Tech Experts See Bright Future in the Cloud

The PC of the future will be very different from the computers that
have come to dominate so many desktops in the home and office today,
according to a broad survey of 895 tech experts by the Pew Research
Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Elon University’s
Imagining the Internet Center.

By 2020 the majority of these experts expect most people to access
their applications online, the basic cloud computing model championed
today by Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), Salesforce (NYSE: CRM) and others,
versus the traditional model of running software stored on the PC.
Likewise, information access and sharing will be online versus relying
on what’s stored on the local device.

However, many of those surveyed also agreed that the PC
still has a future working in tandem with cloud-based systems.

In one scenario, the PC could prove broadly useful as the primary
interface to local networks or private clouds. Some also noted that PCs,
even if they’re primarily used as Web terminals, will continue to
dominate because smartphones and other portable devices have a limited
user interface and aren’t ideal for the most common productivity
applications including word processing and working with spreadsheets.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs voiced a
different view at a recent conference where he predicted the ascendancy
of mobile devices like his company’s iPad in an increasingly mobile
world. “PCs are going to be like trucks…They are still going to be
around,” Jobs said at the AllThingsD conference, adding that only “one
out of X people will need them.”

One measure of where the experts in the Pew study see the cloud’s
impact was in response to the following statements.

Some 71 percent agreed with the statement:

“By 2020, most people won’t do their work with software running on a
general-purpose PC. Instead, they will work in Internet-based
applications such as Google Docs and in applications run from
smartphones. Aspiring application developers will develop for smartphone
vendors and companies that provide Internet-based applications because
most innovative work will be done in that domain, instead of designing
applications that run on a PC operating system.”

On the flip side, only 27 percent agreed with this statement:

“By 2020, most people will still do their work with software running
on a general-purpose PC. Internet-based applications like Google Docs
and applications run from smartphones will have some functionality, but
the most innovative and important applications will run on (and spring
from) a PC operating system. Aspiring application designers will write
mostly for PCs.”

But some survey respondents said cloud-computing adoption may also
continue to be hampered by security concerns and users’ willingness to
share personal information on social networks and other cloud-based

Beyond individual or consumer concern, some of those surveyed said
large businesses are far less likely to put most of their work “in the
cloud” anytime soon because of control and security issues. Others
predicted low-income people in least-developed areas of the world are
most likely to use the cloud because it augments the mobile phone that
is likely their only computer device.

Survey results represented the individual opinions of representatives
from such companies and institutions as Google, Microsoft. Cisco
Systems, Yahoo, Intel, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Nokia, New York Times,
O’Reilly Media, Wired magazine, The Economist magazine, Institute for
the Future, British Telecom, MITRE and Craigslist.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at, the news
service of, the
network for technology professionals.