Are the PC and Fat Clients Dead? Nahh.

by Sam Dean - Aug. 19, 2011Comments (3)

According to Red Hat's CEO Jim Whitehurst, the traditional "fat client" desktop is headed for obsolescence in approximately five years. That's the upshot of some provocative comments he made to ZDNet, where Whitehurst says, "The cost to manage and secure a fat client is ridiculous," and suggests that operating system functionality will exist on the back end of browser-centric computing interfaces. There are also reports arriving that the PC is head for obsolescence. The fact is that PCs and local operating systems will be with us for years, though, and it's wise not to go along with predictions of how the technology status quo will suddenly immolate and be replaced by a new model.

If you look around you at the technology you use, you can find many tools that people said would die long ago. The mouse was supposed to die, and so was the hard disk. Whitehurst is correct that the cloud and browser-centric computing environments such as Chrome OS are challenging traditional operating system models from companies such as Microsoft and Apple, but the PC-centric world of computing based on fat client operating systems won't just go away in five years.

HP's talk of eliminating its PC business is helping fuel the fire on all of this right now. After all, HP is the number one PC maker. But its idea to get out of the PC business has more to do with pursuing higher margin businesses than it does with the outright death of the PC.

Chrome OS is the most high-profile example of an operating system that seeks to emphasize applications and data in the cloud, eschewing storing local data and applications. But it has not taken the world by storm, and the chief criticism of it is that it doesn't flexibly allow for local applications and data storage.

With Chrome OS, Google has bet heavily on the idea that consumers and business users will have no problem storing data and using applications in the cloud, without working on the locally stored data/applications model that they're used to.  Such a switch in mindset, would, of course, benefit Google, just as a switch away from traditional fat clients would benefit Red Hat.

It's a much better bet that the technology platelets will shift more slowly. Cloud applications will flourish, and Red Hat has proven that it can get big businesses to buy into its model of what an operating system, a back end, and middleware are. But PCs and fat clients will be with us for years to come, along with many of the legacy applications that have helped people work and play for years.

 



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3 Comments
 

"It would appear that we have reached the limits of what it is possible to achieve with computer technology, although one should be careful with such statements, as they tend to sound pretty silly in 5 years." John von Neumann, circa 1960


The stagnation of computers have been predicted long ago.


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Really interesting article. Thanks man.


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This article is part of this "conspiracy theory" or "the world is flat" point of view. What Whitehurst says is partially true. It is getting more complex and more expensive to manage desktop machines. But there is no real alternative to these machines for the intensive work done in graphics, audio, programming, data management, writing & editing... you get the point, people who are the real digital knowledge workers. Red Hat does not participate in this market as much as the PC manufacturers (Dell, HP, Toshiba, Sony), Microsoft and Apple. As far as that is concerned, there is even more need for high capacity PCS for 3D analysis and rendering, biological modeling (DNA), and other compute and data heavy operations. As far as what the "low end" laptops and NetBooks are doing, he is on the mark. For the most part, people today use very little of the compute and storage resources. Overall, great insight and good thinking fodder :)


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