Desktops are becoming extinct

All the talk about web applications got reader Micheal Stanley thinking. Will we get to the point where desktop computers as we know them will no longer be relevant?
Written by Ed Burnette, Contributor

All the talk about web applications got reader Micheal Stanley thinking. Will we get to the point where desktop computers as we know them will no longer be relevant? As long as you can get your work done will it matter whether you're using Windows, Linux, MacOS, Android, WebOS, or something else? Micheal shares his vision for the future in today's guest column. --Ed

A clear trend is emerging that favors applications designed to run in web browsers. Even Microsoft is looking at extending their office suite to the web, and of course Google has had an offering for some time now. By designing their programs to run inside a browser, developers can effectively avoid the issue of platform compatibility. With careful coding, any computer that can run a web browser will be able to run those web based applications.

The shift towards browser-based applications means we’ll no longer be tied to a certain type of platform.The role of the desktop is getting smaller every day. We can have the same office software on our desktops, laptops, smart phones, PDA's, and anything else with a web browser. Christopher Dawson blogged on ZDNet about how his experience in the cloud is going. Of course not everyone can do everything they need on the web yet, but it is getting closer every day.

Two of the biggest issues right now are cloud availability and security. People on slower connections will certainly have to be patient, and there are times when the internet is not accessible at all. In addition, increased use of browsers has attracted the attention of criminal hackers, who have increasingly targeted browsers over the past few years.

Even with these problems, though, there is a definite trend towards web based development, and it’s having an effect on how we use our computers. More and more you see people getting email through their smart phones and other portable devices. The role of the desktop is getting smaller every day. Some argue that desktops will never go away, but it is inevitable that at some point the architecture of computers will have to undergo changes....

Just as transportation evolved from walking to horse drawn carriages and eventually to cars, desktops will adapt to new ways of being used, or at some point they’ll be replaced by newer technology. No technology is immune to evolution. Operating systems have undergone major changes throughout the years. As with antique cars, some people will always be attached to older technology, but as a whole we must move forward. Charles Cooper wrote an interesting piece related to this about the future of desktops.

While smart phones can be used to get email and perform some tasks, obviously something larger will be needed for complex tasks such as graphics work. I don't feel that desktop computers as we know them will perish any time soon, but I do see a large decline in their use in the near future. We are already seeing declining desktop sales and increasing laptop and portable internet device sales even with the economy in bad shape. Recently we’ve witnessed the emergence of netbooks to accommodate the people that do not need a full computer. Between smart phones and netbooks, the desktop is getting some serious competition.

In the late 1960's computers took up entire rooms. Large rooms at that. Thirty years later computers with twice the power could sit on your desk. Another ten years and they could sit in your lap. The shape of computers is continually changing. Who’s to say in 20 years they will look anything like they do now. My bet is they won't. Not even close.

As time goes on our technology shapes us, and in turn we shape our technology. To think that our computers will remain as they are would be pure foolishness. To be resistant to such change, however, is only human. I myself grew up typing in a command line. My first experience with computers was my sister’s Tandy TRS-80. She taught me how to program in BASIC. I later got my own IBM compatible PC desktop with an 8088 processor. It loaded MS-DOS 2.11 from a 5 1/4 floppy drive. No GUI or mouse in sight for this bad boy. Later it became evident that the world was moving to GUI based operating systems, but I rejected this idea. I was quite comfortable typing in the command prompt. I deemed it lazy to use a point and click system. Now I cringe when a PC doesn't see the mouse and I have to use the keyboard. I hate having to open a command window to do tasks in Linux. I have become one of those lazy people I used to talk about.

Eventually, human-computer interactions will shift away from mice and keyboards. Alternate ways of interfacing with our devices are already beginning to emerge. Accelerometers and touch screens are already seen in some devices such as Nintendo's Wii and Apple's iPhone. Also Microsoft seems to be working on it as well. More natural ways of interacting with our computers will provide even more competition to the desktop dinosaurs. Imagine picking up a 20 pound desktop and shaking it side to side to flip through your applications. Not a pretty sight.

What direction do you think computer technology will take in the future? Feel free to comment and let me know what you think.

Micheal Stanley began working with computers around the age of 4 when his sister started teaching him to program in BASIC on a Tandy TRS-80. With degrees in electronics, instrumentation, and automated manufacturing, and studies in networking and programming he has a good understanding of all aspects of information technology.

In November of 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Micheal volunteered to help provide IT field support for the FEMA hurricane recovery effort on the gulf coast. One of only three IT field support personnel (sometimes only two) for more than 2000 users spread over five counties on the gulf coast, the urgency of providing network, internet access, and end user support to the recovery team in the storm ravaged area tested and strengthened his IT skills. Recently he has been contemplating writing articles on technology, and has started writing a book.

Micheal's blog can be found at shadowgiatl.wordpress.com.

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