Pondering the Death of the Desktop Computer

Being an author of computer books makes me naturally curious about the health of certain technologies. After all, I need to know what to write about next. Lately there has been all sorts of ruckus generated about the death of the desktop computer. Many people claim that the desktop computer is on its last legs with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. The expression is cliched and so are the arguments about the desktop computer you’re probably using at work most of the time.

At issue is whether everyone can use a small device to perform all of their work. From some of what I read, I get a picture of a teenager texting a tome the size of War and Piece on a smartphone. (You can even find articles that tell you how to replace your laptop with a smartphone.) The moment that the visualization is complete, I admit that I get a good laugh from the picture. Imagine for a moment seeing someone’s thumbs flying at a speed that defies imagination for months on end to complete the book. The whole idea is ludicrous, but I’m sure someone will try it and succeed as a proof of concept.

You can create a Dick Tracy style computer in a watch. The technology has no size restriction. In fact, I’m not entirely sure that you’d even require the space consumed by the entire watch anymore. The problem isn’t one of making the technology small enough, but one of allowing a human to interact with the technology safely. The reason that the teenage texting of War and Peace brings tearful laughter to my eyes is the insanity of even attempting it. At issue are repetitive stress injuries and special needs.

Desktop computers provide an instrument that is large enough for most people to interact with successfully without incurring almost immediate trauma. That trauma occurs even with this form factor should tell you something. In order to work successfully for long periods of time, the environment must suit the human form factor—something that smaller devices simply can’t provide. As keyboards get smaller and people start typing in crouched or other uncomfortable positions, the opportunity for serious injury increases. In short, the reason the desktop computer won’t go away completely is that people need something large enough to perform large quantities of useful work successfully.

The issue of special needs would seem to seal the deal for desktop computers. People constantly complain about the size of smartphone screens—how the text is nearly impossible to see. It’s hard to believe that anyone would seriously consider trying to write large documents, work on graphics, or create presentations on such a small display. In fact, as the population ages, I see a problem performing even minor tasks with the small screen in some cases. People simply won’t be able to see the display to use it.

It was with great interest that I recently read a post entitled, “Post-PC Bunkum” by John Dvorak. In it, John mentions something that should make everyone aware that the desktop computer isn’t going away—it has become a commodity. It has become something that most people are familiar with and have in their home, office, or both. The desktop computer has almost become a refrigerator in terms of ubiquity in the home and office environment. However, the reason most people are uncomfortable with the desktop computer is that it truly is a complex device capable of performing some truly amazing feats in the right hands. People want to make tasks and their environment mindlessly simple and the desktop computer doesn’t do that for them. Even so, I doubt very much we’ll see the desktop go away anytime soon.

What is your take on the death of the desktop computer? What sorts of devices do you work with to perform most of your tasks? What sorts of tasks do you perform most often? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.