IBM Veteran Suggests PC Doomed; Microsoft Disagrees

Dennis Faas's picture

The PC is 30 years old this month. But IBM, the company that established the system, believes the PC will soon be outdated.

Until 1981, the "personal computer" was simply another term, like microcomputer, for any machine that was small enough and cheap enough that consumers could own one at home rather than it being a purely business tool.

At the time, there were many different architectures for computers, meaning rival models weren't just different in design, but were largely incompatible.

IBM's 5150 machine, however, changed all that. Also known as the IBM Personal Computer, the 5150 became hugely successful, to the point that both software and hardware companies began advertising their products as "IBM PC Compatible."

Eventually, the term "IBM PC Compatible" was simply abbreviated to PC, which is how we refer to such computers today.

Post-PC Era Underway?

But Mark Dean, one of the men who helped designed the 5150, says "I didn't think I'd live long enough to witness its decline. But, while PCs will continue to be much-used devices, they're no longer at the leading edge of computing. They're going the way of the vacuum tube, typewriter, vinyl records, CRT and incandescent light bulbs." (Source:

His argument isn't just that people are starting to use different "computing" devices such as smartphones and tablets, but that the whole concept of computing has changed, with much of the activity taking place on websites and social networks, with the PC simply an access point.

PC Sales Still Strong

Meanwhile, Frank Shaw, a senior executive at Microsoft, has written on the same topic.

Shaw believes it's unfair to use Dean's phrase of the "Post-PC era." He notes that an estimated 400 million PCs will be sold worldwide this year, so a fairer description would be the "PC-plus era."

Shaw also noted that not only is Microsoft now building its own devices such as the Xbox 360, but that Windows runs in numerous non-PC devices from mobile phones to vending machines. (Source:

Whether the PC as we know it will decline -- now, or even years from now -- remains to be seen. Even though many people have portable devices, it still seems hard for many of us to imagine a home without a PC (or at least a Mac).

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