Goodbye Desktop, Hello Laptop & Home Server - Shawn Oster
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Goodbye Desktop, Hello Laptop & Home Server

It used to be that the desktop ruled the computer landscape.  Servers were for large corporations while laptops were the province of rich college kids and sales creatures.  I see all of that changing, the future belongs to the laptop and the consumer-level home server.  We're already seeing more and more laptops and I know of small software companies where everyone is on a laptop, even those that never take them of off their desk.  I've seen households where the only person on a desktop is the nerdling, tinkering husband and even he usually also has a laptop.

They make sense as they are small, sleek and easily attach to a docking station for when you want a full size keyboard and multiple monitors.  The price difference between a similar equipped laptop and desktop are getting smaller everyday as is the gap between performance.  My HP dv9000 laptop screams compared to all the desktop machines at home or at the office.

There are some obvious limitations, one being the hardcore gamer's need for a top of the line video card.  There are some pretty beefy gaming laptops out there, though they are rather pricey.  As an alternative I see the external video card gaining traction.  A laptop plus external video is still easier to lug around than a full desktop unit to various gaming sessions plus you lose all those pesky cooling issues if it's in it's own housing.

Another laptop issue is expansion and storage.  That's where the consumer-level home server comes into play.  I see a future of small, headless servers that sit in a closet or a bookshelf somewhere with one, two or ten external hard drives all offering up terabytes of storage.  With the promise of remote access you are never more than a WiFi connection away from all your stored media, regardless of where you are in the world.

I'm hoping that some smart hardware vendor out there actually takes this home-server concept and runs with it.  For example I'm a huge fan of Western Digital's My Book series of external hard-drive enclosures.  They are reliable, quiet and attractive without being overstimulating or threatening.  If Western Digital was smart they'd partner with a PC OEM and create a headless home-server using the same external case styling.  Want to get even more creative, why not partner with a TV tuner card manufacture and stuff a couple inside another My Book case?  You now have a full suite of home-server related hardware components, all of which can be chained together via USB.  Instead of a hodge-podge of various hardware cases and wires you have a single suite that looks sleek sitting on an office desk or inside a closet.  Three or four identical cases purring along doing their tasks; backing up PC's, recording TV, streaming media, routing Skype calls, serving up a web page, acting as a Subversion repository.  Easily expanded or replaced.

Consumers like things to match, it gives them a sense of security, that things will work.  They are also a lot more likely to buy the matching components than another third-party simply so they can have the full set.  I know someone out there will pick up on this, probably Sony first when Windows Home Server comes on the scene with a full suite of hardware bits but I'd hope that others will recognize that consumers do want a bit of style even in their computing.

All this being said desktops will still exist, just not in the majority.  They will probably always be cheaper, especially if building one by hand, and for some tasks a desktop still makes more sense.  These will become the exceptions though, not the rule.

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