In May, when IBM (NYSE: IBM ) finalized the sale of its PC division to Lenovo -- allowing the Chinese company to become the world's third largest PC maker behind Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) -- it seemed as though the company had lost part of its soul. After all, the company is named International Business Machines, and what could epitomize a business machine more than a PC -- a device that IBM practically defined?
Well, it now appears that IBM didn't sell its soul; it was merely suspending it. Researchers at IBM recently announced that they have developed a way to carry a powerful, personalized virtual computer (in the form of a USB key or some other portable device) from one PC to the next.
The virtual computer's "soul" -- or SoulPad as it has been called by the IBM researchers -- needs no new software and can simply be popped in and uploaded to a new PC via a USB, Ipod, MP3 player, or cell phone.
This suggests that the era of being able to walk up to any computer and personalize it is now very near. And, if this is true, then the future value of PCs will continue to drop as it becomes less important that you have a computer and more important that you can access one.
This emerging reality is why few tears were probably shed at IBM when it sold its PC division to Lenovo. Company officials understood that IBM's soul wasn't being sold; it was merely being reincarnated.
And the incarnated soul of tomorrow's computers won't just reside in PCs; it will reside inside cell phones, next-generation MP3 and iPod players, or any other device capable of storing and uploading their digital contents -- or "soul" -- to almost any computer, anywhere.
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Fool contributor Jack Uldrich has been accused by teachers and friends alike of thinking small since grade school. He is the author of The Next Big Thing is Really Small: How Nanotechnology Will Change the Future of Your Business. He owns shares of IBM. The Fool has a disclosure policy.