The Desktop is Dead! Long Live the Desktop!

The Desktop is Dead! Long Live the Desktop!

Summary: Is the desktop really dead? Should it be killed? What would take its place?

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Over the past few years, technology pundits have been decrying desktop PCs as dead or dying. It's certainly true that due to the recent bad economy, along with greatly reduced laptop prices, desktop PC sales have dramatically dwindled. As a result the writing is on the wall for the desktop PC that it will soon be nothing more than a fading memory.

This ideology is complete and utter nonsense, and the tech pundits should be ashamed of themselves for being proponents of it.

In many aspects of business, and even consumer usage, the desktop is unnecessary. You don't need a desktop for email, documents, spreadsheets. Programmers usually don't need a desktop for their work. Most mundane tasks can be handled with a laptop, a netbook, and even a smartphone in some cases.

But let's face it -- laptops just aren't as powerful as equivalent desktops. Hard drives are slower. CPUs run hotter, so they can't run as fast without burning up. Graphics chipsets aren't as beefy. And internal expansion and upgrade of components is not an option.

Laptops are static systems. You can add some RAM, you can put in a bigger hard drive. But you can't upgrade the CPU or graphics. You usually can't put in more than one hard drive. You can't replace the screen with a bigger one, although you can plug in an excternal one. Portable computers' main advantage is that they are portable.

The average business worker doesn't need a desktop. They can perform all of their daily tasks on a laptop. They can plug in a keyboard, mouse and monitor and have a desktop-like environment at their desk, and unplug the laptop when they need to be mobile.

With the exceptions noted above, the business community could dump the desktop and save a ton of money on electricity -- the laptop draws much less power than a desktop system. They take up less space, they generate less heat, and they're easy to repair or replace when needed.

Now consider a graphics design shop. They need high-end desktop systems, either Windows or Mac, driving high end design programs. A typical graphics designer or computer artist needs a lot of RAM, a powerful CPU and a high-end graphics card, possibly even a RAID array for storage to provide improved hard drive speed. And quite often they will need to upgrade these components.

While most developers can do their work on laptops, or connected remotely to a server, there are many that benefit from a more powerful system that can compile their applications faster. They need a lot of RAM. Sometimes their workstations need to have the capabilities of servers. A laptop cannot provide this.

What about gamers that need high-end gear to handle the most demanding new games? Sure, they could use laptops, but the work would take longer, and the games would run slower and not look as good. And while that level of gaming may not be necessary, ask any hardcore gamer and they'll debate that point with you to their last dying breath.

The business world, with a few exceptions, can survive without desktop systems. But there are just too many computer users out there that would have to sacrifice a great deal in order to switch to a mobile platform. Until mobile technology improves to a point where the desktop and laptop are on equal footing, there is always going to be a need for desktop computers.

The future holds a great deal of promise for mobile technology. We are already seeing laptops with powerful, quad-core CPUs, with a lot of RAM and high end graphics chipsets. Currently these tend to be a desktop system crammed into a laptop chassis, but the components are still getting smaller and more powerful with each passing year.

However, these devices still have a finite lifespan because they are not modular -- once a laptop is obsolete, you usually can't upgrade the CPU and graphics. Most laptop owners buy a newer, more powerful laptop every 2-3 years. It's wasteful, and the desktop PC still has the advantage in this area.

There's also the question of what comes after the laptop. If we finally move to a more modular computer format, we could have a portable tablet like an iPad that plugs into a larger system -- a hybrid of laptop, desktop and slate computer -- where you dock your slate into a home or office configuration that adds power and capacity that the slate doesn't normally provide.

A good example of this would be the Lenovo IdeaPad U1, a hybrid tablet laptop with removable slate. Taken a step further, that removable slate could plug into an assortment of docking stations where more powerful CPU, graphics and storage would be available. This would not be the death of the desktop, but rather a natural evolution where slate, laptop and desktop converged into a modular system that provided all three.

Does the future of the desktop lie in modular systems? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

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48 comments
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  • Here's what I think...

    I think the iPad has some things right but is way off on others...

    If the iPad had a dock that allowed for docking on both Portrait and Landscape Mode that would be a plus... Also, the ability to use a mouse would help quite a bit as well...

    Of course the iPad also suffers because it doesn't support Flash and it is less capable than Window, 98 or XP with Office, when it comes to simple functions like spell checking in Word (it is very slow on the iPad and iPhone 3G users say it is even slower than their phones which is sad given the processing power). Crud, you can't even change the font in Pages, merge cells in Numbers or add certain transitions in Keynote... Basically, the system is pretty weak!

    Anyway, do I see desktops going away? Yep, I do... At least for a few years anyway while everything swings back to the mainframesque Cloud style OS (think Google Chrome)... Of course this system will have a few very big failings and then we'll swing the other way...

