I'm a fan of technology. Even before the new Intel Core i7 processors were available I was trying to decide if I'd upgrade my home system to the quad-core i7 or wait a year for an even faster chip. I follow hardware and software advances as a hobby, but is there any practical reason to be on the bleeding edge? Lately, it seems like there isn't.

A release issued yesterday by IDC states that worldwide PC shipments were down for fourth quarter 2008 for the first time in six years. A similar report from Gartner showed growth for 2008 PC shipments, but the worst growth in six years. Either way, sales are slowing, and I think this can only be partially blamed on the economy. To me, the real problem seems to be that there's no reason to upgrade a PC at all for most users.

Historically, when you upgraded a PC you could suddenly do something major that you couldn't do before. The Apple IIe was an upgrade from the Apple II Plus because it could display both uppercase and lowercase letters. Other compelling reasons to upgrade hardware and software have included the addition of a GUI for the OS, multimedia functions, the huge storage increase of CD-ROMs, and the ability to connect to a network.

Internet access was the last major reason to upgrade—You need 1GB of RAM and a processor running at a bit more than 1GHz to have a decent experience with the modern web. You also need to be running Windows XP or an equivalent competing OS. Not at all coincidentally, the brightest spots in PC sales in 2008 were netbooks, most of which have 1 GB of RAM, Intel Atom processors running at around 1.6 GHz, and XP.

Sure, if you transcode videos, work with a lot of really big photos, do CAD work, or play the latest 3D PC games you need more power. But most people, both at home and in business, use PCs for email, web browsing, and document editing. The lack of a compelling payoff for upgrading is, in my opinion, the real reason Vista hasn't been widely adopted and the main obstacle Microsoft will face with adoption of Windows 7.

Bill Gates denies saying it, but he's often attributed with "640k ought to be enough for anybody." I'm not saying that today's netbooks will suffice forever, but the big technological advancement that drives adoption of new hardware and software doesn't seem to be in sight. Microsoft seems to be betting on multi-touch, with expanded support for the technology in Windows 7 and, of course, Microsoft Surface. I think the next big step in computing might actually slow adoption of new hardware and software, however. If cloud computing really catches on you won't need anything more than a browser for years.

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