Silicon Insider: Death of the PC

Meanwhile, just this week, Google and Sun Microsystems announced that they were teaming up to attack Microsoft Office by offering online word processing and other applications -- the latest installment in Google's product-per-week plan for the rest of 2005; all of it targeted at pulling users away from their dependence upon PCs and moving them into the world of "thin clients" (cell phones, cars, refrigerators, dumb laptops) and Web services. [No wonder Ballmer is acting crazier than usual these days -- he's the last guy left lobbying for the PC.] And let's not forget my favorite reverse indicator: a few days ago MIT's Media Lab announced the creation of the $100 laptop … and when has the Media Lab ever gotten the future right?

No, my sense is that the current generation of personal computers will be the last, or the next to the last, that we will ever own. It won't be a noisy or painful divorce. Rather, it will be more like the way we started using our cell phone in lieu of the home phone, even when we were at home. Or the day that the VCR broke and we decided there was no real need to replace it, now that we mostly rented DVDs anyway. Leaving our PCs behind will be even easier when everything else will either do the same stuff almost as well (Web-enabled refrigerators, cars) or a whole lot faster (cell phones, handheld devices, game players, etc., using Web services).

What that suggests is a generation from now, future visitors to the Sunnyvale History Museum may look upon a Sony Vaio with the same glazed eyes as we do some bakelite-knobbed oscilloscope from 1956.

So, what will these future visitors want to see? Games, I think. The current interest in retro gaming (Super Mario, Pong, Pac Man) suggests that even the most primitive video games may have far more longevity than the most powerful contemporary computers. And that in turn suggests that the room I design may have to lean more heavily on the stories of Atari and Activision (to name two other Sunnyvale firms).

Still, we should have at least one personal computer. Maybe I can talk Wozniak into donating an Apple I motherboard. We'll caption it: "Ancestor of the Blackberry."

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michael S. Malone, once called "the Boswell of Silicon Valley" most recently was editor at large of Forbes ASAP magazine. He has covered Silicon Valley and high-tech for more than 20 years, beginning with the San Jose Mercury-News as the nation's first daily high-tech reporter. His articles and editorials have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Economist and Fortune, and for two years he was a columnist for The New York Times. He has hosted two national PBS shows: "Malone," a half-hour interview program that ran for nine years, and in 2001, a 16-part interview series called "Betting It All: The Entrepreneurs." Malone is best known as the author of a dozen books. His latest book, a collection of his best newspaper and magazine writings, is called "The Valley of Heart's Delight."

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