Monthly Archives: July 2011

– The Selectric Desktop

Desktop computers are dead.

Desktops are soooo 20th century.

“The desktop computer is going the way of the fax machine” Or, to be really nasty about it … “going the way of the IBM Selectric typewriter.” (Congratulations, IBM, incidentally, on your 100th birthday!)

From mainframe to PC to tablet to ??

A very short history of computers from mainframes to ??

Tolling the death knell for the desktop computer certainly seems to be “in vogue” during this year of 2011 although its death has been predicted for many years.

This news fad gains additional momentum from the recent rise of the tablet computer. And – please note this -the tablet really has, “risen from the dead” itself, as tablet computers were developed a number of years ago.

News fads run in cycles, and in this case I prefer to paraphrase Mark Twain: “Reports of my desktop computer’s death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Desktop and laptop computers are far from dead and will be around for a long time to come.
Certainly tablets have some advantages. They:

  • are thin;
  • are light;
  • have long battery life
  • are versatile, i. e. they do a lot of stuff, such as play videos and music, surf the web, function as e-readers and Scrabble boards

They also have some disadvantages:

  • The on-screen keyboard functions rather like one original purpose of the QWERTY keyboard – it slows down touch typists. The screen keyboard also is tough on fat fingered folks like me, who inadvertently tap a Z instead of an A. Yes, you can get an external touch-typable (sort of) keyboard, but if you’re going to start lugging all that extra stuff around …
  • Tablets have very few applications. This undoubtedly will provoke some of my readers to anger or laughter or both. “Gee, Bill, there are tens of thousands of apps in the (fill-in-the-blank with your favorite name) apps store”. Yeah, sure, that’s true, but how many apps are for building inspectors or utility billing systems or police records management systems? Apps have a long way to go before they are “enterprise class” – usable for real workers at real jobs. Few enterprise applications support the strange browsers found on most tablets.
  • Tablets don’t do Microsoft Office. In particular, Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Oh sure, there are ways to work around this limitation, to some extent – but no tablet has full functionality of even the basic Office functions.
  • Tablets are heavily dependent upon a network (3G, 4G or Wi-Fi). That’s especially true if you want to do cloud apps such as Office 365 or Google Apps. I’m sorry, but there are a ton of places – like many airplanes or inside my house in West Seattle – where the network connectivity is not very good. Certainly not good enough to run bandwidth-intensive apps or do large up/downloads.

For me, the preferred road computer-weapon of choice is the trusty netbook running Windows 7 and the Office Suite. Touch-typable keyboard built in, Wi-Fi, long battery life (8 to 10 hours), replaceable battery for longer life (eat horse dung, non-replaceable iPhone and iPad), instant-on capability anywhere (I’m writing this on a Metro bus commuting home from work), USB ports (and lots of them), DVD drive, and so forth. And the thing is light and rugged. For those of you with a religious bent, Apple makes some pretty good netbook-equivalent devices too.

Even the netbook has limitations – and specifically if doing graphics and photography work, or other heavy duty apps, which require the power and larger screens of a desktop computer. But neither desktop or netbook make a good e-reader or electronic scrabble board.

Will tablet computers eventually and completely replace the desktop? Maybe, although I’m skeptical.

A Slide RuleWill tablet computers themselves eventually go the way of the slide rule and abacus?

Perhaps. But for the time being I think the tablet will become one more tool – one more device in a pantheon of devices from mainframes to mobile smart phones – which people use to make their lives happier and more productive.

But I’m not dancing on the grave of the desktop computer just yet.

[Credits for photographs: IBM 7074 computer courtesy IBM Corporation, IBM PC-XT, Apple I-Pad with Scrabble (trademarked and copyrighted) application photo by Bill Schrier]

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