It's hard to imagine a world without PCs. It's been estimated there are more than one billion of them in use around the globe. What would we do without our desktops and notebooks?
The PC is arguably the greatest life-altering IT innovation ever - both in terms of our personal and working lives. In 2006, the marvellous PC celebrated its silver jubilee of 25 years in existence. IBM Corp. introduced the first model - the 5150 - on Aug. 12, 1981.
Charles King, a principal analyst for Pund-IT in Hayward, California, succinctly summed up, in his newsletter, the glory that is the PC. "For two-and-a-half decades the personal computer served as an elemental change engine, sparking the creation of millions of jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars in business revenues and shareholder equity," he wrote in the Pund-IT Research Weekly Review.
You can't argue with that bottom-line result. It has advanced business in ways unimagined from the early days when a PC was a large and clunky desktops offering little function beyond that of word processing and spreadsheets.
PCs have brought computing to the masses, moving it from the centralized data centre into the highly distributed cyberworld. Thanks to PCs, businesses work a whole lot better and smarter. Companies know more about their customers, thanks in large part to the streams of information that flow from PCs, and businesses can serve them better than ever since a buyer using a PC and the Internet can literally shop till he or she drops.
Business professionals no doubt spend more time in front of PC monitors than they do watching television.
So what's in store for the future of the PC? Seems nobody knows for sure - even those who make them.
"It's very difficult, if not impossible, to predict," says David Hill, a longtime IBM veteran and now an executive director for PC maker Lenovo Ltd. "I think one of the clues to the evolution of the PC...is to ask where people want to use a computer versus where people use it today."
Mr. King says that at the heart of the PC's influence on business these days is communication. The development of telegraph technologies allowed businesses to accomplish in days or weeks what had once taken months, he explains. Wireless telegraphy and then commercial telephone service had the same sort of impact.
"The PC has taken that several steps further, not just allowing people more granular ways to stay in touch but also supporting the exchange of documents and searching and ordering of information, and allowing access to Web-based company sites and business processes," Mr. King says.
"Those are broadly applicable PC tools. What I think we're seeing more of these days is the leveraging of PCs and other IT in specific industries and sectors, along with providing access to increasingly wider potential markets. The days of the killer (PC) application may be over, but I expect to see business applications arising in places I never would expect."