'Post-PC' does not mean 'no PC'

The accelerating decline of PC sales doesn't mean they'll disappear, but it means computing will change dramatically

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This is exactly what Steve Jobs said when he introduced the iPad three years ago. He noted that in agrarian times, everyone needed a truck, so that's what everyone had. But as society urbanized, trucks didn't fit well in many people's new environments and lifestyles, and the variety of cars we now have came about, with trucks becoming specialty vehicles and not the main automotive type. He said PCs were trucks, and as computing changed, the need for everyone to have a PC "truck" would likewise diminish.

Jobs uses the trucks metaphor, I use the workstation metaphor, Schadler uses the "best tools for the job" metaphor. We're all describing the same phenomenon.

I also believe that today's iPads and other mobile devices are very much in their early days, similar to the Windows 3-era PCs in maturity. I believe we'll see them become more capable, especially through the ability to connect to peripherals and adjust their capabilities accordingly. Today, you can already connect an iPad or iPhone (or Android equivalent) to a keyboard and, to varying degrees, to external storage. You can connect an iPad, iPhone, and some Android devices to a monitor, but you get the same device screen, just enlarged -- the user interface does not scale as it does when you connect a PC to different-size monitors. But that will happen.

Already, you see Samsung introducing multiple windows to Android and Dell's Wyse division creating Ophelia, a USB-stick-size Android PC that plugs into TVs for display via Bluetooth. In a few years, a tablet or smartphone will be able to do most of what a PC today does, if connected to the right resources. That'll further isolate traditional Windows PCs and Macs to specialty tasks that need even more horsepower, visual workspace, or whatever.

Like it or not, the PC era is ending. For now, what's emerging has the label "post-PC." As my colleague Matt Rosoff, editor in chief of CITEworld, notes, the fact that in the last five years the PC has fallen to less than half of computer sales (iPads and other tablets now outsell Windows PCs and Macs combined) is a pivotal event that IT has to take note of and adjust to.

IT must also adjust to the reality that Microsoft created a version of Windows no one wants. Instead, most enterprises are now just shifting to Windows 7, so they're insulated from the foolishness of Windows 8. Users, however, find it much harder to get a new Windows 7 PC to avoid the Windows 8 mess, so they get a Mac, keep their old PC, and/or get an iPad or Android tablet. That will change the overall environment that will influence the computing demands in business -- after all, both iPads and Macs are entering businesses in increasing numbers, a pace that will only quicken due to the Windows 8 debacle. In other words, we're seeing both a shift away from traditional PCs to mobile devices and a shift away from a Windows PC monoculture to a more heterogeneous mix.

The shift from the standard PC to a specialty workstation and the rise of other computing forms means huge changes ahead for business applications, back-end systems, networking, application development, management, security, and governance. IT: Stop denying, and start adjusting.

This article, "'Post-PC' does not mean 'no PC'," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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