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Hardware Technology

The Desktop Is Dead, Long Live the Desktop! 453

Posted by Soulskill
from the don't-abandon-your-battlestation dept.
theodp writes "'The desktop or laptop is now in decline,' writes John Sall, 'squeezed from one side by mobile platforms and from the other side by the cloud. As a developer of desktop software [by choice not necessity], I believe it is time to address the challenges to our viability. Is software for the desktop PC now the living dead, or zombieware.' While conceding there's some truth to truisms about the death of the desktop, Sall believes there's still life in the old desktop dog, 'We live in a world of computing where dreams come true,' Sall concludes. 'The mainframe bows to the minicomputer. The minicomputer bows to the personal computer. The personal computer bows to the tablet and smart phone. It seems as if these will soon bow to the smart watch or smart glasses. But at each step along the way, some applications find their best home – and other applications as well as new applications find the more convenient and smaller home better...So let's keep our desktops and laptops, our PCs and Macs. They are amazingly good at what they do.'"
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The Desktop Is Dead, Long Live the Desktop!

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  • Re:Every year (Score:2, Interesting)

    by twocows (1216842) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @09:13AM (#45593797)
    I guess I should finish the summary. What he seems to be saying is more or less fair and basically what I said. My bad.
  • Developing software (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jfdavis668 (1414919) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @09:15AM (#45593811)
    For the web, desktop, tablet or phone, PCs or Macs are where development happens. We often need more power than a laptop can handle, so we use quite a few desktop PCs. For the general public, tablets may fill the need, but for development there will always be desktops.
  • by santiagoanders (1357681) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @09:26AM (#45593903)

    LOL. Let me know how long your laptop can sustain my desktop clock frequencies before throttling. It may have the same chip, but it sure doesn't have the same POWER.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @09:39AM (#45594031)

    The traditional PC is the truck. Not everyone needs a truck, so most people drive other things, but for those who need to do heavy work, trucks still exist.

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @09:39AM (#45594033)

    Tablets tend to suck for creation. There are limited exceptions, but for the most part a mouse n' keyboard, and a screen without your fingers in the way, are what you want for creating things. This includes software, of course, but also more mundane business things like financial spreadsheets, e-mails, and so on. It applies to other creative pursuits such as writing, video editing, and so on.

    Basically tablets are reasonably good if you want to consume content. You can read a book, surf the web, etc with ease on a tablet. However when you start to talk creation, they are not as good. They can do in a pinch, but much better to have a real keyboard and larger screen.

    What we are actually seeing is not desktops and laptops "dying" but rather maturing. The market is more or less done growing. However that doesn't mean it is going away. The two states are not "growth" and "death". Rather it can be stable.

    We've already seen this in things like mainframes. Desktops didn't kill off mainframes. You can still buy them, and people do. There are more of them now then when there were only mainframes. However it is a mature market. There aren't many organizations that want one, and you don't replace them that often. So there's no growth, but it isn't dead by any means.

    That's what is happening with desktops. Go in to a business, have a look around, they have not tossed all their computers and started playing with tablets and phones. There is a computer on every desk practically. However, as noted, there is a computer on every desk. They've got their computers. They buy for replacement now largely, not to increase the numbers.

    The only people who think desktops/laptops are going to "die" are either kids who just play on their smart phone and don't do productive work with a computer, or idiot tech journalists.

  • Re:but but.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by plankrwf (929870) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @10:13AM (#45594409)

    Have mod points, but will post instead:
    Although your '...year of the Linux desktop' is a very old statement, my observation is that now (end of 2013/start of 2014) is indeed the year of the Linux desktop.
    Just as last year, with the Nexus 7, it was the first time I felt comfortable giving a "non-iPad" tablet to my father, this time
    when their XP laptop died, it was the first time I actually considered giving them a laptop with Linux on it. So I searched for that lone laptop which still had Windows 7 (and hence: no UEFI problems), installed Linux Mint on it (for the cureous: Mint Cinnamon, Petra, RC at the time), and let them loose with it. And so far they are really happy with it.
    The reasons I could do this were:
    - Linux Mint is a simpler experience then Windows 8(.1) and looks close enough to XP;
    - Libre office (writer, calc) look close enough to the office version they had previously.
    It is/was the first time I knew that giving them Linux + Libre office was a better choice then giving them Windows 8(.1) and the ribbon...

    And this from someone that hasn't really used Linux since those early years when you downloaded Slackware on 40+ floppy's, and who uses a (Windows 7, fortunately) laptop from my employer.

  • by itsdapead (734413) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @10:16AM (#45594455)

    The PC market (where P = personal and 'PC' includes Mac,Windows,Linux etc.) has had a 30 year honeymoon period during which specifications were increasing exponentially and real-time prices were dropping. Customers had a real incentive to upgrade their hardware and software every 18 months or so, because they were trying to to jobs that were pushing at the limits of their hardware.

