Future shock: The PC of 2019

What's in store for everybody's go-to computer? Watch the cool video from MIT's Media Lab for one vision.

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The changing ways in which we work and live -- and the blurring line between the two -- are driving the changes we will see in our computers.

"The PC of 2019 will be nothing like the PC we know today," says Wen Xiao, CIO of global service delivery at London-based telecommunications giant BT Group PLC. "It will be smaller and ubiquitous. Its function is less of computing and more of access control and communications. The computing capabilities will reside inside the cloud and be accessed on demand by [the] individual user."

He says younger workers, and certainly those who will enter the workforce in the coming decade, expect their data -- not just their devices -- to travel with them. They need their PCs to work wherever they want them to, and they don't want to worry about storing and transferring data.

Xiao says virtualization and cloud computing are already enabling that new level of mobility, and the trend is expected to accelerate. "The computing [and] data-storage functions will all be virtualized -- device-independent, location-independent data and applications stored somewhere in the cloud, and on-demand software applications," Xiao says.

That, in turn, changes what we need from hardware. "Its main purpose is no longer computing but identification," he explains. "As a result, it will be super small or most likely combined with other devices, like mobile phone, key, bio-ID, etc. What's inside is a unique identification of the user."

Bill Schilit, a research engineer at Google Inc. and associate editor in chief of the IEEE Computer Society's Computer Magazine, says he, too, sees "the trend more and more off the desktop. We see people using just their cell phones or a very thin client on their desks or some sort of docking model, where you take your cell phone and plug it into a keyboard."

Moreover, the PCs of the future will put the accent on "personal," he says (emphasizing that this vision is his, not Google's). Consumer demand for games and instant access to everyday information -- announcements of school closings, traffic updates, weather reports -- will drive adoption, he says.

"We're going to see a lot more people using computer phones/smartphones and a lot more software for them," he says.

Shape Changers

The PCs of the future could be more flexible in every way -- even physically. For starters, they'll have adjustable screens that users can stretch, roll or unfold to open.

"So you can contort that device and make it bigger, maybe widen it to 6 inches tall and 10 inches wide so you can watch TV or access information through wireless broadband or peer-to-peer technology," says Sam Driver, an analyst at research firm ThinkBalm in Little Compton, R.I. "Then say you take that device to your office, you can stretch it and start working, and you can have it communicate in the office with printers and other devices."

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