Computers with bells, whistles and multiple-gigahertz processors landed under Christmas trees across the country this past weekend. But much of that computing firepower is increasingly irrelevant in a broadband, Web-enabled world.
Nowadays, consumers can do much of their computing without relying on their own PCs for a lot of processing or storage. Millions of Americans already use free Web-based e-mail and online photo services. Powerful servers and massive hard drives owned by the likes of Yahoo and Ofoto store the e-mails and photos and run the applications that consumers use to manage them. The user’s PC needs little more than a Web browser and a display.
What has changed from the 1990s is that tech thinkers are less focused on the thin-client device itself. Cheap PCs abound, and increasingly intelligent and data-networked cellphones and other hand-held devices can tap into Web-based services. Most TV sets will be able to connect to the Web in one way or another within a few years.
The turbocharged PC under the Christmas tree may be overkill for most consumers. But with a Web browser on it, it should be useful for a long while.