Is the desktop dead?

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Red Hat’s, Brian Stevens, claims that the desktop is dead. This may seem a trifle premature, but from my own perspective, that has already been the case for several years.

Across the room, from where I’m typing this, I have a formal computer desk, complete with comfortable “executive" chair, adjustable foot-rest (your feet will love you till the day they drop off if you buy them one of these), nice, fast AMD64 tower case, and a 19 inch IBM-Lenovo LCD screen, to look at everything.

Even though it’s running most of the time, I hardly ever go near it.

I’m over on the couch, aren’t I, with my feet up, a glass of wine on the table, and my trusty Thinkpad perched on a stool beside me.

Why sit up, at a desk, like a silly great school-kid, with your feet hanging down in the most uncomfortable position, when modern technology can give you every opportunity to loll around like a Roman Tribune at a banquet?

It really doesn’t make a scrap of sense, does it?

The desktop is a straight hang-over from Tom Brown’s Schooldays, while the laptop is the way of the 21st century future.

I can shove my laptop in a bag, at a moment’s notice, fly around the world to wherever you are, and show you this document on the machine it is being written on. This wouldn’t really be an option with the average desktop.

The sheer, self-containedness of the laptop will conquer the desktop.

I have a big enough library, on my laptop, that you could throw me on a desert island (with a solar power-point) for a couple of decades, and I’d never run out of reading-matter.

Even in large-scale office usage, the desktop, with all its discrete components, no longer makes sense.

The One Laptop Per Child program, which will be a free software flagship, is ample evidence of this trend. It is self-contained. Imagine trying to set up a One Tower Case, plus One Monitor, and also, One Keyboard, Mouse and Assorted Cables, Per Child program. Just trying to write it all down would be bad enough, but the delivery logistics would suddenly become horrific.

The desktop is dead! Long live the laptop!



clievers's picture
Submitted by clievers on

Yes, laptops are nice for some things. The portability factor is really the benefit. However, what you do with your system factors into it. If you are heavy in to graphics, need terabytes of disk space, do cpu intensive tasks, a laptop may not cut it. Of course, then you could perhaps vnc/remote in to your desktop from your laptop to initiate these tasks, then it might be all right. There's also the heat issue to contend with. Laptops in general seem to be much hotter, most likely due to the confined space.

But, different people have different requirements. I guess for me, my computers are in my living room anyways, so it's not much for me to be able to watch tv and work on the computer at the same time. For the One Laptop Per Child program though, yes, you couldn't really do that with a desktop. :-) A laptop is brilliant.

let's all play nice!

LA Magazine 's picture

I would have to agree with you Clievers. Laptops are ok for certain things but not in all situations. If you work with heavy graphics and if you are into production of multimedia content, no matter how much people want to defend laptops, desktops have much better performance.

A. Matthews
LA Online Magazine

Anonymous Koward's picture
Submitted by Anonymous Koward (not verified) on

Isn't the referenced article about application hosting killing the desktop "paradigm"? They are not talking about the laptop killing the desktop... they're saying hosted apps will kill the desktop model as in no applications on your PC... whether "desktop" or "laptop"

just an observation.


Laurie Langham's picture

Yeah, that's true enough, but the Red Hat author introduced it as 'the desktop being dead' and that suggested the concept I have been considering for some time, so I commented on it in that fashion.

Ukubuntu's picture
Submitted by Ukubuntu on

One of the most damaging aspects of the loss of a desktop is ergonomics. I ahave been forced off my desktop (by my 4 yr old daughter and I have been using a laptop for 2 months now. The problem is that I am developing severe back and neck strain to the point that I now use the laptop on the dining room table in a neo-desktop fashion. My joints complain less though it is not quite perfect. Reclining like a Roman emporer is appealing, until the laptop heat becomes unbearable for your legs to maintain. Also, if perched on the lap, clothing may be restricting airflow into and out of the machine, potentially leading to disasterous consequences. So you then place the laptop on the coffee table, which is far from ergononmically sound, as you lean, crouching forward.

A further point is how do you organise yourself? A central location to find pens, envelopes, paper based information?

My recommendation, have a desktop space, in which you work on your laptop. Then you can always take the lappy away with you, but not have he back pain

