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Death of the desktop

india Updated: Dec 04, 2010 17:39 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times
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So you’re about to buy a new device. Something in the computer domain. Something that can take you on to the Net, surf a few times a day, get some emails out there, Facebook a little, watch a movie or ponder over an Excel sheet. What kind of a system are you thinking of? A thin notebook, a large laptop, a portable little netbook or maybe even a tablet. What about a desktop? No? Are you sure? If you’re like most people, then the very thought of buying a desktop makes a shiver go down your spine.

Why would you? It’s big, bulky, needs too many things to connect, has wires strewn all over, has too many things to plug in, has too many configurations to figure out and is not even portable! On top of that, it needs a table and space of Child computerits own. It just doesn’t enter the mind space of a computer buyer anymore. In effect, it may well be time to say goodbye to one of the greatest innovations of all time. The death of the desktop PC is imminent.

Strangely, the death of the desktop PC has been foretold many a time. For the last 10 years, tech analysts and enthusiasts have been predicting the demise of this great machine and yet the resilience of this old warrior is incredible. But this time it seems the doomsdayers may have it right.

It’s killing itself
The problem with the desktop is that not much has changed in its sphere of work. Think about it. Your first desktop – and the one sitting on your table right now. How different is it? It’s still a klunky big box, it still needs multiple components inside to be put together and it’s still an eyesore of epic proportions. The entire innovation and razzle-dazzle is happening in other categories, while the desktop continues to move towards an inevitable boot out. Only corporates buy it for security reasons, schools for economy reasons and some individuals as either gaming rigs or hand-me-downs. For all the others, it’s portable computing that has all the power and eye candy.

Power on the move
All the cool stuff and the innovation is in the portable domain. Notebook prices are falling, they are becoming seriously
powerful; battery life is increasing and the form factor is improving. On the other hand, netbooks are another force to reckon with. Thin, sleek and light, they have price points that make them almost a no brainer to buy. If that wasn’t enough, the final death knell of course is now coming from the Tablet market. Not only is it the new whiz kid on the block, it’s also an exciting platform for everyone to get onto. A combination of all these forces put together plus the fact that you get a lot of productivity and usage out of them is shaking the very foundations of the desktop. With these portables, you can carry one machine from home to work; you can work sitting in bed; family members can share the same machine in different locations; and even more importantly, companies can have everybody connected on the go inside and outside the workplace. These huge advantages of pure portable power make sure that the poor, wheezing old desktop has almost no space to manoeuver.

Surviving in a new disguise
If the desktop PC is to survive, it may well have to adapt to some new rules with some radical changes in its look and feel. It needs a major rethink and a complete overhaul from the ground up. There are still major advantages that can be tapped with a desktop and some companies are beginning to realise that. Making them family computers is one huge space to tap and ‘all-in-ones’ from companies like Apple, Acer and HP are some great examples. Super large screens into which all components are hidden away, sleek, compact and easy to get started with – all these things make these very compelling systems. Another new product that holds hope is HP’s new Dream Screen. This is a product that breaks away from all conventional norms and systems and the best way to understand it is by giving it the right name.

This is the UnPC or a Non-Computing computer. It goes out of its way to camouflage its desktop PC roots. It has a simplified interface built for education and entertainment, has no complex operating system, sports an idiot-proof interface, touch screen, content that streams in automatically and most importantly, applications that are custom built around families and shared users. No setup, no anti-virus, no breakdowns, no Blue Screen of Death and a price that is shockingly low.

Products like these may help the desktop to carry on for a few years. In the long run, the desktop PC as we know it will not exist. It may exist as a UnPC Dream Screen or still be in our homes as an entertainment device disguised as a sleek block; it may lurk inside our gaming system and consoles; and it may continue to exist deep inside corporate enterprise server rooms – invisible, unnoticed and unseen. The cold hard reality, though, is that the desktop PC in its current form factor is as good as dead.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3. Follow Rajiv on Twitter at twitter.com/RajivMakhni