Silicon Insider: Death of the PC

Funny what a couple years can do in high-tech. Soon after I started this column, I announced that the Age of the Personal Computer was coming to an end … and all I got were shouts of angry disagreement: How could I suggest such a thing? The personal computer is the centerpiece of digital world, a basic tool in our daily lives, how could it possibly go away?

That was then. Today I'll say it again: the PC is dead. And given the news of the last few months, and given the experiences in your own life, does anybody care to disagree with me now?

Twenty years hence, will anyone really care about the PC? Or, like another techno-obsession in our lifetimes, the pocket calculator, will it so recede into history that we'll forget we were ever really interested?

It's a timely topic, at least for me, because about the time you read this, I'll be sitting in a conference room at the local chamber of commerce discussing what Silicon Valley relics to put into a new museum.

This is a fairly odd task, but not particularly rare -- most towns of any size have some sort of museum dedicated to showing old school sweaters, and sepia-toned Kodaks of sturdy firemen and Fourth of July picnics and the time the locomotive derailed. Typically, a handful of aging locals (who, with little evidence, are assumed to have special knowledge on the subject) are asked to pick what historic items to collect and display.

What makes my task a little more challenging is that this is Sunnyvale, the very epicenter of Silicon Valley and the technology revolution. Throw in our adjoining municipal neighbors to the north and south, and suddenly the history of this place includes not just Ohlone Indians and prune orchards, but the integrated circuit, the microprocessor, the personal computer and the Internet; not to mention Hewlett-Packard, Fairchild, Intel, Apple, Sun, Netscape, Yahoo! and Google.

My task is to figure out which of these objects should be put on display, and which of these companies should be celebrated, in the room dedicated to the Silicon Valley interval in Sunnyvale's history.

There is no little irony here. For one thing, the very idea for a new Sunnyvale History Museum came from my late father almost 30 years ago. He had become head of the Sunnyvale Historical Society because he was steamed that the City Fathers had, a few years before, conspired to demolish the town's founding homestead, the Martin Murphy House.

My old man's notion, which has miraculously now been realized, was that the Murphy House should be replicated, with a modern infrastructure, as a museum to the city's past -- a repository, at least in part, for all those old Murphy relics gathering dust in a city storeroom. Roll forward to the 21st century, and the museum project, now with several million bucks in the bank, is now only about a hundred grand from being ready to break ground.

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