic quotes him as saying, "In three years time, desktops will be irrelevant. In Japan, most research is done today on smart phones, not PCs." Now I cannot comment on the internal affairs of Japanese research, but I can say with confidence that my desktop computer is not going anywhere anytime soon. Sure cloud computing is exciting, efficient, and mobile. In fact, people may even be using laptops more than desktops, but there is little chance we will all be working on smart phones in the future.

The most obvious of problems is convenience. Desktop computers are used for word processing, three-dimensional gaming, and high-performance computing. All of these tasks are not likely to be easily reproduced on smart phones. When has anybody ever benchmarked a smart phone's web browser by opening up fifty or more tabs like on a desktop computer? Another problem is the versatility of a desktop computer. It can be customized far beyond a smart phone. People use their desktop backgrounds and themes to express themselves (not for all people, of course), graphic designers run Photoshop on desktops, and pretty much any processor intensive software is run on a desktop. These are facts that cannot be ignored.

Mike Melanson writes "are we working from our smartphones? No. Laptops and netbooks rule." I admit that for an extended amount of time I worked solely from my laptop, but even this is taking a step too far. Desktops are just so much more useful and can be used for such a wide variety of tasks that laptops and netbooks will not be able to compete, at least for now. When computer hardware designers created laptops and netbooks, they intended to create a home away from home, that home being your desktop. The laptop was and is a portable extension of your desktop. Microsoft would use the Briefcase functionality to easily sync the two, but now sites like DropBox and Google's cloud computing services are making it even easier to extend your desktop to your laptop. So while laptops and netbooks can use cloud computing to draw more information away from physical storage on a desktop computer, it is no replacement, and hopefully people will be using desktop computers for quite a while.

Even with Google Chrome OS on the horizon, I stand strong with my desktop computer. For once, I am actually disagreeing with something a Google executive has said (quite a shocker seeing I am a big fan of Google). We may be moving away from desktops at some extent, but it's a fat chance they will go obsolete, especially if smart phones are the replacement. How Japan manages their research on smart phones remains a mystery.


  1. For me the biggest limitation of my netbook (basically my only computer) is input. But I can hook it up to a nice big monitor and plug in USB keyboard and mouse and it's just as useful as a desktop. Then again, I don't play games or edit video. However, even these tasks will soon be no challenge to the power that will be packed in a 9" or 10" package. In that sense, I think the stationary mega-tower is dying. Eventually your smartphone and computer will become one machine, joined with servers all over the world. My vision: I set my netbook on a desk, it wirelessly connects to a screen and input devices, my status (which is also visible to anyone trying to call or text me) changes to "At work", my data comes to me, and I can be productive.

  2. laptops are nice and all, but even then, there's NOTHING like taking your tower and turning it into a media center and then hooking it up to the LCD TV. Couple it with a wireless keyboard/mouse and a La-z-boy and it's computing/surfing heaven. You retain the comfort setting of a laptop but also gain a 32 inch monitor.

    So no, I don't think the desktop pc itself will be quite leaving just yet. Now the actual desk that used to host it and the standalone monitor, however..... those are gone.