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IBM says PC on its last legs

The personal computer is about to be shoved aside to make room for new portable and embedded devices, according to an IBM researcher.

The PC era may be on its last legs, according to the company that has done a lot of the heavy lifting.

The personal computer is about to be shoved aside to make room for new portable and embedded devices, according to IBM researcher Paul Horn, who spoke at a recent Millenium Speaker Series in New York.

"The era of the PC as king is over," Horn said. "We are entering an era of 'pervasive computing' in which we will see a dramatic increase in the use of the application-specific handheld and [other specialized] devices to conduct e-business and simplify our lives."

Already, handheld devices such as Palm Computing's and those based on Microsoft's Windows CE operating system are popular companions to the PC. Additionally, devices ranging from microwave ovens to automobiles will become more integrated into the Internet.

Horn envisions networked cars that can be repaired wirelessly and supercomputers capable of rapidly mapping genes--the latter which IBM refers to as "deep" computing.

He also mentioned that some such futuristic devices are already being developed at IBM's labs, including wearable PCs, advanced display technologies and natural language speech recognition technology. The wearable PC prototypes, which IBM has demonstrated already, are the size of portable cassette players.

The natural language understanding system, a technology that IBM has been assiduously working on for many years, will allow computers to understand and respond in context to spoken natural speech commands. This, however, has turned into the Holy Grail of personal computing and has yet to be attained due to the tremendous amount of computing power and technology this ultimately requires.

"After more than 15 years as the center of the computing universe, the PC is about to give way to a new breed of handheld and embedded devices that will dramatically change the way people communicate and share information," he said.

In his capacity as senior vice president of IBM research, Horn oversees 3,000 researchers at eight laboratories worldwide. The Millenium Speaker Series is a monthly forum in New York.