The End of the PC Era

There is a lot of discussion going on in the press about the decline of the PC. Per this article by Gartner:

Worldwide PC shipments dropped to 76 million units in the second quarter of 2013, a 10.9 percent decrease from the same period last year, according to preliminary results by Gartner, Inc. This marks the fifth consecutive quarter of declining shipments, which is the longest duration of decline in the PC market’s history.

From my own experience, my PC (which I use for work and applications that I’ve traditionally run on Windows) just gets more and more annoying by the day.

My house has a MacBook Pro, 2 PC’s, an iPhone, an iPad, and a Blackberry (still). The problem is that the PC seems interminable to setup and run, with myriad anti virus upgrades, system upgrades, and the like, and a generally long and painful startup. The perception of the problem is made even worse in that if you don’t run it every day, the updates pile up and it takes even LONGER to get started on the machine.

Meanwhile you just walk up to the MacBook and turn it on, and it’s up. My Macbook is great when you are on wifi and it has smooth typing and a great experience. It also connects to my Samsung TV through Thunderbolt for watching the web up there which is another benefit.

Then you have the iPad, with which I bought an attached keyboard / cover, which turns on in an instant and works anywhere via my cell plan, even if not on wifi. The data plan is pretty cheap and if you use it all up (which you might on vacation or if you are working remotely a lot), you can just buy more for $12.99 and not worry about crazy overcharges. Dan’s got an Android phone and Android tablet which he loves and I assume are just as good (or in some ways better) than the Apple products but I’m satisfied enough to stick with what I’ve got.

One device I am definitely thinking about buying is a Google ChromeBook PC, which runs a version of the Android OS but on dedicated hardware. You can buy one of these for $250, and versions even come with built in cellular, like an iPad. The Google Chrome PC lets you do a bit of stuff locally but mainly relies on the cloud for everything, which has a hosts of advantages from security to rapid start-up and some disadvantages including printing and other mundane items that you take for granted with a typical machine. This seems like something I should buy if for no other reason than to learn more about it.

As you start looking at the Chromebook, Mac and PC you start to think about – what does an operating system do, and how should it be configured? The guys at Google are definitely way, way ahead if you think about security – the system automatically upgrades and if it sees a problem it re-installs. The downside is the need for an internet (or 3G) connection. The Mac is in the middle, and the PC is in the wasteland. When my PC starts to die (it is a Vista PC I upgraded to Windows 7) I’ll have to think long and hard about whether I replace it, at all. MS Office works on the MAC and for 99% of documents I can get them in PDF or machine readable form for my iPad or likely Chromebook by then. Quicken / Turbo Tax are the last holdouts and it probably will be in the cloud by then anyways (reliably, at least) and accessible by Mac devices as well. Intuit for some reason has hesitated to support the Mac platform but it seems like they’ll need to go cloud in a big way or risk becoming irrelevant for home users.

Cross posted at LITGM

20 thoughts on “The End of the PC Era”

  1. I have read that even laptops are going away – replaced by…smart phones? Tablets? Of course I don’t even want to “upgrade” past XP – those newer Windows versions seem too annoying.

    Have a good friend whose been trying to get me to to with Linux for years.

    For me though no replacement for a full keyboard & screen.

  2. There are some things that I need a pc for. Long letters, working spreadsheets, and a few other things. Outside of that I use my tablet for surfing and shorter form writing like this comment.

  3. Lots of fail in this post…

    – The very idea that the “PC is dying” is absurd, because it lacks a definition of what a PC actually is. Is it hardware defined? It can’t be, because it’s constantly changing. Is it software defined? Again, it can’t be, because it’s constantly changing. MacBook Pros are, for all ends and means, PCs. The hardware in a MacBook Pro is identical to what you would find in any Windows PC. The only difference is that the MacBook runs Mac OS, which is a dumbed-down version of UNIX. But there have been numerous PCs in the past that were called “PCs,” but ran Linux, BASIC, DOS, and various forms of UNIX. Is it’s not software, then you can point out that there were numerous PCs in the past that ran on non-Intel hardware. But if Intel hardware defines PC, then the MacBook Pro is also a PC.

    – Google Chromebooks do not run “version of the Android OS.” They run Chrome OS, which is a version of Linux, which is a type of open-source UNIX. Android is also a form of UNIX. However, they are not the same.

    – You can not connect to your Samsung TV with a Thunderbolt port unless you use an adapter. Most PCs have HDMI ports and do not need an adapter.

    – I have no idea what you did to your PC running Windows 7 for it to become the way that it is. More likely than not, you messed with something you knew nothing about and now you blame Microsoft for what you did.

    You should have been more honest in your post, and simply said that you want a machine that’s idiot-proofed so to the point that you can’t customize it and can have a much harder time screwing it up.

