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RIP the PC?

By onyxruby in News
Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 01:59:06 PM EST
Tags: Hardware (all tags)

An article was posted to the Register about the imminent death of the PC. When Larry Ellison said this, I ignored it as marketing propoganda, when Hale Landis says this I pay attention. Is he right, is the PC's death imminent?

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comments (24)
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I personally don't think so, but think this could merit some good discussion, and will try to present both sides in limited fashion.

First, I want to point out that I give both the source of the story and author of the email a lot of credibility. I think the email was well written with some well reasoned concerns that need to be realized by the public at large before it is to late. The author of the email thinks that specialized appliances will replace the PC, and there is nothing that can be done about it. It is his opinion that this will result in the inevitable death knell to the beloved PC.

Hale mentions that companies like Microsoft and Intel want to be able to force complete content control and monthly rental fees on something people are used to owning outright. It's why Microsoft is getting rid of the version number with Office XP and it's upcoming Operating Systems. MS wants consumers to get away from the idea that they own something that they have paid hundreds of dollars for.

Companies like IBM, Intel, and Phoenix want to provide hardware that will enforce through technology restrictions that cannot be enforced through law. This is what Hale is working with on the T13 committee, and what could turn the PC into a content control machine.

If anything, appliances are becoming more and more PC like, with technologies like wireless 1394 paving the way to connect them to your computer. Hale proposes that Intel wants the computer to become a "control center" for the house. The PC is not going to be replaced by specialized appliances, it is the specialized appliances that are going to be replaced and controlled by PC's. For example, car stereos for cars. Their now available car stereos that have small computers inside the car stereo chassis (they use laptop hard drives), and these can download data from your laptop or computer through a USB port. Products like these are only going to make the consumer more dependant on the PC, not less.

While Hale points out that proprietary devices like the Tivo could replace the PC. There is no question that the entertainment industry wants to change our entire entertainment experience. Divx was nothing more than a trial for turning the Play button into Pay button. Microsoft wants you to pay a monthly bill to use your computer. Intel wants to prevent you from using computer in unauthorized ways. How can such powerful players be stopped from killing the computer and replacing it with specialized appliances?

There are two primary reasons why that this won't happen. These are the same reasons that allowed the PC to displace terminals in the first place. Economics and Versatility.

Home users like the ability to have one machine that can be used to play computer games, do taxes, surf the internet, listen to MP3's, watch their porn, and so on. Business users need the ability to do word processing, spread sheets, databases, order entry, internet and so on.

While companies like MS can try to force people to have their computer become an independent network appliance (.NET) by only allowing the .NET versions of their OS and Office to be sold, it's going to be harder to do this with business. When most companies with greater than 250 users get a computer, it is imaged upon receipt with their OS of choice. Overwhelmingly this is W95, not the latest that Redmond has put out. Corporations and consumers have grown used to the versatility of the PC, and cannot economically afford to lose that versatility.

Like corporations using the well known W95 on desktops, people will go back to what worked before. For example, when New York instigated new toilet standards, the price of old toilets within several hundred miles of New York jumped through the roof. The new product was unacceptable (didn't flush everything), and people went back to the known standard that worked.

I don't see any reason why computers will be any different. If you make things too much of a pain in the ass for Joe Consumer, Joe Consumer will decide to take action or ignore the rules/law in mass. This has happened with prohibition, pot, the speed limit, and will happen with computers if things become to inconvenient for Joe Consumer. This is what can create a public backlash, if the backlash is strong enough, politicians will listen.


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Is the PC dead?
o Yes 1%
o No 69%
o The PC will morphy into a montly entertainment pay box 5%
o It will become an internet appliance 9%
o It will be replaced by terminals 14%

Votes: 55
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Register
o Also by onyxruby

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RIP the PC? | 32 comments (23 topical, 9 editorial, 0 hidden)
Scott McNealy was right (4.40 / 5) (#3)
by Anonymous 242 on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 09:44:02 AM EST

On this topic, Scott McNealy has it right. The Network is the Computer. This has been one of Sun's slogans for how long? It has just taken a long time for technology to catch up with that prophecy. The desktop PC as an all-purpose device is a horrible model. If my PC goes south, I don't want to be kept from watching TV, turning on the lights, getting to my calendar, etc.

The future has just started to arrive. I expect subsequent generations to produce more and more smart products that interface with a PC (or some other type of home server). We'll see more along the lines of palm sized computing devices for calendaring, scheduling, note taking, etc. We'll see more intelligent music players that interface easily and transparently with one's collection of online music. We'll see cars that interface with the PC while parked in the garage and keep track of when its time to change the oil, rotate the tires or get a tune up.

