HP or no HP: The PC lives

The PC is dead, right? Well, no. Flexibility, innovation and users' storage needs will keep it around a good long while

Suggestions that the PC is dead are greatly exaggerated. Flexibility, innovation and users' storage needs will keep it around a good long while.

The signs to the contrary are everywhere, haven't you seen them?

_Hewlett-Packard, the largest computer maker in the world, said Wednesday it's looking to get out of the consumer PC business. HP believes its fortunes lie in a business similar to IBM that focuses on supporting large enterprises instead of trying to profit off the razor-thin margins of Pavilion PCs.

_Also recently, Mark Dean, IBM's chief technology officer for the Middle East and Africa and an engineer who worked on the IBM's first PC, the 5150, declared the end of the PC. Dean argued the traditional mouse-and-keyboard computer was going the way of the vacuum tube, typewriter, vinyl records and a number of other extinct or outmoded technologies. The IBM exec says he now uses a tablet as his primary computing device.

_Market research firm IDC recently cut its PC growth forecast for 2011 by nearly 3 percentage points from 7.1 to 4.2 percent (IDC and PCWorld are both owned by International Data Group).

Clearly, the PC is dead, right? Well, no.

First of all, despite falling growth in PCs this year, IDC also predicts PC sales will rebound in 2012 driven by laptop sales. Shoppers are expected to opt for PCs next year thanks to devices with thinner designs, longer battery life, instant on, and touch.

But it's not just sales that will keep the PC afloat, there also are practical reasons to keep the PC alive for the foreseeable future.

We All Drive Trucks For A Living

Steve Jobs in 2010 famously compared PCs to trucks. The argument goes that more people will gravitate toward using tablets while PCs will be used by people who need some serious horsepower to drive down the digital highway such as graphic designers and video editors. The premise of this argument is that people largely use PCs for doing email and other light typing, checking Facebook, watching videos and playing games.

The problem is an untold number of people still need to use PCs at work, because tablets (at least as they stand now) simply aren't up to the job.

Consider a secretary needing to simultaneously enter data into a spreadsheet, update a contacts database, create a mail merge document to send to 1,000 clients and search online for a restaurant for the next office party. Or what about this recent quote from a PCWorld reader who works as a teacher, "I do so many things with my PCs...Just a short time ago I had Excel, PowerPoint, Word, Thunderbird, Firefox, Notepad ++, Irfanview, Dreamweaver, and NXT-G running simultaneously. This is typical for me on any given day."

Even lowly writers are better off using a PC, as PCWorld's Tony Bradley recently discovered during a month long bender with an iPad.

PCs Are Flexible

Unless you own a Mac, you can adapt your PC to your situation with relative ease. Need more RAM? Just open your PC up and plug in a new stick. Want to swap out your 320GB HDD for a 512GB SSD? No problem. Tired of Windows and want to give Ubuntu a try? It's only a download away.

Tablets aren't even close to being this flexible. You might be able to jailbreak the iPad to get unauthorized software to run on it, but that's much more involved than inserting a bootable thumb drive. Tablets are also designed to be replaced year after year because the hardware is largely static and unchangeable, while PCs can change as your needs change and are typically serviceable for at least 3-5 years.

Innovation Is Out There

Sure, the basic look and feel of a PC hasn't changed that much over the years. The basic set of components including a display, keyboard, CPU and mouse have remained largely static whether you're looking at a desktop PC or laptop clamshell. But consider this: the standard automobile has had four wheels, an engine and a steering wheel for more than 100 years, yet that hardly means the car is standing still.

PCs with integrated touchscreens such as the Acer Aspire Z5610 are evolving, voice control is getting better, and Microsoft's Kinect Windows SDK may open up a whole new world of interaction for the PC. Who knows? Maybe those wall-sized PC displays predicted by tech luminaries and sci-fi writers may become a standard part of most people's homes before the decade is out.

You Need To Store Your Stuff

Right now, tablets have puny storage capabilities compared to a PC where 500GB drives are standard and 1TB drives are easy to come by. "

But what about the cloud," you say? "We'll just store all that stuff online." Maybe. But the future of the cloud is currently up for debate. Amazon and Google want you to use the cloud as if it were a hard drive accessible from anywhere you have an Internet connection.

Apple's iCloud, meanwhile, is designed to sync your stuff across all your devices. If Apple's vision wins out, you'll still need a device with a large amount of storage in your home as a central repository for stuff that's not being stored online such as older photos. One day, tablets may fit that bill, but for now PCs are still a better place to keep your files.

Tablets are a great tool for using on the go and it's a fair comment to say we're living in the Post-PC era or PC-plus era as Microsoft calls it, but the PC has a lot of life left in it and tablets are no replacement for my Lenovo X220.

Connect with Ian Paul ( @ianpaul ) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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Tags MicrosoftHPflashoperating systemsIBMmemorydesktopsoftwareIDCWindowsHewlett-PackardLenovohardware systemsdesktop pcsComponentscomputersKinectlaptop accessoriestablet PCInternational Data Groupmemory stick

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Ian Paul

PC World (US online)
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