Silicon Insider: Death of the PC

And that's the second irony. In those 30 years, a lot of history has happened, arguably a lot more than in the centuries that preceded it. Sure, the Murphy-Townsend Party is one of the great unheralded anecdotes in American history (they got over the Sierras without eating each other, took part in the Bear Flag Revolt that made California a future state, and then went back and helped rescue the Donner Party), but how does that compare with being Ground Zero of one of the biggest technological/cultural transformations in human history? Thus, outside of a few old timers and a bunch of fourth-graders who are required by state law to study local history, there's probably not a whole lot of interest in seeing the Murphys' living room couch.

On the other hand, in a town where grandpa worked on multimeters for Bill and Dave, and mom and dad put in years at Intel on the Pentium project, and junior is currently a sponsored Counterstrike champion, there will no doubt be a whole lot of interest in the Silicon Valley room at the new museum.

That is, if I can get the exhibit right. And that won't be as easy as it sounds. Technology evolves so quickly that today's cutting-edge product is tomorrow's curbside garbage pick up special. To see how quickly new tech can become old news, I merely need to visit the Computer History Museum a few miles away and look at the aisles of old bookcase-sized Burroughs and Univac mainframes of interest only to graying geeks. Even lonelier is the Perham Collection of early radios and vacuum tubes, now sitting in warehouses in San Jose.

Five years ago, when the possibility of the Sunnyvale History Museum first became real, I knew exactly what the exhibit should focus upon: the personal computer as the culmination of the electronics revolution: from the triode to the transistor to the IC to the microprocessor to the Mac -- the long digital march that put a computer on Everyman's desk.

But now, doesn't the very idea of such an exhibit seem, well, anachronistic? Nobody cares about personal computers any more, except as those annoying boxes that waste too much desk space, but are still useful for accessing the Internet. They are like toasters -- appliances that remain invisible except when they burn the bread.

Even the people who make personal computers don't seem to like them anymore. IBM got out of the business. HP should do the same thing. And don't you think Steve Jobs would dump the Mac in a Cupertino Minute and focus exclusively on the iPod (and iVideo) if he could only figure out a way to deal with all of those loyal Mac owners? After all, he showed that he understood the fate of the personal computer before anyone else by turning it into a fashion object.

In fact, outside of a bunch of Asian cut-raters, the only guy who seems interested in building PCs these days is Michael Dell … and lately he's been pushing televisions.

The more you look, the more evidence you see that the PC is already at death's door. Intel, which just a year ago announced that PCs are still the future, is now backing away from expensive, high-powered chips and building cheaper multi-processors to stick into consumer electronics -- and moving employees across the Pacific to get closer to the game box makers. And have you read any Walter Mossberg computer reviews lately?

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