The declining role for the PC

It is safe to say that the personal computer revolutionized the way Americans live and work.

Thirty-five years ago, computer usage was mostly confined to very large companies that could afford behemoths that oftentimes filled up a whole room and required a special environment of their own to operate. The smallest computers in the early ’70s – far from being a desktop model – were bigger than the average desk.

The first small computer available to consumers we remember seeing was the Radio Shack TRS-80. The Apple II and Commodore PET were about the same vintage.

But the craze didn’t really start until the IBM PC was introduced in the early 1980s based on the Microsoft Disk Operating System, or MS-DOS. It was followed shortly thereafter by the Apple Macintosh. The Mac, of course, popularized the Graphical User Interface (GUI) – the point-and-click way of computing with a mouse, instead of typing instructions into a command line.

Microsoft then incorporated GUI into its Windows operating system and personal computing took off.

Now, the unthinkable is happening. Personal computer sales are slowing dramatically and other devices – smartphones, tablets, even hand-held music players – can perform many of the tasks once reserved for PCs. Banking, making meal and plane reservations and even perusing the intricate details of a business spreadsheet can now be done on hand-held devices.

We have to admit we much prefer working with our iPad rather than our laptop computer.

The further miniaturization of processing power is now threatening the existence of the machine that symbolized it for the last quarter of a century. Where many of us couldn’t even envision a personal computer in the 1970s, now we are left to wonder how we will function when they are a thing of the past.

At the rate things are going, that could be next week.

(A version of this editorial has appeared previously in The Maui News.)

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.