If desktops die off

Tech industry observers say the post-PC era is upon us. Assuming that’s true, corporate data networks may need to be bulked up

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“Why do PC manufacturers even bother anymore?” lamented Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux operating system, in recent a Google+ post. He went on topraise Google’s Chromebook Pixel—an Internet-only laptoplacking the hardware found in regular laptops but offeringsuperior screen performance.

“One thing that the Chromebook Pixel really brings home is how crap normal laptops have become,” Torvalds wrote. “No wonder the PC business isn’t doing well, when they stick to just churning out more crappy stuff and think that ‘full HD’ (aka 1080p) is somehow the epitome of greatness.”

Torvalds isn’t the only one disparaging traditional computers these days. In fact, a quick web search reveals that the PC is quickly losing its status as the standard computing device. Global PC shipments declined 4.9 per cent in Q4 2013, reports FT.com, based on a Gartner market study. PC World notes that companies such as IBM and Apple predict that the technology industry is entering a “post-PC era.” Alternative devices –Chromebook-like laptops, tablets and smartphones – are growing popularfor communicating, accessing the web and creating documents, while PCs are left to gather dust.

This trend could be important for IT decision makers, especially with respect to the network. Many of the PC alternatives rely on external storage systems (such as enterprise servers and Internet-based file saving spots—think Dropbox). Users need access to robust network connections in order to store and retrieve content.

So which of the emerging PC alternatives will people turn to most? Options seem endless. Consider tablets like Microsoft’s Surface and the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity, which can be configured to work like tablets but also morph into laptop-esque tools with optional keyboards. Samsung’s Galaxy Note IIbalances the full-fledged communications capabilities of a smartphone with a screen large enough (5.5 inches) for the device to be used as a miniature tablet.

Dan Shey, practice director of M2M, enterprise and verticalsat ABI Research, notes that users inevitably choose the best device for their specific needs.

“Field sales and other mobile employees like real estate agents, consultants, and insurance agents are increasing leaving the laptop at home and using the tablet. Many field service employees are being equipped with a mobile device for the first time. This group may never have had a desktop or laptop but now are getting either a smartphone or tablet.”

The PC market may befading,but traditional computers certainly aren’t gone for good. “At this time we are in a phase of multiple devices serving employees and in only very specific occupations will mobile devices replace desktops and laptops,” Shey says.

Krista Napier, senior analyst, mobility at IDC Canada, suggests the PC market still has plenty of juice.

“In a recent survey, we asked Canadian consumers which devices they would skip buying now that they owned or planned to buy a tablet,” she says. “The most common response was that they would not skip buying any device at all. The tablet would be in addition to other devices they were planning to buy.”

Still, considering the tech sector’s quick pace, maybe the PC’s finale really is close at hand. As Napier points out, her research team forecasts four years. “Even then it’s extremely hard to predict what will happen.” A lot can change between now and 2017.

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