The End of the Desktop Computer?

Many people, myself included, have predicted that the desktop computers are slowly becoming obsolete. (I wrote about this more than two years ago. You can see my earlier articles by starting at http://bit.ly/2IdHxxy.) I believe that desktop computers and even the more expensive laptops are going to be replaced by simpler, cheaper systems that use modern technology to deliver similar performance, perhaps even better performance, than today’s desktop systems.

NOTE: When I refer to “simpler, cheaper systems,” I am including the cost of the hardware PLUS the cost of the more popular software programs.

Now Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has written an article for ComputerWorld that agrees with me and then provides an update to my earlier predictions. Vaughan-Nichols writes:

“Of course, at one time, to get any work done with a computer, you first had to learn a lot, about computers, operating systems, commands and more. Eventually, “friendly” became the most important adverb in computing circles, and we’ve reached the point in user-friendliness that people don’t even talk about it anymore. Today, Google has shown with its Chrome OS that most of us can pretty much do anything we need to do on a computer with just a web browser.”

As to the future, Vaughan-Nichols writes:

“I see a world where the PC desktop disappears for all but a few. Most of us will be writing our documents, filling out our spreadsheets and doing whatever else we now do on our PCs via cloud-based applications on smart terminals running Chrome OS or Windows Lite. If you want a ‘real’ PC, your choices are going to be Linux or [Macintosh] macOS.”

You can read Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols’ full article at: http://bit.ly/2uNb0H2.

23 Comments

I am 76 years old and have not used a desk top computer for at least 15 years. I like to take my laptop with me as it has my family history software on it. I also had an Android with software on it but I find that difficult to use. It’s all very well for youngsters who are used to using one finger to operate them or their phones, I dread to think what their hands will be like when they are older. A good quality laptop with decent keyboard is by far the easiest to operate, this is certainly easier for people who are blind or have eyesight problems. Laptops are far easier to use and you can type so much more quickly. I’ve had to abandon my Android as it’s not charging properly and if my research was on there I really wouldn’t know what to do about it. At least I can put my work on a stick from my laptop.

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    Peggy A Fleischmann April 6, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    I agree. I am 73 and my Android is too slow to put any genealogy on it. I only use it for text messages (I have a niece who is hearing impaired and uses her cell for messages, etc.). Also I have to keep my landline as I have trouble hearing on the cell even when turned up to the highest. So I hope companies, especially the two big ones (Microsoft and Apple) keep laptops until all of “oldies” are long gone. Also the cell phone does text great but for documents is way too small for my old eyes to read.

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    Liz – I totally agree with you 100% on your comment of “I dread to think what their hands will be like when they are older” and lets no forget about their eyesight & hearing too. Many people at work use desk top computers but, most use laptops at home. I use a laptop and only use my cell phone for emergencies only – no texting for me.

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We like the desktop computer and are very pleased that our holiday hotel in Portugal has two of them for guests to use.:-)

Joy Dean (Mrs)

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I travel with my Chrome and play games and check emails on it at home. But I love my desktop. The laptop is ok, but it’s too heavy for “laptop” use. Some of my favorite programs are not in the cloud. I’m still waiting for something you wrote about several years ago: A cloud facility that would let us upload any programs and run them in the cloud. Then my chrome would rise to the top.

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Steve Fleckenstein April 5, 2019 at 8:55 am

The majority of my IT Consulting clients use laptops or hybrid laptop/tablets. Those still using desktop and tower computers include stationary CPA’s, gamers, graphic designers in combination with high end drawing tablets, animators, Independent small stores and businesses, receptionists with microPC’s, computers used for controlling equipment like HVAC, also locations where you wouldn’t want some one to easily walk away with your computer. I also see alot of workstations at local government sites, however they also use tablets and laptops for field work.

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Charles Lundquist April 5, 2019 at 10:21 am

What about using your IPhone or Android and a docking station with large monitor as your personal computer? That is what many of us have been waiting for.

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    This had been what I’ve been doing since I got my note 9. Work uses remote desktop which looks exactly the same on a 25″ monitor in DeX as it does with a Nuc. There’s currently a kickstarter call Nexdock which is DeX in a laptop form factor. With the exception of a couple programs needed for the 3d print I don’t touch the PC anymore.

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You might be right, but I would sorely miss my desktop. I have a laptop for travel or sitting downstairs, but nothing beats a big screen with an under-desktop drawer keyboard. I can lay out binders, records, photos all over the desk so I can easily see them, yet still type merrily away. Also, I can just walk off when I am done and leave everything, then wake up the computer anytime and resume.

Liked by 1 person

    I agree with you 100%. The big plus for me, is the size of the keyboard keys. Those of us with typing or stylus holding or tiny laptop key problems find out soon enough that a “portable” PC or iPhone does NOT work well. Nor do tiny screens. The desktop allows me to increase the print size & split screen work — one side may have me on a genealogy web site – the other an installed tree. Another use is for translation. Side left, the online translation assist; the right, the foreign language document. Especially good for “old German”, which in itself, is difficult for me — I can quickly change what I think may be an individual letter to another & find out the correct (usually) letter & thus translate.

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Mary Beth Figgins April 5, 2019 at 12:19 pm

I agree with Liz. My laptop is much easier to use thant tablet. Internet is going to need to be a lot better before I would use cloud programs. And with security concerns also.