The PC makes a great controller for smart appliances. The PC makes a good general purpose device for this that and the other thing. The PC makes a horrible all-purpose device. When one tries to make the PC do everything one has a non-redundant single point of failure.

Blech. I'd rather have a of few tens of GB of networked storage that all my appliances can access. If it goes down, I just plug in a new storage appliance. I'd rather have box that sits on top of my TV that I can control through a remote if my PC is on the blink. I'd rather have a palm sized computer I can fit in pocket and do who knows what with and come back to synch.

The PC as we know it is going to die. But it will take time for the infrastructure to get put into place and technology to improve. With the advent of .mp3 players, X-10 modules, TiVo, and the like the revolutionary winds have started blowing. It will take time to build up to gale force. Once smart appliances are ubiquitous, inexpensive, reliable, and easy to use, the death of the PC will happen speedily and unnoticed.

PC's vs. little devices (3.20 / 5) (#4)
by slaytanic killer on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 09:53:16 AM EST

The general PC emulates reality, abstracting certain things away. Special-purpose hardware like mp3 players emulate the PC's software in hardware. This is a circular chain of emulation.

What should be the case is a combination of the two. PC's want to become immersive devices, while pervasive gadgets dream of becoming invisible devices. There is enough universe for both to coexist and merge in strange places.

[ Parent ]
The universe /is/ large enough (none / 0) (#6)
by Anonymous 242 on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 10:25:32 AM EST

But most of the roles played by the PC will change. My best guess is that the PC of the future will play much more of a role of being a controller of other devices. The services run on a PC today will most likely run on some sort of centralized server, either in one's home or on the internet (like Yahoo). While one will be able to access these services on a PC, it will be much more common to access them on one appliance or the other.

As for emulation, I'm not quite sure that I agree that the chain is circular. The hardware/software dichotomy is meaningless to the user of a computer appliance. What matters is the form factor and the functionality. A TiVO emulates a VCR, not a PC emulating a VCR (although one could certainly argue that the TiVO is a PC emulating a VCR). What makes the TiVO a computer appliance and not a PC is its form factor and black box functionality.

[ Parent ]

heh - take a look at the latest luxury cars (3.00 / 2) (#12)
by jedm on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 11:33:34 AM EST

We'll see cars that interface with the PC while parked in the garage and keep track of when its time to change the oil, rotate the tires or get a tune up.

Many cars already do to some extent or another. I Think BMW is one of the leaders, where most of the bloody car is electronic, and the cars computer monitors the style of driving, and the breakdown of the oil to give you a listing of when you'll need to change the oil. It'll be interesting to see this taken to the next level though -- with some type of AI to have a car actually adapt to your style of driving.

[ Parent ]

Chipped autos (none / 0) (#25)
by inpHilltr8r on Fri Mar 09, 2001 at 03:03:17 AM EST

It's interesting to note that just as you can get your DVD player, or your Playstation 'chipped' to 'enhance' it's functionality. You can get your BMW 'chipped' to tweak their performance out of BMWs reccomended specs.

[ Parent ]
ubiquitous computing (4.75 / 4) (#13)
by _Quinn on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 12:14:02 PM EST

   Actually, I take `the network is the computer' in a little different sense -- I find my computer's utility is reduced by an order of magnitude or two if it isn't networked.

   The PC will not die. Far enough into the future, you'll be able to find something recognizable as a PC, but it will not the primary means of interacting with computers. Instead, it will simply be the most effective interface for some purposes: the keyboard/mouse/screen combination is extremely powerful for things like programming. The killer-app for the next generation is the /interface/. Smart paper will do most of the work being done on PCs today, I think.

   Hm. I'm not explaining this well. Maybe I should go read up on ubiquitous computing again.

Reality Maintenance Group, Silver City Construction Co., Ltd.
[ Parent ]
Thank you (3.00 / 1) (#27)
by PresJPolk on Fri Mar 09, 2001 at 09:01:50 AM EST

Now I know I'm not the only person who sees this possibility.

I considered rating your comment a 5, _Quinn, but a 5 just doesn't express what I want well enough, so I reply instead.

