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Summary:

Mobile computing is rapidly gaining adoption, and will soon render desktops obsolete, believes the head of IT for Purdue University in Indiana. When we previously covered the decline of the desktop, our readers weren’t ready to give up on it. What do you think now?

Ubiquitous mobile computing is rapidly gaining adoption and will soon render desktops obsolete, believes the head of IT for Purdue University in Indiana. In an article over at ComputerWorld, Purdue CIO Gerry McCartney said the school is prepping for a desktop-less future:

McCartney doesn’t know what devices will dominate his campus in the years ahead — perhaps tablet computers, netbooks or some unknown device incubating in a lab somewhere. But there is one thing he does know about the future: It’s time to get rid of desktop PCs.

“This idea that I have to go to a PC and sit down and use it is as quaint as having to go to a phone to use a phone,” said McCartney, referring to land-line telephones.

Given that I dumped my last personal desktop in 2001, and returned my last “work-related” desktop at the end of 2007, right before I started at GigaOM, I am solidly in the mobile-only camp. Back in October 2008, I wrote how wireless was driving mobile computing, and laid out what it would mean for vendors such as Intel and ARM. A year later, I asked readers if the desktop had already become a dinosaur; some felt it had while others still saw it as a cheap way to manage home networks.

But if kids heading off to college these days are outfitted with tablets and notebooks, then I don’t see them electing to buy a desktop unless they’re issued one on the job — itself a decreasing possibility in an era of desktop virtualization, mobile workers and thin clients. I solicited opinions from the GigaOM team, and was surprised at how many are hanging onto the desktop as a media server, for ergonomic reasons, or because they wanted to the screen real estate and processing capability for video editing. So readers, what about y’all? Do you have a desktop? Will you buy one? What is the role of a desktop in a mobile computing world?

Image courtesy of Flickr user William Hook

  1. Kevin Krewell Monday, May 10, 2010

    Personally, I still have a couple of desktops at home. One is my Gaming PC and the other is my small-form-factor HTPC connected to the HDTV. The best gaming PCs will still be desktops.

    The advantages of desktops are: upgradeable, spacious, can be home built, can handle higher powered GPUs and CPUs, and can hold multiple hard drives (RAID).

  2. No, I don’t have a desktop and most likely won’t. My first computer was a notebook (Mac) then I moved to a Win95 desktop, onto a XP laptop, and now a Win7 laptop. For me the laptop does everything I need and generally has plenty of power; however, I can certainly understand the argument for the desktop if you need the full on power for video or heavy gaming and/or a big screen. The screen is the only thing I miss with a laptop but I can easily add one if I like.

    With that said, more net-tops (I think that’s right) are coming out that are geared toward multi-media and handle HD better, and with the new GPU/GPGPU, Tegra, and the things ARM chips are doing in HD I think it’s only a matter of time where there isn’t much difference between the portable and desktop devices as far as “needed” power goes in general but for the most extreme cases. On top of that there are some seriously powerful laptops out there if you want to pay the $$$$ for them.

    Personally, I just like being able to take my laptop with me if I need to, but in general it is a desktop replacement.

  3. My computer that I use for everything from photos to finance is a desktop. It has 4 display windows– benefit of Spaces, 4 internal hard drives and several external hard drives, 12 GB of RAM, ~5,000 tunes, movies. I also have a notebook (1 display/1 hard drive/<2 GB RAM), but that’s not for editing photos. I cannot see that I would want to give up my desktop. It also is much more reliable since it is stationary. My daughter is done with college and is saving her money to buy her own desktop computer for all her photographic and graphic arts work.

    From the looks of that desk surface in the photo, someone either throws away everything or he doesn’t work there much.

    Sure, one can believe it is cool to have the latest phone and notebook / netbook. But that’s not always the more practical path, and it is not more efficient except superficially.

  4. Greg Worley Monday, May 10, 2010

    Desktops only have two purposes left, either a hard core gaming machine or for entertainment centers.

    1. Stacey Higginbotham Greg Worley Tuesday, May 11, 2010

      I tend to agree, but folks in the comments are also convincing me that engineering and multimedia (for storage at least) are still desktop bound. Although I keep my media on a NAS drive.

