Top 5 overlooked stories of 2010

Here are five 2010 developments that probably didn't get as much attention as they should have, given their potential import to America in the years ahead.

5. Twilight of the desktop

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    A San Francisco couple used hand-helds in June. Tech-watchers predict a steep decline for desktop computers.
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Largely lost in the scramble for Android smart phones and Apple's iPad tablet is mounting evidence that the desktop computer – long the staple of personal computing – is becoming obsolete.

Two years ago, desktops made up nearly half of all PC sales, according to Forrester Research. They've now skidded to one-third, and will likely slump to one-fifth in the next three years, when they'll be outsold by tablet computers – a category that didn't even exist in Forrester's report until the iPad arrived last spring.

Leading the charge away from table-bound PCs is Apple chief executive Steve Jobs, who offered a controversial metaphor at a tech conference in June:

"When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks, because that's what you needed on the farm," he said. "But as vehicles started to be used in the urban centers, cars got more popular…. PCs are going to be like trucks. They're still going to be around. They're still going to have a lot of value. But they're going to be used by 1 out of X people." (Mr. Jobs includes Macs in this atrophying category.)

The "cars," or maybe even mopeds, of the future will be mobile, he argues. And already, software is changing to match this new dynamic.

In December, Google started publicly testing Chrome OS, a laptop operating system that tosses out many of the fundamental ideas behind a desktop PC. Bye-bye hard disks, installed applications, and lumbering start-up times. Hello online storage, Web apps, and immediate access to a browser.

Similarly, the proliferation of online app stores on phones and even televisions shows a thirst for inexpensive, single-purpose programs. Of course, there will always be a need for Photoshop and databases – powerhouse software with countless menus and taxing hardware requirements. But, the thinking goes, such workmanlike applications will run best on "trucks."

By Chris Gaylord, Staff writer

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