Desktop PC Killers: Past, Present, and Future

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6. Network Computers

Along with the '90s-era Web frenzy came hardware such as Sun Microsystems' 1996 breakthrough device, the JavaStation, a so-called network computer (NC), designed solely to get the user online. These devices had no hard disks, slots, or CD-ROM drives and were priced at $700 and up. Other companies including Oracle started touting the network computer as the end of the desktop. At one point, even Microsoft tried its hand at an NC called the Simply Interactive PC. But the NC ultimately failed to gain traction as PCs dropped in price throughout the '90s, and as desktops offered users Web browsers to get online.

7. The 2008-2009 Recession

Sales for desktop PCs dropped precipitously during the 2008-2009 recession while notebook sales kept going, according to British tech news site The Inquirer. This led some to speculate that the death of the desktop had come that much closer as more people moved onto notebook computers. How times have changed since then. Market research firm IDC predicted in June that the worldwide desktop PC market would continue to grow through 2015 by about 1 percent each year. Notebooks, meanwhile, will grow at a much faster rate of around 15 percent per year between 2012 and 2015.

8. The Zero Client

The Year: 2008. The desktop killer: a small cube with a footprint about the size of a CD case called the Pano. A so-called zero client, the Pano consists of a mouse, a keyboard, a monitor, and an external USB drive that relies on to access a Microsoft Windows virtual machine stored on a remote server. The device has no operating system, software drivers, CPU, memory, hard disk, or graphics chip. "The Pano and visualization technology will revolutionize the desktop," a UK Pano reseller in 2008 told PCWorld's British-based sister publication, Techworld. Pano Logic, the company behind the Pano, is still selling its zero client, but zero clients have yet to replace the desktop.

9. Chromebooks: NC 2.0?

"Zero-maintenance computers such as the Chromebook will kill the PC and Windows within 10 years, delivering a punch to the solar plexus of Microsoft's core Windows business," TheMotleyFool's Tim Beyers said in May. Beyers argues that browser-based computers are the future thanks to the popularity of online services such as social networking and video streaming, and to the use of cloud-based virtual platforms in the enterprise. It's not just desktops that are getting the axe: Beyer believes all PCs will be gone by 2020, at least for enterprise users. It's not clear how many Chromebooks have been sold to date, but price cuts by Chromebook makers over the holidays suggest that the browser-as-OS concept--the basis of Chromebooks--has yet to catch on.

10. Desktops:
The Ultimate Desktop Killer

The desktop PC is dead, at least as a tower that sits beside your desk or underneath your monitor, according to PCWorld's own Nate Ralph. The tower will become a "relic of a bygone age," Ralph says, retaining just a small subset of users who need customizable hardware--people like gamers and enterprise users. The mainstream desktop, meanwhile, will morph into the all-in-one PC thanks to innovations such as Intel's Ivy Bridge and AMD's Piledriver chips that allow for thinner and sleeker desktops.

The desktop is dead, long live the desktop.

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