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IBM executive says PC era is in its twilight

On the eve of the IBM PC's 30th anniversary, Mark Dean says the PC era is on its last legs. As one of the IBM engineers who helped create the original PC, he is certainly qualified to make this claim.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
3 min read

One of the IBM engineers who designed the first IBM PC says the venerable device is going the way of the vacuum tube and typewriter. He made this pronouncement on the eve of the IBM PC's 30th anniversary, coming up on August 12.

First a little background on Mark Dean, currently the chief technology officer for IBM Middle East and Africa. Dean was chief engineer for the development of the IBM PC/AT, ISA systems bus, PS/2 Model 70 and 80, and the Color Graphics Adapter in the original IBM PC. He holds three of the nine patents for the original IBM PC.

That's an impressive resume and certainly qualifies him to opine on the fate of a device he helped create.

"It's amazing to me to think that August 12 marks the 30th anniversary of the IBM Personal Computer," he wrote in a blog post today on an IBM-sponsored Web site. "I'm proud that I was one of a dozen IBM engineers who designed the first machine and was fortunate to have lead subsequent IBM PC designs through the 1980s."

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And leaving the PC business in 2005 and selling the division to Lenovo was good thing, according to Dean. "While many in the tech industry questioned IBM's decision to exit the business at the time, it's now clear that our company was in the vanguard of the post-PC era," he wrote. (Note that IBM has also exited the disk drive and printer businesses.)

And then the zinger. "I, personally, have moved beyond the PC...My primary computer now is a tablet," he wrote. Dean neglected to mention that IBM also had one of the first tablets way back in 1990. The ThinkPad 700T slate computer had a cutting-edge (at that time) magnesium case, to boot.

IBM XT PC. Engelbert Reineke

Dean continues. "When I helped design the PC, I didn't think I'd live long enough to witness its decline. But, while PCs will continue to be much-used devices, they're no longer at the leading edge of computing. They're going the way of the vacuum tube, typewriter, vinyl records, CRT and incandescent light bulbs."

So, what's replacing the PC? While Dean mentions the obvious candidates--tablets and smartphones--he claims it's not really the devices but "that innovation flourishes best not on devices but in the social spaces between them, where people and ideas meet and interact. It is there that computing can have the most powerful impact on economy, society and people's lives."

Dean adds that IBM is building up its service and software capabilities through acquisitions, especially in analytics. Since 2001, IBM has acquired more than 127 companies for a combined total of $33 billion, he wrote.

Needless to say, this isn't the first time a tech industry luminary has declared that the PC is dead. In fact, Former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner said something eerily similar back in 1999.

But somehow the PC goes on. And I suspect will continue to thrive in the form of the Ultrabook and MacBook Air or any number of new laptop designs that come out over the next few years.