    You want idiot-proofed PCs.

  4. – I can connect my Macbook Pro to my Samsung TV. It is a cable that goes from thunderbolt to HDMI. It works great.

    – My PC works as well as can be expected. It takes a long time to boot up and load everything. That’s a waste of time. The longer you wait between bootups, the longer it takes to catch up

    – I know what a PC is. It is something that runs the Microsoft operating system on generally an Intel based chipset, although many have AMD. That is the generally accepted version of what a PC is. I deal with executives and CIO’s all the time and that is a generally accepted answer for what that means in the business world

    – Yes a MAC is a PC running the windows operating system. As we all know, however, the MAC experience is optimized between the hardware and software and there are far fewer flavors and they generally work well together. This once again is the generally accepted experience for a MAC

    – You are splitting hairs on the ChromeBook but that’s fine. In general this is one of the few areas of the “PC” world that is growing and they are increasing in the collective thoughts of executives that I talk to because they hear it from the bottom up

    This isn’t tech crunch. This is a business persons’ view of the world.

  5. Turbotax runs on Mac. The Mac version of Quicken seems to have issues.

    Justin – A PC as opposed to a Mac, uses BIOS. For some reason, Microsoft is balking at EFI so that seems to be the major distinction. A PC is also not hardware/software integrated, something that greatly increases the idiot proofing of the thing. Then again, on a customization level, Linux/Android is much more customizable than Windows so I’m not sure whether customization is really the problem.

  6. If you can easily read PDF’s on a tablet you have better eyesight than I do :-)

    I wish we could get rid of Windows at work, but some programs don’t run on anything else, and are never likely to.

    Another plus for the Mac you didn’t mention is that its Unix underpinnings make connecting to Linux servers much more seamless, meaning easier management.

  7. While I agree with you that many people do not need a PC, and find that a tablet or such better fits their needs than a PC does, there is still a place for a PC. I need my PC for my database work. My year old Dell is MUCH better than my old Dimension. It is much quieter and runs much cooler. I opened it up several days ago to remove the dust. There was much less dust inside than I would have found in my old Dimension- better design.

    Windows 7 is, to my mind, better than XP on several fronts. It takes a lot less time to get going, and to turn off- with the exception of updates which apparently cost time both in turning off and in turning on. I don’t recall XP updates taking time in both turning off and in turning on. I have used Dr. Mercury’s Windows y Setup [courtesy of Maggie’s Farm] to streamline Windows 7. I also prefer the file structuring of Windows 7 to that of XP. Windows 8- don’t need it.

    Regarding Mac versus PC versus Linux, my reply is that PCs are cheaper than Macs, and my experience with trying various Linux systems is that I do not have the computer expertise to fine-tune a Linux system to satisfy my needs. Kernels? Fugeddaboutit.

    At the same time, I have another electronic device- a Nook- which I purchased at the Black Friday bargain rate of $59. It is much better for reading documents of many pages than is a PC. In addition to using the Nook for reading e-books, I use the Nook for reading docs downloaded from the Internet. I find the Nook better than the Kindle, as the Nook can read PDFs in different fonts, whereas all the Kindle can do with PDFs is zoom in or out. Which is a pretty good definition of cumbersome. As I use the Nook mostly for cost-free books from Project Gutenberg, the obvious superiority of Amazon’s site versus Barnes and Noble’s site is not an issue for me.

    The PC is no longer the be-all and end all for electronic devices. While others don’t need a PC anymore, I like mine just fine.

    There is a trend towards having one’s data in the Cloud. Sorry, I prefer to have mine at my fingertips right on my PC.

  8. For any of the “real” work I do, a full computer is required.

    I use the tablet for most non-creative purposes.

    I use Ubuntu, Kali, Windows, or OS X for whatever is most appropriate for me.

    I have no trouble reading PDFs on a tablet. Or reading books.

    Fewer computers are sold because the market must saturate (at any given level of prosperity and capability*). Sales reflect the slow creation of the Internet of things and the recession.

    To speed up your computer, install an SSD. My MacBook Pro from 2008 and the two computers I built which use SSDs boot faster than I can make myself ready to use them. And faster than the computers with HDs.


    * everyday I wish more things in my house were integrated with my phone, tablet, and computer. Many are possible, but are too expensive and clumsy: irrigation, environment, lighting, etc.

    I believe when I sell my new house in fifteen years, it will not be worth much because of the extensive retrofitting tht will be required.

  9. }}} – My PC works as well as can be expected. It takes a long time to boot up and load everything. That’s a waste of time. The longer you wait between bootups, the longer it takes to catch up

    The mistake you make is powering it off.