    Now, that has come to an end. Your 3-year old PC can effortlessly run a GUI-based OS like Windows 7, OS X 10.6 or your Linux distro of choice. It can do non-linear HD video editing fast enough for 'pro-sumers'. It can render web pages as fast as your broadband can deliver them. It can play FPS video games at 60 frames/sec, at levels of detail that are just this side of 'uncanny valley'. The only reason it would even break a sweat doing wordprocessing, DTP or spreadsheets is if the software is a bloated mess mentioning no names). The 4GB-8GB RAM you got is probably still enough and the only thing that can really fill up a 500G+ HDD for personal use is your video pr0n collection - for which cheap external HDs (convenient to lock in a cupboard) are available.

    Of course, there are still specialist niches who need Moore's Law to keep rolling - but they will increasingly be looking at things like multi-GPU computing, clusters and the Cloud (£1 in the swear jar) rather than traditional Personal Computers.

    Upgrading might get you a 10% improvement, but that's not going to turn your movie render from "coffee break" to "instant". I think the last, great upgrade for most people will be to switch from spinning rust to SSD (which does produce a dramatic speed up for many users) - after that, the only reason to upgrade will be if your computer breaks, suffers planned obsolescence or if the vendor sells you a stylish new model on non-technical grounds (Apple are the only real masters of that - possibly why they are doing less badly than others).

    Sure, tablets and smartphones are part of the picture, but I suspect that it is more a case of people spending their spare cash on the latest fondleslab as a supplement to their 2 year-old PC rather than junking PCs for tablets.

    There's also a case of self-fulfilling prophecy, with manufacturers obviously spending their R&D money on mobile devices rather than coming up with anything new in the PC line (beyond bunging touch-screens on their laptops) and software houses screwing up their offerings in a misguided attempt to make them more tablet-like (Windows 8, Gnome 3, Unity).

    The only reason the PC will die is if modern hypercapitalist corporations decied that they can't be arsed to support a mature market that is no longer in its boom years and unlikely to generate short term windfall profits.

    Quite frankly, computing could do with a few years respite from 'if it works it is obsolete' to give people a chance to finish upgrading their DOS software to a system that may still be around when they finish the job.

  • by TheloniousToady (3343045) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @10:17AM (#45594463)

    I believe people confuse "the death of the desktop" with "the logical conclusion of the desktop". In the past, each new generation of desktop brought important new capabilities, often in terms of speed and memory, but sometimes in terms of other things (long ago) such as GUI capability, networking, USB support.

    However, desktops now seem to have reached their logical conclusion, at least in terms of speed an memory. Desktops already have more memory than is needed in most cases. Regarding speed, processor clock speed seems to have plateaued, and many processors now have more cores than can be efficiently used. Also, the speed of the computer as perceived by the user now is limited by non-processor factors such as network speed and hard drive speed. And what was the last new "killer feature" to come along like USB to make you buy a new desktop?

    All that leaves little reason for the user to upgrade to the next generation. So, desktops aren't dead, they've just reached their logical conclusion. New desktops will continue to be made, bought, and incrementally improved. But much as car manufacturers change the cosmetics of cars each year to sell new models to people who don't really need to replace their old ones, we can expect Microsoft, Apple, Dell, et. al. to continue to change the cosmetics to convince us to "upgrade". And that will occasionally result in marketing disasters such as the Edsel and Windows 8.

  • by kenh (9056) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @10:20AM (#45594489) Homepage Journal

    Remember how excited everyone got when they started seeing blurtooth keyboard/cases that turned their $400 tablet into a $500 netbook (when notebooks were running $250-350?

    Turning a tablet into a laptop doesn't prove the tablet is replacing the laptop - it proves people like laptops and will adapt their tablets to act like one.

    Oh, and I've been working in IT since the mid-80's, and for the last 30-some years the mainframe has been "on the way out"... Hasn't happened yet, they just keep getting cheaper and cheaper [nytimes.com]...

  • Re:Every year (Score:4, Interesting)

    by twocows (1216842) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @10:21AM (#45594509)
    Fewer PC sales do not mean fewer PCs. One plausible explanation is that fewer people are buying new PCs because their old ones do the job equally well. That said, even if people are using fewer PCs, it's like Dunbal said above me: it's merely declining to a point. Certain use cases are migrating to other devices, but other cases still require (or prefer) a desktop or laptop.

    Fewer PC sales do not mean fewer PCs. One plausible explanation is that fewer people are buying new PCs because their old ones do the job equally well. That said, even if people are using fewer PCs, it's like Dunbal said above me: it's merely declining to a point. Certain use cases are migrating to other devices, but other cases still require (or prefer) a desktop or laptop.

    Wait, why do I have this feeling of deja vu?
  • Re:Every year (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gaygirlie (1657131) <gaygirlie@NOsPAM.hotmail.com> on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @10:31AM (#45594611) Homepage

    They are in decline. They are dying.

    That's the fallacy people fall for, including you: being in decline in no way or form means that it's dying. It just means it'll settle in at a different place than it was before, likely a smaller place, and then stabilize there. Dying would mean exactly that; the whole desktop-PC market disappearing altogether. Alas, there's plenty of people who still need desktop-PCs for all sorts of things and then there's the people who don't specifically need one, but who find mobile devices simply too clumsy and cumbersome to use.

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