[ Parent ]
ST:TNG anyone... (2.50 / 2) (#7)
by k5er on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 10:30:41 AM EST

Sounds more like a Star Trek future. They don't have big clunky desktops. Just many computer like devices that tie into a central computer on board the enterprise. (eg, laptops, palms, tricorders, comm badge, etc...) Sounds cool to me as long as we don't have to "rent" it. I refuse to pay MS or anyone else monthly payments for software. If that happens, I will completely switch over to Linux instead of dual booting like I do now.
Long live k5, down with CNN.
star trek (none / 0) (#23)
by crazycanuck on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 03:01:41 PM EST

first of all, in star trek, there are no people on earth constantly thinking of ways to squeeze money out of everyone.
if things are centralised, it's for convenience/becuase it's a better design, not because corporation X could better control your chequebook by having a centralised system.

second of all, the system permits it. the central computer is powerful enough to deal with all that crap simultaneously (think quantum computing) and they have fast wireless connections. We don't have that technology yet.

star trek is an Utopia. This is reality. I don't want all my personal data to go through some cental computer controlled by a corporation who won't hesitate to sell my soul to the devil for a few dollars of profit.

[ Parent ]
Why Shouldn't The PC Die? (4.50 / 6) (#9)
by Carnage4Life on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 10:53:25 AM EST

Quite frankly I can't wait for the PC to die. I have always considered it ridiculous that people who simply want to listen to MP3s, browse the web, email and type a few documents use the same machine as me who develops software, runs a server, and does database work.

The PC today is way too complex a beast for the average user. The more I try to explain the difference between RAM and hard drive space or DLL Hell to my mom's friends, the more I realize that a PC is way too complicated a beast for the simple requirements of the average user.

Instead what most people need is simply a black box device that performs most of the functions of a PC without the hassles. Need to play games but don't want to worry about frame rate, refresh frequency and all other sorts of esoterica use a games console. Need to record stuff of your TV without having to install a bunch of programs and be a computer guru, use a TiVo. What is needed are feasible computer-like appliances that are specialized to perform a specific task for the user and are reasonably priced. TiVo's and game consoles are an example of such devices, if only web appliances and home audio devices caught up, there'd be little need for the average user to ever use a PC.

One word: iMac (none / 0) (#32)
by weirdling on Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 03:38:31 PM EST

I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
[ Parent ]
You should already be worried (4.00 / 2) (#24)
by Wah on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 04:47:02 PM EST

Sure DIVX failed, but look at what won, a proprietary device that everyone must still pay a license for to use. A perfect example of the entertainment industry defining and controlling what is quickly becoming a standard (if not already one) on the HARDWARE level.
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]
Hmmm. (3.20 / 10) (#11)
by Signal 11 on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 11:32:26 AM EST

When one person says it, you discard the idea, but when another says it, it has weight. Not a very good way to evaluate technology - as the GINGER hoopla demonstrated.

That aside, the PC will never "die". The media can pound on their chest and the pundits can scream as loudly as they want about the next "computer revolution", but technology isn't in the habit of making quantum leaps forward on a regular basis - likely it'll be an evolutionary process. Besides, all the "thin client" solutions I've seen to date were slower than PC solutions. The simple fact of the matter is that any network connection imposes additional latency that inter-PC communication does not have to deal with.

In addition, there will always be a market for computers that act outside the "hive mind" of the Big Computer(tm), simply because geeks don't use computers the way most people do.

Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.

Signal 11 Misses AGAIN (1.20 / 10) (#20)
by warpeightbot on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 02:07:59 PM EST

When one person says it, you discard the idea, but when another says it, it has weight. Not a very good way to evaluate technology - as the GINGER hoopla demonstrated.
You missed the point again... the point is not how many, but who. Larry Ellison is a marketing weenie disguised as a CEO. And one who's more arrogant than most, at that. Hale Landis is a standardscritter. Far more authority lies there than with some two-(billion)-bit database monger as to the direction of the computer.

Now go away, or I will taunt you a second time.

[ Parent ]

No weight. (3.25 / 4) (#21)
by codepoet on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 02:40:14 PM EST

No weight goes with Ellison. He's a database monger, you're right. He deals with servers. I'll listen to Jobs and Gates about the PC before I listen to him (and just because Ellison is on the Apple board of directors just means he's friends with Jobs).

-- The cynical can often see the sinister aspect of a cup of coffee if given enough time.
[ Parent ]
The PC *is* dead; long live the Workstation! (4.40 / 5) (#14)
by sugarman on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 12:15:48 PM EST

I think the author is correct; the PC is dead/dying. Those that argue that it will exist are also correct. But the large, multifunctional boxes of today will probably undergoe a change in terminology.

The workstation will still exist for those who need (or want) the power. For the casual user, they will likely shift in one of 3 ways: the Mobile, the Web-user, and the Games machine. As the consumers become more aware of the what there needs are, they will gravitate to the products that best suit those needs.

