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Where the PC is headed: Plus is the New “Post”

In the past year, and again in the past few weeks, I’ve seen a resurgence of the term “post” applied to the PC in a number of stories including The Wall Street Journal, PC World and the Washington Post. Heck, I even mentioned it in my 30th anniversary of the PC post, noting that “PC plus” was a better term.

Nothing draws more links and eyeballs than saying something is a foo-“killer” or that foo is “dead.” That’s human nature and part of the way we like our stories, simple and straightforward, black and white. A new thing shows up, kills the old thing, end of story. But in the world of technology, it’s rarely (but not never) that clear cut. Most of the time, in fact, new objects enhance and complement the things we’ve already got. They don’t replace them.

This is especially true when the new product is more specialized than the existing product and most importantly, the existing product isn’t standing still.

And that’s clearly the case with general purpose PCs and the myriad devices they are now “surrounded” by. These devices: eReaders, Tablets, Smartphones, Set top boxes, aren’t PC killers, but instead are complementary devices. They are each highly optimized to do a great job on a subset of things any PC can also do.

Does that mean that taken together they do everything a PC can do? Absolutely not. Does it even mean that PCs are the new niche, only needed for special occasions? Absolutely not.
Here are two simple reasons:

  1. There are a set of important things that PCs do uniquely well, and they aren’t going away.
  2. PCs are rapidly and dramatically getting better at doing the things those companions do.

As human beings, we’re inherently social, and we use our tools to create, collaborate, communicate and consume. Yes, you could break “consume” down into its constituent parts (read, listen, watch, play), but I like alliteration, so I’m sticking with consume. :)

Thirty years ago, in those early days of the PC revolution, it was the personal in personal computing that created our initial excitement for the device; the sense of empowerment and trust that came with the control of our documents, our data. Over the years, the PC evolved from word processor and automated calculator to a communications device we couldn’t live without – email, instant messaging, evolving to today’s always-on social environment in which we tweet, like, Skype, post, tag and check-in our way through the day.

And over the years some of the great experiences first delivered on a PC have been extended to smartphones, internet companions, tablets and, yes, even our cars.  Today, the PC and these companion devices are all nodes on the network, connecting to cloud-based services to deliver real-time stock quotes, sports scores, and other updates we can’t imagine living without.

I’ll be the first to admit that these new “non-PC” objects do a great job at enabling people to communicate and consume in innovative and interesting ways. That’s not surprising, because they were expressly designed for that purpose. But even their most ardent admirers will not assert that they are as good as PCs at the first two verbs, create and collaborate.  And that’s why one should take any reports of the death of the PC with a rather large grain of salt. Because creating and collaborating are two of the most basic human drives, and are central to the idea of the PC.  They move our culture, economy and world forward. You see their fingerprints in every laboratory, startup, classroom, and community.

At Microsoft, we envision a future where increasingly powerful devices of all kinds will connect with cloud services to make it all the more easier for us social beings to create, communicate, collaborate and consume information. I encourage you to tune into our BUILD conference in mid-September where our vision for this world of devices will become clearer.

So while it’s fun for the digerati to pronounce things dead, and declare we’re post-PC, we think it’s far more accurate to say that the 30-year-old PC isn’t even middle aged yet, and about to take up snowboarding.

Posted by Frank X. Shaw
Corporate Vice President, Corporate Communications, Microsoft