Tag Archives: tablet computer

– 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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Filed under computers, future of technology

– Tech Nightmares Frighten a CIO

Tech Horror

Tech Horror

Sometimes my job as a City CIO keeps me up at night. There are some pretty horrible things which can happen to the technology which keeps City and County governments running. Halloween seems like a perfect time to confront a few of our most frightful fears, and here are a few of mine.

Water. And Fire. Or Fire followed by Water. In my data center. The City of Seattle has multiple data centers, but our main one, constructed in 2001, has well over $15 million of stuff in it. Things like the e-mail servers used by the entire City government, or the disk array holding all our financial data. And about 500 mid-range servers. Our data center is in one of the most modern, earthquake-resistant buildings in town. But my real fear – and much more likely than the predicted 8.0 earthquake – is a fire or a gushing water leak. I guess it’s time to test that disaster recovery plan again!

E-mail Horror

E-mail Horror

E-mail. Gosh, e-mail is the most important application we have – more important than utility billing systems or computer-aided dispatch or financial management systems. We all get an avalanche of e-mail every day, and the City of Seattle’s great Postini spam filter from Google cleans out most of the viruses and junk mail. But it is really the content of the e-mail which scares me. Like that occasional email which says “hey, we’ve decided to cut your budget for xxx (fill in the blank) by $500,000 but you still get to do the project, on time, with reduced budget” or “oh, hey, Mr. CTO, your Wi-Fi network in the University District is down. Again. And the Mayor has a public meeting there at 3:00 PM”. The only thing more frightening than some of the e-mail messages is arriving in the morning to find that the e-mail system is … ah … “down”. And down HARD!

Tablet Computer

Tablet Computer

Tablet computers. Ah the great promise of laptops and tablets! You sit at your desk, and it is a desktop computer. You unhook it. You take it to every one of your meetings so you can view documents electronically, and don’t have to print paper to take along. You take notes using Microsoft One-Note on the tablet, rather than writing stuff on paper (and, like me, promptly losing the paper in one of the giant piles in my office). You demonstrate that you are “friendly to the environment” by personally reducing your paper use by storing everything electronically. Then you forget to back the tablet up, you trip on the stairs with the laptop in your hands, and it crashes. Into the wall. Literally.



BlackBerries. An extraordinary combination of the two most nefarious technologies known to humankind, the cellular telephone and electronic mail. Now you get to be available to your customers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The real killer is discovering, one September day, that one of my last havens where most cell phones and BlackBerries didn’t work – beautiful little Republic, Washington – had been jerked into the modern era (see blog entry Fossils and Technology). The Blackberry worked there! Arggh. The only thing worse than a fully functioning BlackBerry is one which doesn’t work, so you are out of touch! Arrgh!

Mayor’s briefing. You show up to brief the Mayor and his senior staff on your latest new hotshot tech project, hoping to convince them to make a relatively small (less than a million bucks) investment. But, as you walk into the Mayor’s Office, the Dow drops 500 points, Lehman Brothers fails, AIG needs a $85 billion bailout, sales tax revenues drop precipitously right along with consumer confidence, Boeing goes on strike and the room’s technology systems go on the fritz.

The Help Desk. So you call the Help Desk (206-386-1212 for the City) about any one of the problems above, and they fix the problem over the phone. Quickly. Efficiently. Surprisingly well. And you – the Chief Technology Guy – are really frightened, because the problem was “user error” and the user is you!

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Filed under BlackBerry, disaster, e-mail