Where are Personal Computers Headed?

Every technology pundit in the world has an opinion on where personal computers are headed. They use words like cloud and social to describe our online activity, an increasing amount of cores when asked about processors, and the word touch is thrown around more and more. All this aside, where are personal computers headed?

It has been decades since the first PC was made available to consumers at a reasonable price. The personal computer took off while it was barely able to handle any real heavy lifting, functioning as little more than a giant calculator that allowed programmers to develop simple applications to perform small tasks. Back then, you would have been labeled a dreamer if you proclaimed that these machines would some day become the cornerstone of our business and personal lives it is today.

Now, you’ve got a computer on your desk, in your pocket, and even integrated in to your car. Some writing pens even contain powerful computers that record what you write and perform tasks that the original PCs would have never been able to tackle without a significant amount of time. The very term “personal computers” has evolved to mean a lot more than a box that plugs in to the wall and displays information on a monitor.

The two most recent major trends in this field are netbooks and tablet computers. While netbooks and tablet computers enjoy a considerable amount of attention for their small footprint and low-power operation, the real long-term story may lie in how the web has adapted to these technologies. Cloud storage, computing, and services have replaced many operations previously restricted to stand-alone applications. Services such as Google Docs have given users the ability to create and collaborate without the need of programs like Microsoft Office or even Open Office. Where there is still considerable ground to cover before stand-alone applications could ever be considered “dead”, the idea of letting the cloud do the bulk of the storage and processing has enabled users to get more done with a less powerful system than ever before.

Google, Amazon, and Apple have all thrown their hat in the cloud music services arena by developing their own cloud storage and player solutions. These services eliminate the need for the user to have a large hard drive or constantly sync their collection to various devices. You can access and play the same giant collection of music from your iPhone or netbook as you could you home desktop computer with terabytes of storage capacity.

Gaming would appear to be heading in a more web-based direction as well. Services such as OnLive are still in their infancy, though the incentive for developers to take their product out of the hands of consumers and in to a more controlled environment is certainly present. While this transition may be difficult to grasp in the short-term, years down the road the potential for cloud-based gaming may become more clear.

So, as you look to the future of personal computing, it may not be about how many terabytes a drive can hold, or how many cores your processor has, but how connected you are to the web.