PC monitor in a cemetary

Death of the PC is greatly exaggerated

Mark Twain famously once wrote, "The report of my death was an exaggeration." The same could probably be said for desktop PCs, since everyone seems to think that they are dead, or at least dying, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Especially in the halls of government, PCs will continue to enjoy a long and productive life.

The latest round of anti-PC sentiment follows the admittedly bad sales report on PCs for the latest quarter. CNN Money recently reported that  PCs experienced the worst drop in the history of PC sales tracking. Sales were down 13.9 percent, more than double what research firm IDC had predicted.

That has led to a slew of predictions that the PC is dead, that everyone will soon ditch desktops for iPads or smart phones, and we'll forever be unchained from our desks.

Sorry, but that's total hogwash. If PCs were truly dead (and this includes laptops and ultrabooks) then I probably wouldn't be typing on one right now. Looking around the office, I wouldn’t see coworkers also typing on their computers (which includes a mix of Windows PCs and Mac desktops). When I visit federal agencies, I wouldn't see rows and rows of desktops, all performing valuable functions. Also, don't forget that even with the huge drop, 79 million new PCs were still sold in the first three months of the year. Those were added to an enormous installed base that isn't going away anytime soon.

In government, the PC's dominance is even more pronounced. The Defense Department is adding mobile devices, certainly, but it also just awarded a $617 million contract that will bring Windows 8 PCs to the Army, Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. When combined with a similar $700 million deal with the Navy and Marine Corps, that means that PCs running Windows 8 will more or less dominate the entire defense infrastructure for the foreseeable future.

There are reasons for the decline of new PC sales across the board, however. Certainly, some people are able to do their jobs with just a tablet or smart phone, though those folks are still a minority at the moment. Slate points out that another reason could be that PCs these days simply last longer than ever. Unless users are working on resource-intensive applications like visualization or gaming, their current PC will probably be on the desktop for years to come.

There simply is no reason to spend money on a new PC if the five-year-old one is still working perfectly fine for office tasks. And although this was unheard of a few years ago, there are PCs that are still in service 10 years after they were deployed in government.

There may be another reason people are not buying new PCs: Windows 8. Despite the fact that we really liked Windows 8 in our extensive review, and found it more than suitable for government service, it's still a radical change. Once people get used to it, they will like it, but moving from Windows 7 or even from XP to Windows 8 is a pretty big shock. Offices may resist or delay that upgrade, which will lead to slower sales.

Despite declining sales, PCs, especially in government, aren't going away. If anything, they may evolve to other things, like Dell's thin client on a key, or simply machines that are far too powerful or too specialized to be housed within a tablet or smart phone. 

Are PCs in their Golden Age? Probably not. But are they dead or even dying? Also, no. They will either evolve into something different enough that their sales will increase again, or they will simply level out and continue as normal after this little dip. In any case, they will be good for government for decades to come, or even longer.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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Reader Comments

Fri, Jul 5, 2013 Charles Malaysia

I have been writing about information technology for almost 19 years and I've come across so much of this "mainframes and dead," "Microsoft displaced IBM," "PCs are dying" crap. Looking around my office, all of my co-workers use PCs and if they have a laptop, they conect it to a desktop display on their desk. Some have iPads, which they use in the field but they still use their PC in the office. Media thrives on sensation to attract eyeballs and nothing like sensation to attract their attention. What's happening in reality is that tablets and smartphones are taking market share from PCs, which isn't surprising, though it's just a redistribution of market share. In the past, if all we needed was to check our e-mail, access the Web, access Facebook, Twitter, etc., we had no choice but to do that on a PC but with tablets and smartphones, we have a choice on what to do that on. However, when it comes to writing our articles, work on a spreadsheet, edit photos and videos or create a CAD drawing or heavy number crunching, the obvious choice would be a PC or perhaps a more powerful workstation. Also, most of those servers which host websites, computing clouds, etc are also PCs. So the media, analysts, marketers and other "pandits" should cut the crap about "the PC is dying." BTW. I use Linux on my PCs, not that crap from Redmond.

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 Col. Panek Griffiss AFB

I'm getting along fine with my 2-5 year old PCs, after I converted them to Linux. Goodbye, Microsoft!

Thu, Apr 18, 2013 Zak

I always find it funny when people mention the death of PCs. I have to wonder what kind of work they are doing. I've been using tablets since before iPad and Android but have never found them to be all that useful except as portable toys. If you're doing any real work like data analysis than you need the processing power and memory of a desktop/laptop. And virtual desktops are complete junk. I have to use them for accessing certain systems and they are slow and unresponsive. If all you do is read email all day then a tablet or VD may work but for the rest of us that crunch numbers, it's completely impractical.

Wed, Apr 17, 2013 Jon

We have moved our IT infrastructure - 300 PCs - to VDI. The PCs are now running NoTouch Desktop, displaying Windows 7 desktops out of the datacenter. And guess what? When these PCs will die in a few years, we will buy cheap PCs again, again as VDI terminals. There are just so many normal people around who don't want to work on a tablet. They want a real keyboard and a corporate-managed machine on their desk.

Wed, Apr 17, 2013 Niles Weston

Hey Paul, you seem to be really against Windows. Dont think that just because you dont like it that nobody else does. I use Windows 8 now and work in government, in the military side of the house. It was a little odd at first, but now I navigate it just fine. And from what my bosses say, they are happy with the security aspects of it compared with what we were running before, which admittedly, was a much older OS. I think we were on XP before.

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