What Has Changed In Desktop Computing Since 2009?

When I recently checked out a "very low end" smartphone of 2015 I couldn't help noticing how vastly different and improved things are compared to smartphones sold a couple of years ago. I'll write a follow up article about this but I think the scene should be set first with a comparison: What happened in desktop/laptop computing since 2009?

I chose 2009 for this post as this was the year I bought a 17" laptop mainly for stationary use to replace an aging tower PC. Since my usage became more mobile since then I had to replace this laptop for everyday use with a smaller device in the meantime. Nevertheless I still use that laptop today, 6 years later (!), for streaming Netflix, Youtube and other things. So while I still use this 6 year old computer any phone from that era has long gone to digital oblivion.

So is that 6 year old laptop old and outdated? I guess that depends on how you look at it. At the time I bought the laptop for 555 euros with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4 GB of RAM, a 256 GB hard disk, USB 2, a 17" display and Windows Vista. Even if I hadn't upgraded the machine, Windows Vista pretty much looks like Windows 7 which is still widely used today. I could even upgrade the machine to Windows 8 or Windows 10, to be shipped in a few weeks from now and it would still run well on a 4 GB machine. As a matter of fact, many low end laptops sold today still come equipped with 4 GB of RAM. Hard disk sizes have increased a bit since then, USB 3 ports are now standard, CPUs are perhaps twice as powerful now (see here and here) and the graphics capabilities required for gaming are more advanced. But for my (non-gaming) purposes I don't feel a lot of difference.

As I switched to Linux in the meantime my software evolution path was different. Windows was banished from the machine at some point and replaced by Ubuntu Linux. Ubuntu's graphical user interface looked different in 2009, a lot of eye candy has been added since then. Today I run Ubuntu 15.05 on the machine and I upgraded to a 256 MB SSD which makes it in effect look no different from my almost up to date notebook. It also still behaves pretty much the same when it comes to program startup and reaction times. The major difference is that the fan is louder compared to my current laptop due to the still higher power requirements of laptops of the 2009 time frame compared to today's machines.

So what has changed since 2009 in the laptop world? Prices have certainly come down since then a bit and many people these days buy laptops in the €300 to €400 range (taxes included). Technical specs have improved a bit but the look and feel is pretty much the same. Companies have started experimenting with touch screens and removable displays to create a more "tablet-like" experience, trying to import some of the fascinating advances that have happened elsewhere since. But that's still a niche at best. In other words, hardware and software evolution on the desktop have very much slowed down compared to the 1990's which was the second half of the home computer area and the decade of the rise of the PC and Windows. Things already slowed in the 2000's but that decade still saw the rise of easier to use Windows and prices for laptops coming down significantly.

Now try to remember what kind of mobile phone or smartphone you had in 2009 and compare that to what you have today and you'll see a remarkable difference to the story above. More about that in a follow up post.

4 thoughts on “What Has Changed In Desktop Computing Since 2009?”

  1. I guess you meant to write 256 >G< B SSD. But to anwer your question: I havent changed my Desktop PC since 2010 - it still runs win7 on a 50GB SSD that was as expensive as 521GB are today. It has 4GB of RAM - i dont even know what CPU is in it without goinf into the basement office and check it 😉 I do most if work on the 12" lenovo that you also owned once! From mobile perspextive... In 2009 i used to use a Nokia E66 and changed to an E71 when my contract allowed me to get a new one for 1€. From 2011 on i used mostly different Samsumg Androids. I was late with touchscreen only smartphones - i still hate writing on that on screen keyboard today and also right in this moment where i'm typing this comment on a good (already) ol' Samsung S4 which i own since October 2013 after i smashed a Galaxy Nexus. There has been a lot of change in smartphones but i think Desktop evolves very slowly if you do not consider these fancy tablets where you probably have to pay extra to have these addable hardware keyboards...

  2. In 2009… I was trying to do just about all of my computing from either the N8 or N97. I really felt we were on the verge of making the mobile not just a center of computing from a consumption perspective, but from the “link into other systems” and “federate yourself” perspective. Feels like I shared that vision with the part of Nokia that was innovative. And as such, things have changed.

    There’s something to be gained from this exercise though. Desktop/laptop computing hasn’t changed in part because it doesn’t need to. The input paradigm that’s espoused by gestures, camera-interfaces, or even keyboards that morph depending on the task aren’t enough to answer the “why” desktop/laptop computing needs to change. What needs to change for that paradigm is what happens in the software – and aside from MS’s attempt with the MetroUI (no renamed and mostly killed off) and Apple/Google/MS with their continuous computing features, there’s just not much to grow into. As the specs bear out, its just about faster horses.

    The revolution isn’t quite mobile either. But some kind of mix of that continuity computing, miniaturization of components, the politics/security/wellness of software, and to some degree wearables/cybernetics. Mobile pushes this meme forward, and much of its development (and increased access) points to this.

    Perhaps, pushing more with the original question: Take things back 6 years, what was your primary computing interface – what’s changed in terms of devices, services, and experiences?

    Towers > laptops > mobiles > wearable + tablet. There’s a trend. The next will be interesting.

  3. Hi Antoine,

    In 2009… I was trying to do just about all of my computing from either the N8 or N97

    Yes, interesting, same here! I even had one of those gorgeous Nokia foldable aluminum Bluetooth keyboards and experimented a lot around creation vs. just consumption on mobiles. But it didnt work for me in then end. Today Im back to consumption on the mobile, creation on the desktop, not including things like posting pictures and small text snippets to Facebook which I dont do for privacy reasons. For me technology has moved on towards how tablet like can a desktop experience become for content creation before the drawbacks such as smaller screen size, limited multitasking due to the GUI, etc. eat up the benefits. Still interesting, but quite different to back then and a lot of people with spirit and enthusiasm seem to have left in the meantime.


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