    So basically you won't truly get rid of the Desktop but thinclients with Network Centric Operating Systems will rule in a few years and when you have an issue with the machine you just drop a new one in its place just like a Dumb Terminal.

    Will this work for everyone? Nope but it will work for Desktops and for everyone else there are laptops and even devices like iPads.
    slickjim
    • Oh dear God no!

      @Peter Perry

      [i]Anyway, do I see desktops going away? Yep, I do... At least for a few years anyway while everything swings back to the mainframesque Cloud style OS (think Google Chrome)... Of course this system will have a few very big failings and then we'll swing the other way... [/i]

      I will quit IT <S>when</s> if that happens. Anyone with even the slightest clue about IT security knows this is a no no.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: The Desktop is Dead! Long Live the Desktop!

        @NStalnecker
        I agree enterprises can't lose security, privacy and rights on their data. There are no laws right now to govern those properly and I would definitely see a swing of law suites if that happens without properly planing strategizing the effort to move to cloud.
        Ram U
      • That's fine

        @NStalnecker

        That's fine because as you stated "Anyone with even the slightest clue about IT security knows this is a no no."...

        So tell me this, when was the last time somebody with knowledge of IT Security had the final say in big business? It doesn't happen where I work I can tell you that much!
        slickjim
    • RE: The Desktop is Dead! Long Live the Desktop!

      @Peter Perry
      "So basically you won't truly get rid of the Desktop but thinclients with Network Centric Operating Systems will rule in a few years and when you have an issue with the machine you just drop a new one in its place just like a Dumb Terminal."

      That would be ironic as the reason that IBM thought that PC's would never succeed, and let Microsoft get involved, was because that they thought that thinclients was the way to go. They thought that everybody would be better off with their dumb terminal hooked up to an IBM mainframe.

      That proved to be a bad bet.
      jorjitop
      • RE: The Desktop is Dead! Long Live the Desktop!

        @jorjitop: Kindly explain this, then: http://www.vmware.com/products/view/
        Random_Walk
      • RE: The Desktop is Dead! Long Live the Desktop!

        @jorjitop <br><br>Thin Clients may make up ground in the coming years as away for business to save money. But, this leaves one main question that will affect not only desktops but networking as well. If Thin clients are used then what happens to the client/server Architecture? If all the desktops are now residing on the server in an virtual environment and all the thin client does is display what is on the server-then there will be no more shared resources and allot of Networking architectures will go out the window.
        ChrisK-
  • What are you calling a desktop?

    If you mean a traditional whitebox or name brand PC built from stock parts, then yes, that market is declining. But many of the virtues you extoll for laptops are just as applicable to slimline desktop units, including reduced size and power usage. For regular office workers and even most work-at-home types, these units are the perfect compromise. They have better upgrade capabilities than laptops, better performance, and better durability.

    Durability and longevity are big differentiators for us. Our average laptop computer only lasts half as long as our average desktop. Some of that is due to road-warrior mishaps, but a lot is due to the inherent flimsiness and design tradeoffs for laptops. Screen breakage, overheating and battery problems are big problems for us and expensive to fix. On the other side, we have desktops and slimlines that are six years old and still running great. As we shift towards web and cloud-based apps, these machines still have years of life left in them.

    Like telephones and desk staplers, our PCs are office equipment, not fashion statements. We are not interested in the latest fad or technology for its own sake. Our desktops are staying the course.
    terry flores
    • RE: The Desktop is Dead! Long Live the Desktop!

      @terry flores I would not consider a slimline PC to be a true desktop, since it has more in common with a laptop than a desktop - it's usually underpowered and not expandable. They do tend to be inexpensive, though, and are perfectly fine for people that do light web browsing and email.
      Scott Raymond
    • RE: The Desktop is Dead! Long Live the Desktop!

      I think the usability of a full size keyboard, mouse, and monitor are not going to go away. The tower will probably be replaced by a small form factor PC though.
      kroguej
  • Do I see desktops going away? Um, NO

    Simply put, I will always see a need for more powerful machines, mobile devices simply lack in processing power to effectively replace desktop PC's. If anything I do agree that computer systems will become more modularized, however isn't the point of mobile devices to compliment a more stationary system?
    Eitherway, desktop systems aren't going away anytime soon. And those that say they are need a reality check. Get past all of this stupid iPad sensationalism, and people can see that if anything they will morph into new devices that will meet the future needs of future users.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: The Desktop is Dead! Long Live the Desktop!

      @NStalnecker - I posted this further up in the thread, but... http://www.vmware.com/products/view/

      In most circumstances, it already gives the user (via thin client connection) everything you've demanded: pantloads of multi-socket processing power with any server CPU type you care to name, triple-digit gigabytes of RAM if you wish, petabytes of storage...

