If you have read news lately, you couldn’t have missed hearing how well the tablets, smart phones and smart TVs are selling, and how badly the PC market (excluding laptops) is doing.
Many so called “futurists” have predicted the passing of the PC era.
But is it really gone? Is the Personal Computer really dead, or are these just marketing gags?
Being curious, I asked some friends what they use for their “computing” activities and how they use their devices.
First of all, it is important to clarify who are my friends and what they do.
My circle of friends - and I am not talking about Google Plus’ circle, but people whom I meet in person almost every day - vary from seniors (70+) with little to no IT know-how, to professionals who use computers for their work (not directly IT-related) and IT professionals who are making a living with computers.
The seniors have never held a tablet in their hands, but they know what one is. They all have PCs in their homes, connected to Internet, some of them even a laptop (with WiFi) as well as a PC. All of them use their PCs only for browsing, photo archiving, online shopping, sometimes emailing and even video conferencing (very few). So, for these people, the PC is far from dead, it is their main communication platform.
The professionals who use their computers for their work are the bridge between the seniors and IT professionals. They know some things about computers because they have to use them in their every-day work. They have tablets (most of them iPads, very few Android), have at least one laptop and at least one PC in home.
Interestingly, the IT professionals, have the same devices as the previous category, and also some special devices like NAS servers, media centers and video and audio streaming devices to use with the media centers.
Both categories make good use of their PCs. They are not using them for browsing, communication, shopping, online banking and so on, they use them mostly for entertainment and long term storage. They store pictures and files and they do backups on NAS devices or USB hard drives, they stream movies and they share music and files on the local network.
For all other activities they use laptops and tablets.
But, how well can someone use a tablet to do some “real” work?
As an author, the first thing David did after buying a tablet, perverse though it seems, was to download a couple of office apps. The next was to buy a Bluetooth keyboard, a VGA adapter and a card reader.
Then he downloaded a couple more apps to enable it to take the best advantage of all the stuff that sits on the network drive, and a stylus for freehand work. Result: a tablet that does what most people do with a tablet. Serious work can be done on it in the absence of a 'real' PC and he even uses it for presentations. The drawback is that it now has a similar footprint as a netbook.
And in fact, on a long flight David now carries an iPad, a Kindle (better screen for prolonged reading) and a laptop.
I did more or less the same… I bought a special case for the iPad which incorporates a Bluetooth keyboard so that I can write better and transform the iPad into a netbook. After some unsuccessful attempts to do some real work on it, I gave up and went back to the laptop. Some of you might think that I haven’t tried enough – which is probably true.
It all started with the good old PC, a TV, a mobile phone, then a notebook, a netbook, a PDA, an MP3 player, a digital camera. All of them dedicated devices, which later were combined into one: a smartphone, a tablet.
What we see now is a fragmentation of computing technologies because they tend to become more and more specialized again.
But did you ask yourself how we ended up here? If you have multiple devices at home, you want to interconnect them so that you can share resources and information. But a file server doesn't need to be big iron running Unix or VMS anymore: it can be a small box housing a small RAID 1 that can be accessed by a whole range of devices from PCs to iGadgets, or (stretching the definition a bit) streaming media content from devices that we would never have considered an internet device 20 years ago. You want to see how much electricity you consumed, to listen music, to see a movie, and you want only that and nothing more. We see more and more devices interconnected and exchanging information. It is the TV, the thermostat, the wristwatch. But the “internet of things” offers more potential than that. We can assume that this kind of “things” will gradually become less of a gimmick for DIY fans, less like technology desperately hunting for profitable applications, and we'll stop thinking about them because they will have become part of our lives.
However, we already have a situation in the home where data has taken on an identity of its own independently of devices. It may live in a private internal cloud or out in the bigger “cloud”, but we access and use it from a variety of devices that we could describe as smart terminals.
So, what about security?
As I’ve seen with my small study group, the home user is getting used to the idea of using all sorts of devices at home where he doesn't waste a lot of time thinking about security.
The business world is still struggling with the security aspects of BYOD. But we think that it will not take long until they will understand that BYOD means more than a security nightmare. It also means less hardware costs, happier and more productive employees, less support calls.
The PC will definitely no longer be what it was years ago. You are - or will soon be - no longer actively using the PC as a workstation either at home or at work. It will transform into something else, but its functionality will be there, somewhere, to serve you in many new different ways.
The PC is dead, long live the PC.
Sorin Mustaca, CSSLP, Security+, Project+
David Harley, CITP FBCS CISSP