Sunday, November 17, 2013

Is the Cloud Killing PCs?

Over at ZDnet, Stephen J. Vaughn-Nichols has a great article asking if They're Killing the PC  .  An additional article on their site laments the passing of repairability,  It's not about Windows: The repairable PC is dead.   

I think these articles, and others like them are premature.  I see many reasons for PC sales to be poor:
  •  The quality of used computers is a primary reason why the market continues to soften.  
  • A continuing lack of full time, full wage jobs (see the NY Times article on long-term unemployment).  This is an issue because PCs are most likely to be used in the work place.
  • Economic stagnation meaning that macroeconomic growth is slow. 
  • Cheap software on Apple and Android devices.  Face it, an app, or using cloud apps is cheaper than buying that shrink wrapped set of Microsoft Office disks.
  • Any 64 bit PC can run any piece of commonly available software for most needs.  There are exceptions, like CAD or CAM, and engineering or scientific applications, but for the most part, if a computer was made after 2004 or 5 its just fine.  (With the exception of bad capacitor mobos)
  • New chips work very similarly to old chips, except they don't use as much electricity. (And the difference is usually less than 40 Watts)
  • Does anyone need an i7 based system, or is a $60 used Core 2 Duo good enough?
With that said, though, I am seeing signs of a PC market collapse.  Just the other day I bought a T60 Thinkpad IBM laptop for my son with everything except a hard drive and a power cord for $18.  It has 2 cores and runs 64 bit software.  Nothing wrong with that.  An XPS 730x with an i7 (no hard drive) sold on an auction site for $212 last week, which was a computer that should be worth close to $1,000 now, and probably cost $3,809 new.  Run of the mill Core 2 Duo computers now run around $49, and can still run almost any software.  Yes, the i3s, i5s, and i7s are sweet processors, but the most important factor is the strength of the graphics card, not the strength of the CPU.  I'm running an old XPS 720 that has as its choke point the hard drive, not the video card.  If a seven year old computer has a hard drive choke point, then newer computers are no better. 

Companies that are expanding likely buy their workers thin clients or tablets rather than the latest greatest PC.   Entrepreneurs probably just buy a 7 or 8 year old computer for less than $100 which will work fine for the vast majority of businesses. 

The biggest factor the articles miss is the usage of PCs in third world nations.  PCs will probably keep going there because they are cheap and can be run with open source programs.  As the developed nations sell off their stock of used computers, the third world will be the place where they go.  Places where the Internet is undependable is where these old machines will wind up staying.  They will need the old fashioned software that can run without a network.

All in all, we live in interesting times.  I wonder if the ongoing stagnation in the US economy is due to the technology industry running out of innovation.  When you think about it, tablets, phones and the Cloud are an evolution, not a revolution.