They Keep Killing the PC

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My Technologizer column over at this week is about the end of the PC era–which, I’ve decided, already happened awhile ago while nobody was looking. There are so many Internet-connected computing devices of all sorts in our lives–phones, TVs, tablets, e-readers, and more to come–that the PC is merely one among many rather than the center of the technological universe.

But even if the PC doesn’t matter as much as it once did, it’s a remarkably robust invention. I suspect people will still be using them decades from now, long after some of the current alleged PC killers have run their course. (Hey, even PCs running the obsolete operating system known as DOS still refuse to die–I see them in use at drycleaners, antique stores, and other small businesses all the time.)

And it’s worth remembering that many people–including some extremely smart, successful people–have been declaring the PC to be toast for years. They’ve been consistently wrong. A few examples from among many:

1992: AT&T, General Magic, and other companies are hot on the idea of wireless tablet-like computers (sound familiar?). Futurist Paul Saffo is quoted by the New York Times: “the PC is dead.”

1994: Oracle’s Larry Ellison says that in the age of the Internet, the PC has become obsolete and will soon be replaced by a $400 box he calls the Network Computer. ($400 Internet devices did indeed become wildly popular eventually–they just happened to be PCs.)

1999: IBM CEO Lou Gerstner declares the PC era to have ended. (Which doesn’t stop IBM from continuing to sell PCs for another six years.)

2001: Scott McNealy, cofounder of Sun MicroSystems, says that a lot of consumers and businesses are realizing they don’t need PCs on their desks and are replacing them with simpler information appliances. (He also calls the PC a “hairball.”)

2005: The CEO of Texas Instruments, Rich Templeton, declares that…repeat after me…the PC era is over.

2005: ABC tech columnist Michael Malone informs us that the PC is dead.

2010: Steve Jobs unveils the first iPad. The New Republic’s Nicholas Carr says that with this news, the PC has “officially” died.

When George Burns was well into his 90s, he used to joke that he could smoke as many cigars as he wanted without fear of catching flack from his doctor–because his doctor was dead. I have the feeling that the PC, like George, is going to outlive most of its critics.