Posey's Tips & Tricks

What Will the Post-PC Era Look Like?

Is the demise of the PC exaggerated or inevitable? And once gone extinct, what's next for the enterprise?

Microsoft's massive restructuring last week has been largely attributed to the idea that the company made its fortunes writing OSes and applications for the PC, and that now the era of the PC is over. I've often heard people say that we're entering into the post-PC era,  but I have to question whether or not that's really true, and if so, what will the post PC era look like?

Is This Really the Post-PC Era?
There's no question that PC sales are falling off quickly. However, it would be shortsighted to blindly accept the premise that the PC is dead.

Having worked in IT for 20-plus years, I've seen several examples of technologies that were pronounced dead. In most cases, technologies do not truly go extinct unless there's something better that can do everything that the previous technology did and more, and at a better price. A case in point was floppy disks, which were replaced by higher-capacity, far more reliable, and less-expensive optical media.

Far too often it's hardware or software vendors that pronounce a technology dead. The hope is that customers will buy into the hype and move toward the new technology of the moment. A perfect example of this is tape backups. Vendors have touted the demise of tape backups for years, and yet survey after survey shows that people are still using tapes (even if only for archives or supplementary backups).

My point is that while the role of the PC has certainly diminished, I think that it's too soon to write PCs off completely. The day will probably come when PCs are universally considered to be obsolete, but for right now there are still things that are much easier to do on a PC than on a competing device.

What Happens When PCs Do Go Extinct?
So what will the post-PC era really look like? I think that as far as the consumer market goes, the post-PC era is already in effect. Large numbers of consumers are abandoning PCs in favor of tablet devices.

Many corporations still use desktop PCs, although this is starting to change. Two trends will probably lead to the end of PCs in corporate environments. The first trend is Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). It may eventually get to the point that so many people are bringing their own devices to work that there's simply no need for the organization to provide company-issued PCs.

This leads to the other trend. One of the big problems with supporting a multitude of device types is that there's no such thing as a native code base that can be used to universally run applications on any given device. For example, a Windows application won't natively run on an iPad.

One way to get around this problem is to implement virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). VDI allows desktops to run in a virtualized environment. This allows the devices to act as thin clients, which are able to access corporate applications and data.

VDI is starting to become a popular choice even for organizations that do not currently allow BYOD. Administrators are beginning to realize that virtual PCs are easier to manage and more secure than a Windows desktop OS that's running on physical hardware.

This actually brings up an interesting point: Whenever you hear someone saying that PCs are dead or that we're in the post-PC era, they're referring to physical PCs. I think it's safe to say virtual PCs are going to be around for the foreseeable future.

There are a number of reasons why I believe this to be true, but I'll give you a simple one. There aren't a lot of other options for VDI environments. Sure, a lot of users prefer iOS to Windows, but to the best of my knowledge there's no way to virtualize iOS and let users access it as their virtual desktop.

I don't have a crystal ball, nor do I claim to be able to predict the future. Even so, my guess is that PC hardware will continue to vanish at a fairly rapid rate, but that virtualized desktop OSes such as Windows 8 will remain a viable option for years to come.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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