Personal computing has finally come full circle. Back in the late 1970’s personal computers didn’t really exist. Instead we had terminals which were really nothing more than a glorified keyboard and a monitor. Very little computing was done on the client side. Most of the computations and heavy lifting was done by the server or mainframe, depending on the network. These servers were much more powerful and the common office didn’t need to use them too frequently so it was a good setup. As demand for server time grew, users found that network speed and server response was becoming the limiting variable to their productivity. The answer was server upgrades, additional servers and more robust networks. The setup made sense. Centralize your computational power. Files and programs can be access from any terminal connected to the server. It made so much sense that Ken Olsen of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) was quoted for saying, “There is no reason for any individual to have a personal computer in his home.”
Then, a few things happened. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak came out with the Apple II. Bill Gates bought DOS and developed Windows. Intel developed the x86 microprocessor. And everything changed. By 1982 Time Magazine named “The Computer” as the person of the year. The personal computer era had started.
Fast forward two decades. Right now you are, more likely than not, sitting within arm’s reach of at least 3 devices that are hundreds of times more powerful than those early computers. iPods, smart phones, tablets, laptops, Tivo, hell, even your printer is faster and more powerful than anything dreamed of 20 years ago. In 2004 and on the heels of widespread deployment of broadband internet access, we started down a path called web 2.0 and the concept of the “cloud” was re-introduced.
Sites like Flickr pioneered the reintroduction of storing all of your personal files online instead of on your hard drive. Dropbox and other online storage services offered tons of capacity for super cheap. Email storage was moved back to a central server with services like Hotmail and Gmail; eliminating email clients like Eudora and Outlook Express. Google Docs and SaaS (Software as a Service) options rapidly followed which de-throned (often expensive) software applications installed on your computer. SaaS eliminates the need for expensive upgrades and software maintenance.
The war between Macs & PC’s is over. Neither side won; it just doesn’t matter any more. With the ability to store all of your files in the cloud and use nearly all applications through a web browser, your operating system is simply a matter of preference.
So now we are back to where we started almost 40 years ago. Everything has been upgraded, of course. Our files are, once again, stored on a machine we’ve never physically seen. The software we use to create and manipulate those files are on another machine we’ll never see. We can access everything we need from nearly any internet connected device. Our address books are synchronized across phones, email accounts and Facebook. Sure, there are pros and cons to any system. It will also still take a little more time until we are completely computing and storing in the cloud once again. The era of the personal computer is coming to a close. The success and demand of lower powered devices like the iPad and other tablets is clear. In another 10 years, we’ll no longer refer to these machines as computers or even internet connected devices, but simply “devices”.
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