I spent some time this morning going through the software on a computer running Windows XP that has been a workhorse in my office for about 7 years since XP was last installed on it. It was an interesting exercise in electronic archaeology. There was software that I wrote many years ago on this machine. There were also IM clients like Pidgin and IM services from Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL. Remember those? There was lots of software on that computer that I couldn't even identify. I'm sure I installed it at some time but I couldn't even figure out what it was for now.
Over time, I have refined the software that I install on a new computer to the point where it is basically a bunch of web browsers, a programmers text editor and a web server and a software version control system. Everything else lives out on the cloud. My 60GB of music now lives on Google's servers. I backup my photos using Google and CrashPlan. I drag around a 25 year history of documents from machine to machine but that is now a 30 second copy process and CrashPlan keeps them safe. New documents, as rare as they are now, are created on Google Drive.
It seems to me that I will not likely buy/build another new desktop computer. Even a 7 year old machine is still "fast enough" for most of today's cloud based usage scenarios. I have several such machines sitting around that I will reuse when needed. I get a fresh computer ready for someone and get back their tired, virus ridden machine in return. With a little effort, that computer becomes the next fresh machine for the next person. Maybe I will upgrade the RAM or a hard drive and put a newer operating system on but they are still quite usable for Internet use or as a media device.
For the first time in my life, I have found that a laptop computer is mostly sufficient for my day to day work. I still feel more productive when it is integrated into my 7 screen setup in my office but I am surprised how much work I can get done anywhere with just the laptop and an Internet connection. I can even see myself going from a 7 pound luggable laptop to an ultra portable computer or even a tablet with keyboard although I don't thing that iOS or Android will cut it. I still need multiple windows open and lots of software running. Most importantly, I need good cut and paste.
We've come a long ways from the days when I used a 28 pound luggable Osborne 1 with 2 160kB floppy drives and a 3 inch green monitor!