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April 26, 2009

PCs Under Fire

Smart reader Cletus White responded to my post predicting that netbooks will replace many PCs with this comment:

"Netbook, yes maybe...but I read your blog from a facebook link and responded here on the couch via my apple iPod touch (home wifi). It's not a netbook . It's an Internet appliance about the size of a playing card."

He's right; it's not just netbooks but all sorts of devices which are replacing PCs in our lives. During the day my Blackberry is now my take-along email machine, not my much heavier Toughbook which used to be my constant companion. Blackberry's good integration with Exchange makes this practical since I can reply, delete, and folder from the Blackberry and not have to redo any of it when I go back to my desk. Sent mail ends up in my sent mail folder no matter where I read it from.

Since the Exchange Web Client which runs in a browser (officially Office Outlook Web Access) is now very good (formerly it was awful) and since I'm online so much of the time, I don't use the standalone Outlook client on my PC to do my State of Vermont email when I'm out of the office; I do it all in a browser window. That's great in an Internet café where I don't have my own machine. More important to the future, since I'm just working in a browser, I don't really need the PC; I could be on a netbook or some other connected device.

Web sites are developing mobile-friendly versions of themselves and the iPhone shows how even websites authored for PCs can be reasonably accessible on smaller screens. During our recent trip to Greece, we used Kindle's onboard dictionary for word disputes (in English) and Google Search and wikipedia on Mary's connected iPhone for settling all other bets. Even if I had a cellular data plan for my PC on this trip (too complicated and expensive in Greece), using the iPhone was faster than booting up a computer; and, like a PC, the iPhone took advantage of WiFi in hotspots (We didn't get Skype working on it, though).

Perhaps a sign of times to come (and certainly partly a result of recession), Microsoft reported a 32% revenue decline in quarterly profits and the first ever decline in quarterly revenue since it went public twenty-three years ago. People aren't buying as many computers, of course; they're not upgrading as often. But this from the Wall Street Journal story on MSFT earnings:

"In addition to slumping PC sales, Microsoft faces a challenge from netbooks, the inexpensive laptop computers that are the only segment of the PC business enjoying growth. Microsoft hasn't been able to charge as much for the versions of Windows that are generally bundled with netbooks as it can for software included with other types of PCs."

Even worse for the future of Microsoft is that netbooks almost never come with Office and some, like the one I bought, don't have Windows on them at all.

Having learned from my prediction in 1984 that mainframes were on the verge of extinction, I know that PCs will be with us for years to come. But the future is a world where all sorts of appliances are used to get online and where applications and data usually live in the cloud with access through a browser. No one will consider it necessary to have a PC to go online. No one will be offline for very long.

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