What is a Desktop?

When I sit in a chair and I have some hardware on a table or desk in front of me I call it a desktop. If I can fold it up and carry it away, I call it a notebook. Now we have tablets and smart-phones that work like small tablets. The tablets look like big smart-phones. The question of what a PC is is almost vague in this environment. If a person touches it and it computes, it’s probably a PC.

NetApplications and others are dancing on the head of a pin with their web stats counting or not counting mobile PCs in their stats. What are they going to do when ARM invades the desktop and people run that other OS and everything else on it? What are they going to do when a thin client running GNU/Linux accesses a server and the application on the server visits the site? We have millions of thin clients sold each year and many millions are in use. That number is increasing rapidly as virtual desktops multiply.

NetworkWorld has an article discussing all this complexity and that other OS is in danger of sliding below 90% share of seats. I have news for them. That happened years ago. NetApplications and StatCounter obviously do not have an unbiased sample of the universe. You can tell that by the huge share MacOS gets from them when SEC filings and press releases from IDC show a much smaller share.

Some folks are using a smart-phone as their desktop PC. They hook up a giant monitor, keyboard and mouse and it does the job, very well. Some do not even have a desktop PC and do everything with a smart-phone. Smart-phones are very competitive with desktops today and that will continue as the prices drop to ~$100. The ramp in production and players means that will happen this year. The low cost and high performance of ARM means this technology will displace the ATXish desktop in part. Many will still want a device that is difficult to carry away but many look at mobility as a huge plus.

These are real changes in IT, not just hype. IDC found 346 million PCs were shipped in 2010. That number was held back by the millions of smart-thingies and tablets sold in 2010. That effect should be even larger in 2011 as many more products come on stream in a wide variety. US consumption of PCs dropped to 21.7% of global production.

3 of 5 sources in Wikipedia show less than 90% share for that other OS recently. That share will continue to drop in 2011 especially when the desktop is invaded by GNU/Linux on ARM.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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5 Responses to What is a Desktop?

  1. My “desktop” PC is an AMD64 X4 sitting cold somewhere. I have not used it in a year. I run on an Atom multimedia PC and a Toshiba notebook running a fairly warm processor.
    cpu family : 6
    model : 15
    model name : Intel(R) Core(TM)2 CPU T5500 @ 1.66GHz
    stepping : 6
    cpu MHz : 1000.000
    cache size : 2048 KB

    I rarely do some graphics, number-crunching or kernel building. Mostly I read/write/browse/play music or video. I was going to fire up my big beast to run VirtualBox but then found VB4 will run on this notebook (no vt flag).

    I have several services running on the notebook while I use it: apache2, MySQL and some PHP scripts.
    load average: 0.00, 0.05, 0.05. A thin client and a small server would do me well.

  2. oldman says:

    “the server can be where there’s more room, cooling, and no hearing to damage”

    Your desktop could also be in the next room at the other end of a KVM setup. I’ve help several friends set this up – its not hard.

    “you can get a lot more power in a server than will sit in most PCs”

    My now 17 month old desktop is a 2.93Ghz Core I7 with 12Gb of RAM. My next laptop is going to also have a core I7 and 16Gb of RAM and a 256Gb Solid state drive. There are server class systems in production that have less features than these systems and while they werent cheap, they didnt cost like a server.

    “when you really want power, you will want a cluster of servers”

    Why? I’m not doing HPC, and the applications that I use are for personal productivity and content creation.

    The desktop computing market may indeed be becoming a niche market, as content consumers turn to smart phones, tablets, smart TV’s for their content consumption. But untill you have vendors in the cloud who can offer a real experience for the demanding personal application, the desktop will be around.

    BTW Pog.

    What do you use your desktop for?

  3. Ray says:

    Sure, at a large scale deployment, it might make sense, but at home, it doesn’t make sense to bring out a server for such a small amount of computers. Besides, there’s the latency issues if you’re doing something, like gaming.

  4. When you need power, it is better to have it on a server:

    • the server can be where there’s more room, cooling, and no hearing to damage
    • you can get a lot more power in a server than will sit in most PCs
    • when you really want power, you will want a cluster of servers
    • something like this or a cluster of it, does not fit in a notebook
  5. Ray says:

    Not always. Some of us needs the power of a desktop/laptop

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