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PCs aren't dead, they're microwaves

Brad Chacos | April 18, 2013
Pundits shout that PCs are dead, but the truth is much more mundane: Computers have become commodity appliances.

Last week's news wasn't generous to PCs. In fact, half the Internet was ready to eulogize our beloved black boxes after market research showed that computer shipments fell by double-digit percentages in the first quarter. Stick a fork in 'em, the common wisdom declared. PCs are done.

But nothing could be further from the truth. PCs aren't dead--they're microwaves. But not for much longer.

Hear me out.

From marvelous to meh

Right up until the early '90s, computers were a luxury, an oddity even. If your childhood chum had a 386, you were at his house every day, churning out ASCII art on a dot-matrix printer and playing asynchronous PBEM games or MUDs. Good times! Today, however, everyone in every neighborhood has a PC, just as everyone in every neighborhood has a stove, a refrigerator, and a microwave.

Our wondrous electronic windows into the world have evolved into ho-hum appliances--indispensable, yet unexciting.

Curious, I performed a quick, completely unscientific poll, asking about 20 nontechie friends, grandmothers, aunts, social-media acquaintances, and convenience-store employees the reason for their most recent computer purchase, whenever that may have been. The answers were unanimous across the board: They all bought their new computers when their previous computer broke.

And you do the very same thing with a stove, refrigerator, or microwave. You buy a new one when you absolutely have to, and not a moment sooner.

It's sad, really. (Do you realize how many microscopic, cutting-edge transistors are packed onto every single computer chip? Billions.) But it's not surprising. A whole range of factors have coalesced into a perfect storm, all helping to turn PCs into a commodity appliance.


First and foremost, of course, is the economy.

As currencies burn, unemployment rages, and belts tighten all around, consumers and companies alike are squeezing their bottom dollars tighter than a miser squeezes a tube of toothpaste. When you're scrounging to pay for dinner, the prospect of plopping down $420--the average selling price of a nontouch Windows laptop over the holiday season--simply isn't enticing, especially if your current PC still works well enough. (And even if it only works "well enough.") You could buy a fridge for that kind of cash!


Speaking of which, there's a great chance your old PC does, in fact, still hold up nicely. Improvements to computer performance have slowed to a near crawl over the past few years, with mere 10 percent CPU gains being the new annual norm. Between that and the rise of the cloud, current-day software still runs fine on five-year-old computers. A wee bit slow, perhaps--but still "well enough."


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