Is the era of the PC over?

Mike Halsey MVP
Aug 11, 2011
Updated • Dec 4, 2012

PCs are going the way of typewriters according to an engineer who worked on the original IBM PC.  In a blog post to mark the 30th anniversary of the IBM PC 5150, Dr Mark Dean made the comments, saying that PCs were no longer at the leading edge of computing.

Pointing out that no single device had taken over, instead we were seeing a number of devices based on the "socially-mediated innovation" that has been developed in the last few years.  The IBM 5150 was launched on August 12th 1981.  In his post, Dean said "When I helped design the PC, I didn't think I'd live long enough to witness its decline."  He noted with some sadness that his own primary computer was now a tablet.

It’s amazing to me to think that August 12 marks the 30th anniversary of the IBM Personal Computer. The announcement helped launch a phenomenon that changed the way we work, play and communicate.  Little did we expect to create an industry that ultimately peaked at more than 300 million unit sales per year. I’m proud that I was one of a dozen IBM engineers who designed the first machine and was fortunate to have lead subsequent IBM PC designs through the 1980s.

IBM itself moved away from the desktop PC market some years ago after losing out to companies such as HP and Dell.  It eventually sold it's laptop business to the Chinese and now concentrates on the server market.  The company still maintains revenues higher than Microsoft for the server hardware that it sells.

It is amazing when you think about it, that PCs are still with us.  The colours might have changed, but the traditional box and keyboard haven't changed much at all in the last 30 years.  I personally remember using one of the original IBM PCs extensively in my youth, though I preferred the Apple II for it's compactness (it weighed nearly 30 by 45 by 12 cm and weighed 11.5 lbs).  Eventually my father bought me a second hand Olivetti XT machine from his work with a copy of WordPerfect 5.1 and this was my first proper PC.

Around 400 million PCs are sold each year and it may be that Dean's prediction is premature.  Business is still the largest users of PCs worldwide and businesses have a long-earned reputation for moving very slowly with new technologies.  Given the additional software development costs they face it's very likely that the traditional desktop PC will still be a feature of offices around the globe for two decades to come.

That said, consumers are now moving towards tablets and other devices including smartphones and netbooks as their main computer.  Only serious content creators and hard core gamers still evangelise about the PC in the way we used to last decade.

So who knows at this point what the future holds for the humble desktop PC.  Certainly we will see them commonly morph into all-in-one machines but battery technology still isn't good enough to convince the masses to switch to portable and mobile devices.  While tablets such as the iPad can boast impressive battery lives of up to 16 hours on a single charge, most devices will still run out of power after four.

So, happy 30th birthday to the IBM 5150, you started a revolution that has impacted positively on mankind, generated incalculable numbers of jobs in all manner of industries, and that has even created hundreds of new industries in the process.

It might be worth noting though, all things considered, that I'm writing this article on a Google Chromebook.


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  1. pcunite said on August 14, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    Thank you. I guess this article was just written to get people riled up.

  2. AnonyMoo said on August 13, 2011 at 1:23 am

    Strictly in the way of Tucows, they’re only repackaged supercomputer offcuts. With supercomputing growing in GPUs they get more graphics-intensive. But the consumer still wants better system integration and ergonomics. Lame alright, like so much Hi-Fi.

  3. Mehdi S said on August 12, 2011 at 9:59 am

    Sorry Mike Halsey but what you did was basically postman stuff….Ripping contents off neowin ( and posting it here. Totally lame. At least, ACKNOWLEDGE the real source.
    Cheers. 24 hour old news.

    1. Pete said on August 12, 2011 at 10:48 am

      I think he did acknowledge the source in the second sentence. I see no evidence of what you are suggesting in this post.

      1. Mehdi S said on August 12, 2011 at 11:42 am

        Yeah, high chances he went through the same blog post!

  4. boris said on August 12, 2011 at 1:51 am

    I will stay with PC for as long as I can.

  5. Hy said on August 12, 2011 at 1:10 am

    Interesting, though I’m not sure what to think about this. I suppose I can see desktop PCs slipping, but I’d be surprised to see notebooks and netbooks disappearing anytime soon. But you said the magic words: “WordPerfect 5.1”. I still remember the WordPerfect I used in a university computer course in 1987. Not sure if it was version 3.0 or something like that, but I remember soon after writing many academic papers with WP 4.2 and 5.1. I still use WP (X5), in fact. The intelligent, straightforward design of WordPerfect really helped ignite a love affair with computers for me. And first proper PC? That set me thinking…. I guess the Commodore VIC-20 in 1982 or ’83 wouldn’t qualify, so it’d have to be the Zenith Z-248 PC AT in 1986. Two floppy drives (that was exciting), 80286 processor, 512K RAM, a hard disk drive (20MB, maybe), DOS 3.1, and something called…Windows. Memories… :)

    I’m actually banging this out on an old IBM PC AT keyboard. That’s not going anywhere anytime soon… And while we’re at it, I must say learning this today surprised me:

  6. Nebulus said on August 11, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    I laugh every time somebody steps forward to predict the end of PC. But then I become kind of sad, because a lot of people seem to treat technology like some piece of clothes, which today is fashionable and tomorrow it’s not. PC is a high tech tool, and as long as if fulfills a need, it will not disappear. It will change, sure, but it will not go away.

  7. ACow said on August 11, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    First of all, what is a PC? Shouldn’t a smartphone or your tablet that can display video, lets you browse the internet, play games etc. qualify as one? It is personal and it is a computer. Put the two together and bam, you’ve got a PC.

    If by PC he means desktop computers, then sure, your average Joe doesn’t need that kind of PC for what he does. Programmers, graphic designers, sound engineers, video editors etc. aren’t suddenly going to move away from PCs and start using their silly phones and gimmicky tablets to do their work, that’s ludicrous. UNLESS new, revolutionary input devices are designed and tiny PCs (smartphones/tablets) become as powerful as the big ones.

    The guy’s no visionary; it’s just silly talk for tech illiterates.

    1. Jim said on August 12, 2011 at 5:52 pm

      Totally agree ACow. I laugh every time I hear some pundit declare the death of the PC, especially when they base their statement on the use of smartphones or tablets. It’s like saying dump trucks are obsolete because we have invented the Mini. I have to wonder what world they’re living in because it certainly isn’t mine. I guess they’re believing the flashy commercials that show users editing video on a tablet out in the mountains, which I doubt anyone has ever really done. I have a few friends that have tablets and they all do the same thing with them…sit on the couch and browse the web during commercials. Whoopee. None of them use them for anything that resembles work. So if computing = web browsing, I guess the tablets are good devices for that. The problem with that is “computing” involves a lot more than just web browsing, at least for me and the people I know. I have to say the PC is safe until they overcome that little problem.

    2. Credomane said on August 11, 2011 at 10:57 pm

      Thank you ACow. Saved me the time and effort of typing that myself!

      1. Pete said on August 12, 2011 at 1:54 am

        Same to you, Credomane!

        I’d like a tablet, though I know that a PC will be my main computer for quite a while to come.

  8. ódio said on August 11, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    for me, not yet. for a long time I believe.

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