Desktop RIP?

In my house, there are three laptops of various vintages, as well as a lonely desktop that rarely gets used these days. The desktop collects dust mostly because it’s fixed in one place while the laptops wander around the house happily connected to a robust Wi-Fi network.

I hadn’t really thought much the desktop’s isolation until reading this story about how Dell is closing a desktop computer factory in Austin while laying off thousands of employees around the world in a move to save $3-billion a year.

Now, the decision to mothball the desktop factory may have everything to do with Dell’s struggles but, nevertheless, the decision and the lack of attention my desktop receives got me thinking that maybe there’s a bigger trend here. Maybe what’s happening is the desktop is dying/disappearing.

Think about it this way: With 3G, Wi-Fi, cloud computing, the growing popularity of smart devices such as the iPhone and Blackberry, more people want their computing devices to be with them at all times. By being able to connect to the Internet, there’s less of a need to be fixed in one place and, as a result, less of a need to buy a desktop unless you’re a business looking for cheap computers that can’t easily escape from the office.

You could argue that the popularity of the MacBook is just a high-profile sign of this trend. One of the reasons that people love MacBooks is because they’re great computers that you can stuff into a bag. And it’s possible that the MacBook Air will become the computer of choice for the road warrior.

At the same time, prices for laptops have tumbled. It used to be that buying a laptop was a luxury because it cost so much more than a desktop. These days, you can purchase a pretty solid laptop for about $500, while an Everex laptop can be picked up for less than $400.

If I was thinking about buying a new computer, my first choice would be a laptop, preferably a MacBook if there were enough pennies in the piggybank. If forced to a desktop, I would probably consider an iMac or Mac Mini.

If you don’t buy into my the desktop is dead/dying thesis, maybe you’ll believe Gartner, which suggests worldwide PC shipments will grow 10.9% in 2008 to 293 million units with strong demand for mobile PCs.

“Technology and design improvements have not only lowered the price of mobile PCs but also significantly improved their value proposition relative to desk-based PCs. The relative value of mobile PCs has also been bolstered by the continued expansion of mobile access, and this increase in value continues to stimulate strong demand for mobile PCs across both mature and emerging markets. Gartner analysts said mobile PC shipments will gain additional momentum as so-called “affordable” mobile PCs, which address price points once thought impossible for mobile PCs, become more widely available.”

Note: Microsoft has announced XP will no longer be available after June 30 other than on ultra-low cost PCs. Ars Technica has all the details and some good background.

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  • Michael DiBernardo

    I’ve definitely thought the same for a while now. I think (weakly) contributing factor to this might be:

    (a) Students buy laptops when they’re getting ready to go to university, because it’s easier to bring them to class, move them into the new residence, etc.

    (b) Students become accustomed to having a mobile machine all the time.

    (c) When they graduate and perhaps settle down a bit, they’re so used to having the freedom of taking their computer everywhere with them that they never buy a desktop again.

    I’d be curious to see how business consumption of desktop PCs compares to home consumption of desktop PCs over the past n years.

  • Mark Evans


    You make some great points. My sense is the home market will be increasingly laptop while corporate buyers will stick to desktops. I mean, look at how many still loyally buy Dells (although that appears to be changing.).

  • Zoli Erdos

    For years I only used laptops. Then as I found myself travel less and work from a comfy home office, I ended up taking a step back, ans buying a desktop again – largely for health considerations.

  • Jason Detchevery

    Laptops are certainly on the way in (or rather have been here for a while), and it seems desktops on the way out but I think there will still be a place for desktops in the home market for (at least) things like HTPC’s (DVR’s, managing media collections) and the like where it would really be pointless to use a laptop. Also, gamers in the home and people who want to keep up with the latest technology (or even just know they’ll want to upgrade significantly from time to time) or continuously update their technology would not be served well by a laptop.

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  • mungojelly

    What I think will be interesting to watch is whether home computers soon learn to integrate with each other well enough that people will want big boxes again– as servers in the closet that they never look at. People may think of computers differently once you can buy a computer in order to add to your home’s overall capacity, rather than just to “use” it directly.

    In terms of the interface, I think we’ll see movement in every direction, including much larger interfaces such as the tabletop displays that everyone is looking forward to. As for smallness, I expect laptops to drop their keyboards entirely in favor of touch-sensitive screens. The “computer” (or the part of it you interact with, anyway) should soon be distilled to a magic rectangle.



  • Mark Evans

    Kim: I don’t understand your question.

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