      1. A NAS drive is basically a small Linux desktop with no monitor attached. In the home, it could easily be merged into the wireless router or media center.

        Probably the people talking about using a desktop for multimedia are creating/editing content, not consuming it, and need the speed of a local hard drive (if not SSD). Editing HD video stored remotely over a wireless network isn’t practical.

  5. A laptop is superfluous in a tablet world, except for niche purposes. But a desktop, with a giant screen and powerful CPU, can allow for uses a laptop can’t.

    Plus, a desktop is much easier to back up, can have all sorts of peripherals and doodads attached to it, and is better suited as a home media server. (I use an iMac as a home media server, in conjunction with a couple of network stores.)

    In fact, I’d wager if you do anything with home networking, you’ll find you need a server or desktop PC of some kind–or a laptop you keep running 24/7.

    1. “a tablet world”…we are not in that world. Tablets are the niche product for the foreseeable future. Laptops will outsell the iPad by 100x this year.

      Low-end desktops are slower than high-end laptops, and a fast desktop will only be about twice as fast as a high-end laptop. Most decent portables are perfectly capable of driving a 30″ LCD monitor. Unless you’re talking about a beast with 4 high-end nVidia cards driving a video wall or visual computing workstation, for most purposes a good laptop is more than fast enough for most people.

  6. I’m actually looking at going back to a desktop. Laptops lack the options for power, screen real estate, speed that I’ve come to expect when trying to get things done.

  7. Well, if you’re just talking about the idea that all the files, applications, and settings that we’re used to consuming and manipulating on our home desktop computers SHOULD be consumable and manipulatable from anywhere on any device – of course that is true. I don’t think anyone would argue (excepting for certain cases of security) that they would turn down the cloud for their one and only trusty desktop PC. However, no one will give up said PC until portable devices are capable of the same functionality in terms of processing power and freedom of manipulation. Right now, iPad is great for playing and communicating, but it’s not exactly what you would turn to for anything creative (video editing, photoshop, audio, making Flash sites). If we get some more power and some more flexibility up in these portable devices – who could say no? Who would want to?

    oh wait – how many dollars a month did you say that cloud storage and constant 4G internet connectivity was going to cost?

  8. dougan milne Monday, May 10, 2010

    As a self-proclaimed gadget aficionado, I love mobile, but those devices are still an extension of homebase (or “workbase”). I totally understand the argument, but no matter how adept we become to mobile devices, they will never allow the same productivity as a desktop solution.

    At work, I spend hours each day running multiple screens to allow several spreadsheets, DB’s, and browsers open, all while building a sales presentation. Is a laptop+docking station really more compact, ergonomic, Horsepower? All my work related stuff is sitting in the cloud anyways… so I can always use those “mobile extensions” for last minute revisions.

    At home: Audio production, photo editing, and media center — different people have different hobbies… but if CPU/GPU/MEM intense applications are underway, what form factor offers the best support?

  9. Christopher Johnston Monday, May 10, 2010

    I’m certain that my next computer will be a 27in iMac or a Mac Pro because editing video and audio on a notebook while possible, is not fun nor efficient.

    I have a Macbook Pro and Windows 7 desktop machine. I tend to like the desktop because of the larger screen (22″ versus 15″) and the full size keyboard. I also like having larger hard drives, DVD burners, 7 different card readers, 8 usb ports, etc..

    I recently cut the cable for media so now all television viewing comes through the internet and watching on the desktop is easier than the MacGyver like configurations I have to go through to get Hulu on my TV.

  10. Reality check: Presbyopia is a health condition where the eye exhibits a progressively diminished ability to focus on near objects with age. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presbyopia I’m in my 40s and I use a large display specifically to deal with difficulty focusing on fine details up close. In addition, laptop keyboards are less than ergonomic and don’t get me started on how much I hate laptop touch pads. For work I have use a Lenovo T61p laptop in a docking station so I can use it as a desktop computer. I could see using a smaller netbook size computer with a docking station, but at some age everyone starts to need a larger display and more ergonomic user interface to remain productive.

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