The Coming War On General Computation

As I’ve been arguing for many years now, the general-purpose PC is and has been on a slow path to disappearing from daily life. It’s an ongoing process, not an overnight one of course, but the trend’s been obvious to me for about ten years now. And I remember every time I said this, I was told I was wrong, and people would point to current sales and say “they’re still strong so you’re wrong,” no matter how many times I said this was a long term trend and not something that was going to happen next week. Well at this point it’s no longer deniable: desktop computers are steadily disappearing, and now notebooks are shrinking as part of everyday life.

One thing I always said is that they would probably never completely disappear, they’d just be gone from everyday life for everyday people. My view has been that eventually the same people would have them that had them back 30, 40 years ago: geeks, nerds, engineers, scientists, and maybe some gamers. At this point, I’m not even sure of that. Cory Doctorow, in this video, suggests the strong possibility that there will be a strong effort by large corporations to actually destroy the general-purpose computer:

Anyone who looks at Windows 8 can tell that Microsoft is moving toward tablets, and moving away from a PC that you have full control over. Not quite yet, but the trend is there: get us used to depending on the “apps” and being as isolated as possible from the OS itself. From a non-technical user standpoint, this may be a bonus, since you need less training. But from the standpoint of personal freedom, I begin to think it’s a genuine threat.

I know I’ll almost always have a PC, and always said so. But I wonder what the world will look like if and when they eventually try out outright prevent people like me from even having them.

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  • I wonder if Microsoft’s efforts will succeed, or if Windows 8 will finally drive the general public to an alternative OS or Platform. Mac or Linux anyone? I am finishing up the building of a new PC. If I didn’t need a system that would plug into a KVM switch, I might well have bought one of the new iMac’s instead. I toyed with the idea of a Mac Pro, but it’s just too expensive, and more importantly, all the video card options are outdated. If I didn’t play World of Warcraft and work in Windows all day on a different PC, I just might have switched to Linux.

  • The Linux game engines are coming along. It can’t be soon enough for me. Leaving Microsoft in the dust is one thing we’re going to have to do if we’re going to keep computational freedom alive.

  • Anthony L

    You are absolutely right, the iPad and the phone are displacing the laptop and the rapid move toward phones as the new computers is towards mostly passive consumers from active writers, designers etc, who are left with their computers which are now commodities and soon will cost virtually nothing, while they carry on doing interesting things including writing apps for phones which will make them a fortune.

    Cant see the problem in this if you don’t like Microsoft. It’s dead on every front, isn’t it?. Its monopoly base in PCs is dwindling and its desperate attempt to move into phone and iPad rivals won’t ever catch up with Apple or Android and enable it to regain monopoly power, so unless they think up some super new thing they are increasingly dead in the water. Maybe they should spend their remaining billions on buying Facebook, as Facebook and its search takes the lead over Google. Except that they dont have enough money to do it.

    Meanwhile the creators who like PCs and often like Macs and Linux more can watch MS fade away even on the desktop/laptop. Surely their only lingering asset is their games, and those will gravitate to iPads and even phones and eventually the big sheets of grapheen which will form the desktops laptops and big portable TVs of the future, presumably reducing MS even further to one among many players.

  • Again I have to disagree with you all. Not to mention that the graph is very misleading by using percent instead of real numbers. That way as more phones and notebooks are sold, the desktop will show a smaller percentage regardless of hard numbers.

    Saying that that hand held phones and notebooks are going to replace the desktop PC is paramount to saying that the airplane is going to replace cars.

  • Anthony L

    How often do you take a plane to a faraway city?

  • I am 72 and retired, so I don’t take a plane anywhere, or rarely a car for that matter. Nor do a see the point/connection.

  • Anthony L

    Oh sorry, I imagined you were still traveling on business. I was just saying, a plane will get you from NYC to LA , but a car won’t. Similarly a phone will do a lot for you on the move, a desktop or a laptop almost zero unless you lug it. Phones are now portable computers and their apps are exploding as fast world wide as their sales, and for as little as a dollar.

    But if you are more or less deskbound you are right, no need to move to a phone. But that’s what billions are doing. The desktop is over except for those of us who prefer desktops and have access to them from a chair we fill every day. Long live the desktop, but saying phones are not computers is overlooking the biggest trend of the last six years, yet another sparked by Steve Jobs (Hi Steve!) Portability is so attractive that the darn things incl iPads still cost far too much. But soon iPads or equivalent will be $49 each, then $19.

    The horrible thing is as Dean worries they are cutting out the creative types and making them (phones, iPads) serve the interests of corporations instead.

    The only things that get a quick answer nowadays are text messages. Almost immediate. Email takes a day or more. I find the Times is the only place that has long comment threads now. Writing is over! Well, as long as some people have desktops or even laptops at home I guess it isn’t, but otherwise…

  • Saying that that hand held phones and notebooks are going to replace the desktop PC is paramount to saying that the airplane is going to replace cars.

    The plane may never replace the car, but it has all but replaced the intercity bus, and if not for government subidies, the plane and the car would have completely replaced the passenger train outside the northeast corridor of the US.

  • Airplanes and interstate highways destroyed the passenger rail industry.