The main kicker will be when the user realizes he can get 3 machines for the price of a PC today. No more waiting for turns on the PC. The kids can play on the X-Box, Mom can chat on her Sony eVilla, and Dad can check stocks on his webpad. All for the same price of your typical "Family PC" now.

So the PC is dead; viva le Workstation!
Back to the future, baby.


Cost (5.00 / 1) (#17)
by paulT on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 12:40:12 PM EST

My only concern here is what will this do to the cost. If the demand shifts away from general purpose PC's to thin use specific devices then what will happen to the cost of the PC/workstation?

If lack of demand pushes production levels down then we could lose the scale that has PC prices as low as they are.

Maybe this won't happen but personally I would still like to be able to afford the workstation of the future and I would like every little hacker kid of the future to afford them as well.

"Outside of a dog, a book is probably man's best friend; inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." - Groucho Marx
[ Parent ]
Perspective... (3.00 / 1) (#26)
by Mr Tom on Fri Mar 09, 2001 at 06:51:53 AM EST

The PC will never die. The main reason being that it's not a single piece of kit - but a collection of the sorts of appliances that are under discussion here.

If you want something that just surfs the web, you don't need a 1Ghz CPU, or a soundcard, or even a large HD. Or lots of RAM. But you will need a modem. (doh!) They're all just bits of kit that do different things thrown into one big beige box for convenience.

What /is/ likely to happen though, is the way that these components interact and communicate. Popping open yer case to bung in a PCI card is a bit intimidating for your average Joe - so appliances will exist more and more as external boxes that join together with bluetooth/USB/whatever. They'll all be separate and independant. But if you stack them together and join them up, essentially they'll be a home PC...

Of course, those of use that actually /like/ playing with bits of PCB will still find a way to put them all into one big beige box. (And then leave the cover off, natch!) :-)

-- Mr_Tom<at>gmx.co.uk

I am a consultant. My job is to make your job redundant.

RIP the mainframe? (4.00 / 2) (#28)
by jkeene on Fri Mar 09, 2001 at 02:21:09 PM EST

People also said the mainframe would die, or that it was dead, or that we're not really aware that it's on life support, ad nauseum. But it's still here.

The mainframe has incredible bandwidth to data stored on disk, and nothing has replaced it in that role. As the need still exists, so does the mainframe.

Applying the same analysis to the PC, the PC has good bandwidth to the user, and a fairly high degree of interactivity. A games console can beat it at graphics, and a decent stereo system can beat it at music, but it's a very good general purpose device for solving problems where the requirements include lots of interactive bandwith to the user.

For a user that wants to chat on AOL, play some music, and then play some games, most of them won't want three devices. They'll want one. And today, as well as for many tomorrows, that's a PC.

Supply and Demand (3.00 / 1) (#29)
by Ruidh on Fri Mar 09, 2001 at 04:49:54 PM EST

Economics tells us that when there is demand for a good, there will be suppliers to meet that demand. While there may very well be demand for limited-purpose computers, there will continue to be demand for general purpose computers even if GPs become a minority segment of the market. Corporations are not ready to give up on GP computers. Many users are not ready to give up on GP computers. While there have been a spate of introductions of web appliances of different sorts, these devices have not taken a significant share of the market even though they are lower cost than GP computers. In short, the suppliers can not dictate the terms on which they offer goods.
"Laissez-faire is a French term commonly interpreted by Conservatives to mean 'lazy fairy,' which is the belief that if governments are lazy enough, the Good Fairy will come down from heaven and do all their work for them."
Until the next big thing (4.00 / 1) (#30)
by cameldrv on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 05:25:03 PM EST

I don't think that you'll see the specialized devices totally replacing the PC because most of the specialized devices can't run any software that didn't come with them. People always come out with a new killer app every five years or so, and those with PCs can run it. Those without have to wait for a new specialized box.

Windows 95 (3.00 / 1) (#31)
by Morn on Tue Mar 13, 2001 at 05:14:26 PM EST

When most companies with greater than 250 users get a computer, it is imaged upon receipt with their OS of choice. Overwhelmingly this is W95, not the latest that Redmond has put out.
Really? In my mind, most companies are using at least NT4, and are now buying machines loaded with Win2000. Do you have sources to back your assumptions (I'll be happy if you prove me wrong - I'll cheerily admit to having no sources)?

RIP the PC? | 32 comments (23 topical, 9 editorial, 0 hidden)
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