Mitch Meyran's picture

To sum up and add some to the above statements we may say this:
- a laptop has now enough storage and power capabilities to handle pretty much any desktop use: word processing, TV/DVD watching, 3D interfaces, small games... All that does work on a laptop. If you need your data with you, a laptop is VERY nice.
- a laptop isn't made to be used all the time: the closeness of keyboard and screen are VERY uncomfortable for the back, neck and wrists, and may lead to chronical pains if abused. Lack of cooling makes them very hot too, and their sizes make keyboard and pointer awkward to use; if you get a larger one, it's heavy to carry.
- a laptop isn't durable enough to run 24/7: it is too sensitive to dust and heat, so you may forget about leaving any but the most durable ones running as servers.
- desktop systems can be made easy to carry: small form factors and flat screens can make them fit in a bag, and wireless mice and keyboards reduce cabling to a minimum (the power plug; very small PCs can be 'glued' to the mount of the screen); you retain the ability to distance the screen from you, your sight and your keyboard. I made one like that, when not used the machine fits in a drawer.
- desktop systems are a bit easier to service: extracting the still working hard disk from a laptop is often quite a drag, once shot the DVD drive is often impossible to replace, you can't expand RAM as much as you'd like, meaning that many laptops are usually obsolete and impossible to salvage if, for any reason, they can't fit current requirements (if you want to install, say, a new OS with dreadful hardware requirements...)
- desktop systems, being more modular, can be made into pretty much anything you want: 24/7 file server, gaming machine, media center, multiple screen configurations...

Ideally, a laptop should be more modular: if you could, for example, separate the keyboard from the screen+UC, and components made more modular (it has gotten better with standardized hard disk form factors and RAM slots, CPUs can also be replaced more easily and graphics modules are sometimes swappable), then I'll agree that the desktop is dead indeed.

It still has a nice life in front of it.
A computer is like air conditioning: it becomes useless when you open windows.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Why are you all so mentally blocked as not to realise that it is not the keyboard that needs to be dettachable from the rest of the laptop, but the screen itself, which is much more expensive!! Nobody ever mentions it, as though there is some fscking magic in the screen / laptop relationship that makes the two eternally unseparable. I am sick of this mental blockade. How on earth have the evil corporations managed to manipulate us so effectively??

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

In the end, everything will revert to the paradigm of the Commodore 64.

Mitch Meyran's picture

...however, having the UC part of the screen 'block' has the following impediments:

  • you sometimes move the keyboard, just because your body position has shifted - a heavy keyboard isn't good for that, and an UC doesn't enjoy being moved much.
  • a keyboard supports typing - and vibrations. An UC (with a hard disk and cooling fans) doesn't like those vibrations.
  • a screen usually enjoys a heavy base to keep stable - an UC may do that.
  • an UC heats up - having it under your hands isn't so nice when you're in a tempered room.

Thus the 'evil corporations' aren't all that bad in this regard - their designers are just being smart.

The Commodore 64 was supposed to be plugged into a regular TV, and didn't have a hard disk. While flat HDTV may rekindle this type of setup, I see the PC plugged into it more as a small module with an IR/Bluetooth-connected keyboard and mouse (or any other controller) than as being part of the keyboard (which would require a connection module to the screen and speakers, and would have limited autonomy without a power cable).
No, integrating the UC into the keyboard and making the screen detachable has too little advantage compared with the problems it brings.
A computer is like air conditioning: it becomes useless when you open windows.

blytheworks's picture

The desktop will not die until a laptop can be built (affordably) at the kitchen/dining room table. My current desktop was built on my dining room table and I could control what hardware is in it and I can modify it anytime I want affordably.

With a laptop this is not that easy. Sure there are some sites that offer parts to build laptops and I/m sure there are individuals who have done it successfully, but was it as easy as building a desktop?

Granted, desktop computers are big and bulky, but you can't beat them for versatility. I know it is possible to order a customized laptop to fit your needs (at that moment), but what happens when you want/need more memory. Or what if there is a hardware (i.e. hard drive, optical drive, or lcd) failure? Having to send it back to the vendor can be a real pain.

When I can afford a laptop, I might consider getting one for travel use only, but I will stick with the desktop until I can no longer build one myself.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I don't like laptop keyboard at all, and I would miss the separate number pad as well.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

For me both serve a good purpose, my computers are not business orientated at all, my laptop serves as a back up for the Internet when my desktop starts to falter for various reasons, I like the portability of the laptop as I can take it from room to room, I use it as a portable entertainment unit stationary in the car,

plus using a DC converter to extend the operating time in the car, also used when a few days away from home while taking photos and storing them, so I don't need to carry several camera storage cards, I can use a portable external hard drive for more storage if ever needed, and access many files if needed also, and of course for the outboard hard drive I need AC power but at the days end I'm in a motel so no problem, there are so many positives to own a laptop, but mainly as a backup.

just one example, I'm having some problems with a new PVR, so I can film these problems in real time, I can then take my laptop into the store and demonstrate these problems, you could say why not take the offending item itself into the store, well most times the problems are not consistent.

For my use I could consider another laptop as my main unit but realise I would have to pay about 3 times as much to get my desktop's equivalent capability, to sum up my desktop is still number one but I would hate to not have my laptop, so it all comes down to individual use.

Author information

Laurie Langham's picture


A retired, recent Kubuntu fanatic, who has graduated through Microsoft, Mandrake, Debian, Ubuntu,and now to Kubuntu.