Here’s why the PC will still be around in the “post-PC” era

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In two years’ time, your personal cloud will replace your PC as your go-to computing resource, according to new Gartner research. The prevailing wisdom is that the desktop and laptop PC  — or any non-smartphone, non-tablet device — is headed for the dustbin of history.

Last week, former Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie reiterated his contention — building on thoughts expressed two years ago in his “Dawn of a New Day” memo  — that we’re in a post-PC world. For a sitting Microsoft exec to utter those words back then was revolutionary. Now they’re just accepted as fact.

The PC’s problem is the proliferation of ever smarter, more feature-filled smartphones and tablets that pack a lot of compute power into tiny form factors. These devices have the capacity to do more than communicate.  I know reporters who can thumb-type full feature stories onto their smartphones with seeming ease, for example.

Still, it would be a mistake to conflate tablet/smartphone success with the total demise of the PC. Here’s why.

Broadband is not ubiquitous

First, despite the proliferation of broadband connectivity, we are still not always online.  Not even in metro areas. And most people still need to be productive when they’re not connected.

And, as bandwidth is added, it will be quickly consumed as more businesses implement video and other bandwidth-hungry technologies. The title of a new research report by Network Instruments says it all: “Cloud and Bandwidth Demands Challenge IT Teams.” And that’s inside the firewall. (Fun fact: 70 percent of the 163 networking pros surveyed said their companies will implement video conferencing within the year.)

Second, thumb typists notwithstanding, there are jobs for which a PC is just a better tool.

The PC makers are all over this notion and are scrambling to offer “personal cloud” services with every PC sold. The latest example is Lenovo’s SugarSync deal that bundles 5GB of free storage with any Lenovo tablet or PC. By wrapping their PCs in cloud services, the PC guys are trying really, really hard to prove their relevance.

Not either/or, but many devices

In a statement, Gartner analyst Steve Kleynhans provided some nuance. The move to a personal cloud is fueled by the consumerization of IT, by the growing replacement of fat client-server applications by lean mobile apps, and by what he called the “ever-available self-service cloud” that lets people (connected people) download what they need when needed and upload their files for offsite storage.

“Major trends in client computing have shifted the market away from a focus on personal computers to a broader device perspective that includes smartphones, tablets and other consumer devices,” said Kleynhans. “Emerging cloud services will become the glue that connects the web of devices that users choose to access during the different aspects of their daily life.”

The reality, as Kleynhans states, is that very few things are either/or. And in this case most users will continue to use multiple devices.

At a meeting Tuesday, Vineet Jain, CEO of Egnyte, a cloud-storage company, dismissed the notion of the post-PC era.  “My iPad is never going to replace this,” he said, gesturing to his MacBook Air.  Like Jain, many consumers — and not just those who lead high-tech companies — will continue to use tablets, smartphones and — PCs for various tasks.

When things settle down, the post-PC era will look a lot more like the PC-plus era.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user manuelfloresv.

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