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Howard Bragg; howardbragg@outlook.com. I would not like to replace my desktop and three 23” monitors that I use daily for ancestry research. My wife uses her office laptop with 3 monitors at work and also has a dock and 3 monitors at home. I have a Mac laptop that I can travel with, but ancestry programs often license only one machine, so it becomes more expensive to license another. It would be better if the programs like Family tree Maker My Heritage were cloud based. I am not aware that these programs offer Chrome OS versions.
I am not comfortable with laptops anyway. I want a good keyboard, a good mouse, several monitors, external drives, UPS, and don’t want to deal with a VPN. I travel rarely and work at home so I don’t feel helpless without a laptop and a large smart phone.

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    You can purchase one Family Tree Maker program and install it on up to three computers. One can be a PC and the other can be a Mac. Check out familytreemaker.com
    In part this is what they say…..
    “So if you’ve got a laptop and a desktop, and you’d like to take Family Tree Maker on the road with you, no problem. You can put your tree on both computers, and sync them both to the same Ancestry tree. Yes, at the same time. So after your trip, you’ll be just one sync away from the happiest (and easiest) family history homecoming you’ve ever had.”

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The article assumes internet access is available everywhere. It isn’t. Neither via wire nor satellite. And won’t be for a long time, if ever.

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    I agree. The phone companies love to say that 99% of the population have access to the internet, so why is it that wherever I go I seem to be the 1% with no landline, no mobile connection, no TV signal and poor radio?

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Nothing will beat a desktop computer. I use mine intensively. A large monitor sitting on a big desk, lots of RAM, a decent keyboard and a 10-button mouse. Heaven. I use a Chromebook while travelling.

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I am still old school and like my desktop PC and had a lap top for awhile but gave it up. If I hear they are no longer making desktops, I will go buy a new one until this one dies. I like being away from it and carrying a laptop just means you are tied to it. Feel the same way about cell phones. Carry one for emergencies but do not have to be connected to the world all the time. I recognize I am in the real minority but that is OK by me.

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I have to agree with many here, I would simply not be able to work without my desktop – especially at work, where we have many programs that are not available in the cloud. While Google Sheets is fine for simple generic things, it doesn’t compare to the capabilities I have have with Excel (which is what I use extensively). I can’t put any of my design software onto a Chromebook. At home I have a laptop, with a docking station – I need my 10-key on the keyboard and a large monitor. And like Tom, I like to be able to spread my papers and notes all over the desk while working on Genealogy.

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I love my desktop. I find the cell phone very hard to use to do anything real. I have an iPad but mostly use it for traveling. I’m 76, will dread the day there’s only laptops. it’s so hard to have multiple windows open. I can do anything on my desktop.

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I will use a desktop as long as I can and hopefully at my age I won’t have to do differently. I do a lot of research and much much prefer the desktop to my laptop which I use when we travel. I only even use a flip phone. I don’t like the big fancy phones.

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I’m in agreement with most of the posts. I love my desktop & scanner and could not be nearly as productive (with my genealogy as well as other things) on my ipad or iphone. I will be terribly sad to see the day they are obsolete.

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I will post one comment here in reply to several of the other comments posted earlier:

Don’t forget that with almost all laptops, when you are at home, you can always plug in a very large monitor, a full-sized keyboard of your choice, and a mouse, if you want one. That gives you the best of both worlds: a 27-inch or 30-inch monitor (or even two monitors on many laptops), a full-sized keyboard of whatever design you want, perhaps a printer, maybe a scanner, and more. Then, when you go away someplace, you can unplug everything from the laptop and take it with you, including its internal hard drive and all of its contents. I do that often.

That’s much cheaper than buying two separate computers (one for home and one for traveling) and there is no problem keeping the contents of two computers in sync all the time. Of course, I also use external disk drive on both the laptop system in order to always have fresh backups.

Even a cheap Chromebook computer will support (one) external monitor of any size you want, any keyboard, any mouse, and a printer. (I haven’t yet figured out how to connect a scanner to the Chromebook, however. Scanners do work well with Macintosh and Windows laptops.) I travel with a Chromebook most of the time but when I get home, I still use the Chromebook along with a big monitor, a full-sized keyboard, and a mouse. In fact, I can even use the 65-inch television in the living room as a monitor on the Chromebook or any other laptop, should I wish to do so. (I did that once but don’t do it regularly.)

On the Chromebook laptop, I normally use Zoho word processor and sometimes the free Google apps for word processing, spreadsheets, and more. However, on any Macintosh or Windows laptop, the Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) work just as well as they do on a desktop system. When connected to a 27-inch monitor on my desk, there is no difference between the laptop and the desktop’s operation.

The use of a docking station is not mandatory but using one will make the process of connecting and disconnecting devices from the laptop very quick and easy. You can start at http://bit.ly/2KeRgXk to view a variety of docking stations for Windows, Macintosh, and Chromebook computers.

Next, use of a VPN is important on all computers that connect to the Internet, including full sized desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

Admittedly, I still own a rather good desktop computer that I purchased 5 or 6 years ago plus a newer laptop. However, I find I am using the desktop less and less these days. Someday, the desktop will become obsolete or perhaps will have a catastrophic failure. Whenever that happens, I don’t plan on purchasing a new desktop. Instead, I will keep using the laptop and also use a docking station when at home to connect a 27-inch (or larger) screen, a nice keyboard with a good mechanical feel, and a mouse. Also, that requires only ONE copy of each program I wish to use, not two copies for two computers.

I don’t think that is a solution for everyone but should work well for many people, especially for those who want a laptop but do not want to pay for TWO computers.

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I no longer use a desktop and use a laptop exclusively but do not want to have to do my genealogy on a tablet or phone. I keep my genealogy database on my computer and back it up to Back Blaze. I don’t own a Chromebook and don’t like Dropbox. I prefer my files to be on my hard drive.

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