The Desktop Peacefully Passes

Gartner printed the obituary for the desktop computer last week in their Computer Devices Report which shows a clear consumer shift to the mobile platform. Market research firm IDC corroborated the report with another showing personal computer sales dropped almost 15 percent in quarter-on-quarter comparison of 2012 sales. Every computer manufacturer has felt the pinch, especially HP and Acer. Even Apple has seen Mac sales drop in its top market. Gartner forecasts a decline in PC sales in 2013 and beyond.

These statistics are a reflection of the way we consume content. For instance, it is telling that the current email application market share breaks down to nearly half of the readership using mobile devices. The iPhone reigns supreme with 23% total market share. Combine that percentage with the iPad and Google Android phones, and this comprises 42% of the market. Social media market share is even more skewed towards mobile devices.

However, in office settings this trend has not been as dramatic. While most businesses today still rely on PC’s for their workforce, this year will see companies begin to shift workers onto different platforms. Some jobs specifically require high performance graphics processing and serious local computing power. Companies will continue to provide full specification workstation to these individuals, which are often working with projections, 3D design, or real-time applications. On the other hand, there is a class of workers that can easily shift to a laptop or mobile platform, away from the PC, and benefit from the flexibility these offerings provide.

This second class of office workers benefits from the many advances in peripherals that allow much more flexibility, such as inexpensive USB docking stations with additional video outputs to support multiple monitors and a host of other devices. Many companies are getting rid of the PC altogether and moving workers to thin clients that run all content directly from servers located in the back office. Thin clients are especially attractive given their low cost and low maintenance requirements, in addition to simplifying asset management for the IT staff. Virtual Desktop Infrastructure has allowed thin clients to share resources from one physical machine, making this type of solution extremely cost effective.

Finally, the influx of tablets into the workforce has been spurred by application virtualization, allowing tablets to run applications developed for the desktop. This has opened the door for many organizations to centralize their processes and eliminate the need to support applications on the native mobile operating systems. Instead, smart phones and tablets use a remote video application to interact with software running on either a virtual desktop on directly on a server.

As Steve Jobs predicted, we are living in the post-PC era.