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The PC isn’t dead – not yet

Why do people continue to write about the PC being dead? (Even me!)

Simply put it's a cute meme that generalises the fact that the desktop computer has reached a saturation point. Buying new PCs has finally evolved into the replacement market that was predicted back in the 1990s. It was predicted to first be achieved in 1993 if I remember rightly, so it took 20 years longer than first anticipated.

What put off the replacement market phenomenon was the one-two punch of Windows 95, which massively reinvigorated the market, then the Internet and the web browser, which made everything skyrocket.

Now in 2013 we may have actually hit that plateau predicted for 1993.

(Still, the phenomenon and propagation of the "PC is dead" phrase is as weird as the failure to reach saturation in 1993. Instead of pundits seeing the PC market as evolved into an unexciting replacement market, we now say the PC is dead. Everyone, throw out your PC! Who needs them?)

This evolution stems from a number of factors, all predicted long ago, but on the wrong timelines.

The first is the point where Internet usage crossed over to mostly mobile devices rather than the desktop PC. I know people who are browsing constantly on the iPhone. This is more of a convenience for them, not any sort of a dead PC trend.

The other is the phenomenal popularity of the tablet, led by the iPad. These have turned out to be fascinating gizmos that people often use in place of a laptop computer. I'm old fashioned and still prefer the more versatile and more powerful Ultrabook for this sort of mobile usage. I have used an iPad and the various Android tablets and find them appealing, but not so much that I'm going to run out and buy one.

Tablet success, especially that of the iPad, is the main contributor to the progression of the death of the PC meme.

The last nail in the dead PC coffin comes from the PC itself. The personal computer, for all practical purposes, committed suicide.

Since the 1990s the hardware going into a PC has progressively improved. To an extreme. It's not evolution, but a quality revolution. Mass storage has increased into the multi-terabytes, and the 1920 x 1080 screen with appropriate chunky graphics cards have become commonplace.

The fast pace of hardware improvements has essentially left the software in the dust. Add to that the cloud computing phenomenon that takes tough chores and runs them remotely and you end up with a PC that mostly does not need replacing. Until a few months ago, I was still using a clunky XP machine that I built around Acer parts close to ten years ago. I'm writing this article on a Windows Vista machine from 2008.

In the 1980s and 1990s I was replacing and upgrading my computer every 18 months. I'm not exactly sure I am ever going to replace this unit. Plus, I have not bothered to upgrade the OS. If the machine has any flaws it seems to choke on Adobe flash running on Firefox once in a while. That's about it.

My wife finally gave up on her XP machine from 2003 after a decade and got a new Dell box running Windows 8. I expect that will be working until 2023.

So the PC is not dead, but its pace of growth and replacement has slowed to a standstill. There has been no kind of computing breakthrough or intense software change to encourage speeding up the process. And I see nothing on the horizon.

But dead the PC ain't. Not just yet.