    I leave the PC on 24/7, rebooting about once a week or so, and with modern power saving modes, that’s not a lot of power — the new CPUs all have a much lower power mode than previously, come up to speed almost instantly, and the hard drives are likewise.

    And the time to do the various updates is when you’re about to walk away from it. It’ll be done long before you come back.

  10. P.S., if you ARE planning on buying a new PC, I recommend W7 if you’re not using a touch screen (I’d say, “wait for the Android desktop” before switching to Linux unless you like playing with computers)

    I also recommend avoiding two companies — HP and Asus.

    Asus, I had a high-end laptop (about $1900 list) go bad after 14 months (2 months out of warranty) due to a flaw in the cooling for the graphics card. They refused to do anything reasonable about it, even though comments on their tech/support forum made it clear this was a widespread problem.

    HP, I just recently purchased and set up a machine for a friend of mine. Tried to install the old hard drive in it just for data purposes. Windows 7 refused to boot.

    Seems there’s a new standard replacing BIOS, called UEFI. It is used in addition to another new standard, GPT, which replaces the older MBR standard for how to format hard drives and external random access mass media.

    Well, HP, at least in the model obtained, and probably many others, has failed to implement UEFI properly. Windows 7 by its own specs requires a GPT disk to boot from, but Microsoft’s documents on UEFI explicitly specify that you can use MBR disks as data disks…

    One or more models of HP computers, to wit, at the least the h8-1360t, will not allow the Windows 7 system to boot with an MBR partition anywhere in its sight. Many hours spent with HP discussing the matter resulting in what was pretty much an “F-U, we aren’t supporting doing that.”

    Because no one out there is buying a new machine to replace an older one with substantial information on its old MBR hard drive that they want to access from their new machine, you know?

    The fact that every machine in history has allowed this within the constraints of the hardware changes that occurred is irrelevant.

    The fact that Microsoft’s OWN DOCUMENTATION on UEFI expressly states that MBR disks can be used as data disks (pp5) is also irrelevant.

    You’re supposed to buy an external enclosure ($30) or conversion software ($40) if you want to do anything as silly as that…

    I’m looking for a good class-action attorney, if anyone knows one. That “FU attitude” really, really hacks my craw. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ll never ever buy, consider, or recommend considering any HP products ever again.

  11. P.S., this issue was compounded by the fact that their first level of tech support had NO CONCEPT of what UEFI was. Every time I tried to describe the issue to them they kept referring to “BIOS”, even after I’d corrected them numerous times. Even the second level — the supervisors of those L1 techs, didn’t really appear to know anything about the changes that had been implemented in HP’s machines. It took me like 3 weeks of calls — four or five times each level — to get to speak to a “case manager” (HP’s term for actual L2 support) which had some vague idea of what I was talking about but was still markedly unhelpful, pretty much “not my problem, I can’t do anything”.

  12. IGotBupkis
    Because no one out there is buying a new machine to replace an older one with substantial information on its old MBR hard drive that they want to access from their new machine, you know?
    Yup, we have no need of the data on the old machine. :)

    I am sorry to hear about your problems with HP and Asus. My old Dell lasted 7 years without a problem; my new Dell is fine and transferring data from the old machine to the new one was seamless.

    Though my praise of Dell is for their hardware, not for their tech support. When I bought my old Dell, I waited an hour on hold for tech support with a question. When I finally got through, tech support quickly answered my question. I soon cancelled the $100 three year tech support contract I had signed up for. No more hour long waits for me. As it turned out, I didn’t need any tech support after that initial call.

  13. -Why do you turn off your desktop PCs?

    -Many Windows machines, particularly laptops, are set up with a suspend feature that makes on/off almost instantaneous.

    -Ditto to previous comments re the limitations of tablets for spreadsheets and serious writing. Add to this list coding and anything graphical. Tablets are great for consuming media but you still need a computer with a keyboard and mouse or pen for most serious work.

    -Re: HP, Dell, Asus et al. Stipulated that their support stinks. And good luck with that lawsuit. An alternative might be to keep comprehensive data backups, clone your system drives, and be prepared to replace parts and computers (i.e., spend your money rather than time) when something breaks. Or pay up for a Mac and get a PC that’s functionally very similar to Windows machines but is better supported.

  14. I have found over the years what kills PCs is the fan dying and the board cooking. Perhaps every 4-5 years it would be smart to change out the CPU fan.

  15. For engineers, the tablet/smart phone will not be useful tools. We still need large screens with keyboards, huge amounts of memory and hard drives to handle graphics and calculation intensive design and modeling software.

  16. Joe, I think the thinking is all memory & processor intensive applications and heavy storage will move to the cloud, so that will make it easier to run things from internet appliances.

Comments are closed.