      Simply put, the "desktop" is simply virtualized, and even now is moving to a "thin-app" situation where the app itself is abstracted and serves pretty much everyone - all minus the six-digit (if you're lucky) Microsoft EA licensing fees.

      I know, I know - "Citrix" - however, Citrix is overpriced and still subject to massive licensing fees with both it and Microsoft... and requires a beefy thin client, or a desktop/laptop to run on the client side. Meanwhile, this is what the majority of my clients have on their desktops: http://www.panologic.com/pano-device. Using these means zero Microsoft OS licenses to buy for the client side - I only buy enough to cover the active VM's... which are incidentally shared/rotated as needed, cutting the number by (roughly) 30%. ;)
      Random_Walk
      • RE: The Desktop is Dead! Long Live the Desktop!

        @Random_Walk

        Yup, thin clients definitely have their advantages

        There are much cheaper alternatives to Citrix solutions such as ThinServer, which is also much simpler

        http://www.aikotech.com/thinserver.htm
        bojanwojan
  • RE: The Desktop is Dead! Long Live the Desktop!

    Generally when buying a desktop, I max out everything I can. I find with exception of adding a HD, changing components from original build spec can be more trouble than its worth. Alot of times newer GFX cards work better in the newer motherboards than the one you have. The upgrade as you go is kind of a misnomer. I wouldnt recommend it. If your investing in new gear, buy as much ram as possible, and get a good GFX card. Dont waste time on anything ATI. Lots of compatibility issues. NVidia or nothing else.
    b_perlow
    • Huh?

      @b_perlow <br><br>You cannot be very competent if you find changing desktop components more trouble than it is worth. Maxing out everything, unless you really need it, is just a waste of money, as top end/maxed out HW drops in price rapidly.<br><br>And the ATI/Nvidia comment? I guess you have been living under a rock for the past couple of years.
      Economister
    • RE: The Desktop is Dead! Long Live the Desktop!

      @b_perlow I agree with Economister as far as the whole "upgrade as you go" being a misnomer... even on the high end systems if you get one maxed out right off the bat you will spend more money than if you waited until you really needed the extra ram, hard drive, etc. With my Dell XPS I saved over $400 by waiting to max the ram out, adding a second hard drive, and upping the video card... and the video card and the hard drive were better than what I would have gotten had I upgraded at the time of purchase.

      With the ATI/ NVidia cards I have to admit I had issues with ATI cards not working with my system - while the NVidia works flawlessly... but it's been 3 years since and I've heard some pretty promising things about ATI since.
      athynz
    • RE: The Desktop is Dead! Long Live the Desktop!

      @b_perlow: There are only two components that have to be "maxed out" when building a box: the mobo, and, well... that's it. Everything else can be bought two or three notches behind the bleeding edge (which in total cuts the price nearly in half) - that way you can stagger the upgrades as you go (a faster CPU one month, a faster set of RAM the next, etc) - resulting in a system that costs less overall, but ends up being more powerful than the original one you bought with all the components "maxed out".
      Random_Walk
  • No, I will have a desktop PC

    As long as I have a desk, I will have a desktop and a land line phone. I don't see my desk going away anytime soon.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
  • Upgrade does not exist, but desktop ...

    and more precisely workstation will continue to exist.

    Except for die hard moneyless geeks computer upgrades are very limited at best; Apart from adding a couple of memory modules, I have very rarely seen s/o upgrading their computer. And this for different reasons.

    First if you want to upgrade, you have to have a basic hardware that is still compatible with current parts. As processors, memory modules ... etc change quite frequently, it tends to be difficult to make a major upgrade without changing most of the content ( I don't consider changing everything except HDD and box to be an upgrade ).

    Then, even when possible the difference in price between and full replacement and an upgrade tends to be minimal compared to the gain.

    As a result I think the upgradability of desktop if quite self deceiving.


    This does not mean however that desktop are not necessary , as you rightfully pointed out. There are plenty of situation where slim desktop, all in one and laptop, which are all based on comparable technological choices can simply not meet the requirement. If you need high ( I mean really high, today laptop surpasses 2 or 3 years old high end workstations in terms of naked computing power ) CPU, high memory ( there again, today laptop have more memory than most desktop selling today, high is more than 6Gb ), if you need a real GPU, either for display or computation, i f you need to host HDDs ( i tend to think that is rare and should become more so with nas ) than you have to go to the desktop.

    This means however very few units. Which in turn will mean higher margins for resellers, so huge prices ( such a configuration from apple is a 6000$ Mac Pro with 30" display ), and a reduced market share.
    s_souche
    • RE: The Desktop is Dead! Long Live the Desktop!

      @s_souche: in regards to "As a result I think the upgradability of desktop if quite self deceiving."

      Not entirely true - I have a fairly bad-assed machine with parts less than a year old... packed into a case that I bought in 2001. :p
      Random_Walk