Most See Cloud Computing Overtaking PCs

June 14, 2010

A majority of technology experts and members of the general public believe cloud computing will mostly replace desktop computing by 2020, according to [pdf] the recent “Future of the Internet” study from the Pew Research Center‘s Internet & American Life Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center.

“Cloud computing” is essentially the usage of remote server-based, rather than desktop-based, tools and information. Software and data is virtually stored on the internet, meaning computer users do not need to download any software or maintain a physical database to store information.

Experts, General Public Share Similar View
Technology experts and the general internet-using public have virtually identical expectations of how cloud computing will develop during the next decade. When asked to agree with one of two statements regarding where computer users will “live” in 2020, 72% of experts agreed with a statement that most people won’t do their work from a PC running software, but from internet- and smartphone-based applications. Another 25% agreed with a statement that most people will still do their work from a PC running software, with internet- and smartphone-based applications having some functionality. The remaining 3% did not respond.

The general respondent base responded to the two statements almost identically. Seventy-one percent agreed that internet- and smartphone-based applications will become dominant, 27% agreed that PC-based applications will remain dominant, and 2% did not respond.


As a point of comparison, a September 2008 Pew Internet Data Memo reported that 69% of Americans had either stored data online or used web-based software applications at least once.

People Already Have Head in the ‘Cloud
When asked to elaborate on their answers, most respondents said that cloud computing has already been around and gaining influence for some time. Following is a brief review (with condensing and paraphrasing) of significant elaborations:

  • We don’t have to wait until 2020 for this shift. It’s already happened, due to social media sites like Facebook, photo-sharing sites like Flickr, and email sites like Gmail.
  • The ability cloud computing provides consumers to have access to data, tools and applications anywhere, anytime will force migration from desktop PCs.
  • The cloud-based model has been evolving since the early 1990s and mobility has been slowly killing the PC market.
  • The drive to make money from charging per use of cloud-based applications is already happening in the smartphone realm, and will push development of cloud computing.
  • The desktop and current operating systems will be quaint metaphors the same way we look back at eight-track tapes, rotary phones and typewriters.

Security is an Issue
There were some cloud computing skeptics who elaborated on their answers. Most concerns focused around issues of security:

  • We’ll have a huge blowup with terrorism in the cloud and the PC will regain its full glory.
  • We’ll just barely be using clouds by 2020. Information privacy will be a big issue. How do you really control access to your valuable data in the cloud?
  • It will not replace the PC. There are almost no protections for sensitive information stored in the cloud.

Experts, Public Split on Web 3.0
When asked about another developing internet technology, technology experts and the general public were split on the likelihood of the semantic web, or “web 3.0,” becoming a reality by 2020, according to “Future of the Internet.”

The semantic web is an internet concept that would allow software agents to carry out sophisticated tasks for users, making meaningful connections between bits of information so that “computers can perform more of the tedious work involved in finding, combining, and acting upon information on the web,” according to its originator, internet pioneer Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

Among 371 technology experts, 38% agreed with the statement and 52% disagreed with it, saying by 2020, the semantic web envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee will have been achieved to a significant degree and have clearly made a difference to average users. Another 10% did not respond.

Among a larger pool of 895 internet-engaged members of the general public (including the 371 experts), there was less optimism for the semantic web becoming a reality in the next decade. Forty-one percent agreed with the statement and 47% disagreed with it. A slightly higher 12% did not respond.

About the Data: A total of 895 people, including 371 technology experts, participated in this study.

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