Happy birthday dear Personal Computer, are reports of your demise greatly exaggerated?

14 Aug 2011

by Gary Duffield

Whilst the iPod generation may think they invented cool devices and funky apps, they have all grown up in the shadow of the uber device. Amazingly, its 30 years this month since the IBM PC 5150, the computer that changed the way we work for ever, took its first tentative step into a new marketplace. But maybe the PCs days are numbered.

Back then IBMs core business was the sale of monolithic mainframe monsters, where incompatibility was a design goal.  One IBM service line was not to encroach on any other. The only shared service in IBM then was probably the car park.

Tears of a clone

IBM cared so little for the “personal computer” that they inadvertently created “open source” long before Linux. By building the PC out of fairly standard hardware an entire ecosystem of businesses sprung up making clone  “IBM Compatible"  hardware. Enter Tandon, Compaq, HP, Asus, Lenovo et al, most still today selling IBM compatible hardware, it just doesn’t say so on the label anymore. Meanwhile Microsoft with its tag line of “a PC on every desk top and in every home”  was riding high as IBM had not negotiated exclusivity over the quickly rebadged QDOS (It was sold as PC-DOS on IBMs and MS-DOS on anything else).

Video killed the radio star, WordStar killed the typewriter

In the PCs heyday, it forced massive change in to the workplace. I can remember running projects (When PRINCE 2 was a football score), where the typewriter in the typing pool was replaced by the PC on the manager’s desk. When was the last time you saw a job advert for a typist?  The march of the PC had started and carried on with year on year growth, but, the sales of new PCs, especially laptops, is slowing. For example, laptops and netbooks have had average annual rates of growth approaching 40% over the last five years. Gartner predict this will  now decline to about 10 % through 2015 as we consumers increasingly get Internet access—the killer mobile app—through a variety of mobile devices.

Look at the price of laptops as manufactures seek to make them more appealing to a world filling with tablet computers. To my mind, the tablet is a powerful tool, I’m typing this on my iPad using a word processor that cost a few $. But I’ll be emailing it to myself to format it, do some Photoshop'ing, I couldn’t do the medicine bottle on an iPad. It’s that combination that I see adding value, triage your email on your tablet; get the shape of your document done on the train on your tablet but add value and a polish using the tools that only a full PC can offer.

Happy Birthday PC


Take two tablets

learly this has caught the PC industry on the back foot; Intel has watched the rise and fall of its ATOM netbook chip. Microsoft reaped rewards from the 10 years of XP.  Yet, Windows 7’s successor, Windows 8, is already being leaked on the internet. Windows 8 is a major platform change for Microsoft with tablet devices being supported by default rather than by accident. It also breaks the Wintel model where Microsoft and Intel were joined at the hip. Windows 8 runs on ARM processors.  ARM processors are designed for mobile devices, you can see where they are going. Dr Mark Dean, one of the original designers of the PC said in his blog recently “When I helped design the PC, I didn’t think I’d live long enough to witness its decline,” He goes on to say that his primary device is now a tablet. You can read his blog here.

Microsoft's Frank Shaw is a little more optimistic: he prefers not to call this the "post-PC era", reminding us that 400 million personal computers will still ship this year. Perhaps Frank missed analyst firm iSuppi’s prediction of 300 million tablets shipping. With Google’s Chrome OS also on the hunt for a market that doesn’t involve Microsoft or require that IBM Compatible sticker.

Of course corporate users of PCs won’t be kicking them out and replacing them with tablets, but many IT departments are already being asked to support devices creeping into the enterprise around the edges. You can do a positive ROI analysis on the tablet form factor for many role. 

Take two tablets

Thought leadership – Betamax vs. VHS replayed

For over 20 years, DDLS has provided advice on leading edge content, such as Agile, Microsoft, Cisco, Professional skills, and new learning modality such as virtual and blended eLearning. The tablet, in my view will play a significant role in both business and learning, anything that helps convert training into learning gets my vote. The battle for the dominant tablet platform is yet to start, Windows 8, Android and iOS are all massing the troops.

Ironically, since I pressed publish; the first causality of the Tablet wars was felled. HP is looking to do an IBM and remove itself from PC production, and it quietly killed off its WebOS based tablet. After just a month on sale in Australia. The war isn’t over, but the first battle goes to the iPad.

Right now, tooking at this research, people only have eyes for the iPad. Luckily, we are already scheduling developer courses for iOS.

It’s the law that I have to mention cloud every time I speak, and it’s the cloud that will help push the sales of tablet devices. Add data storage and some computing into the cloud and Tablets start to be more interesting to me. The device becomes a portal where we consume our digital assets.

Happy Birthday PC, I did get you a present, it’s an iPad.

Gary Signature