The PC is not going away, it is just evolving into a variety of smaller, faster and more versatile mobile devices, says Wayne Rash
When IBM-PC pioneer Mark Dean said that we’re entering the Post-PC era, a lot of people were surprised. After all, here’s a guy who is IBM’s CTO for the Middle East and Africa, one of the actual developers of the original IBM-PC, saying that its glory days are over. Who’d a thunk it?
But of course Dean is correct. When he wrote in his blog that the PC had passed the point of being the dominant type of computer in business, he wasn’t saying that there wouldn’t be any more PCs. What he was saying is that computing isn’t about a specific platform any more. It no longer about a box sitting on a desk. It’s about computing becoming ubiquitous.
Computing has become integral to how the world works. Our personal computer is now our smartphone, tablet, notebook, netbook — whatever we happen to have within reach. It’s about the Cloud, that mysterious information source you can neither touch nor feel, but which invisibly enriches every aspect of your computing life.
Personal computing is also about the web server at the other end of that search query you entered into your smartphone or even the mainframe that recorded the bank account transfer you executed from your netbook.
Beyond device specific computing
Leaving aside the IBM marketing-speak that invades this and much else that IBM publishes, the fact is that Dean (pictured) is acknowledging a basic transformation in how computing works these days. Importantly, it’s a transformation that Dean played a major role in creating. IBM moved out of the PC business not because it wasn’t profitable, because it was. It was because IBM wanted to move beyond device specific computing.
To put this in context, I was already writing about things called personal computers before IBM introduced its first IBM-PC. My first article about computing involved something nobody else will remember called an S-100 bus and a computer that you had to boot with an octal keypad. In those days there were no platform wars because most of us built our own platforms from actual discrete components.
But things have changed, moving progressively from the first Apple and Heathkit computers, through the PC and the Mac, and then into the world of laptop computers. That eventually led to smartphones and tablets and for a while now we’ve been indulging ourselves with battles over whether iOS or Android or Windows, Linux or MacOS is superior. Perhaps you’ve noticed that I haven’t taken a stand on those issues for one simple reason – platform wars are in reality pretty silly.
Basically, all of the partisans of whatever stripe, regardless of whether it’s the iPhone or an Android device, whether it’s a computer running Linux, or MacOS or Windows are really missing the point. The computer as a device isn’t the end. It’s the means to an end. What matters is that the ability to utilise a computing device is available when you need it, in a form that will serve your needs and that is capable of doing the job you need done.
Computing as part of life
Let’s use as an example the most ubiquitous computer in the civilized world. Yes, we’re talking about the computer that controls your microwave oven. Chances are, you haven’t even thought about that as a computer. You just put your recently cooled cup of coffee in the oven, enter a command on a keypad, and your coffee is hot. But behind that is really a computer that interprets the command you enter, tells the magnetron how long to run and at what power level and then turns it off, alerting you with a beep.
This is an example of how a computing device has so insinuated itself into daily life that nobody thinks about it anymore. There are no platform wars about which microwave oven operating system is best. There are no pitched Internet blog wars about the microwave oven user interface. They are simply part of life.
Ultimately, this is the future for computers. We’re not so much entering a Post-PC world as we’re entering a post-platform world. It’s already the norm for the well-equipped executive to own and use several different devices that are clearly computers, but clearly not the same.
How many times have you traveled through the security line at the airport and seen a fellow traveler with a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop computer and a music player, along with a set of noise cancelling headphones, maybe a GPS and perhaps a digital voice recorder. That’s seven identifiable computers right there and all of that travels in a single briefcase. And that’s not counting the computer you may have in your wristwatch or perhaps in your digital hearing aids.
As you can see, we’re already entering the post-platform world as the things we carry with us look less and less like computers as they gain more and more power. How long do you think it will be until you’re interacting with computers that are taking the place of PCs? It’s already happened with tablets and smartphones. How long before personal communications stop obviously being computing devices and simply become communicators that take on the aspects that are necessary to do the job?
But of course there will still be computers that are obviously computers because sometimes that’s what’s needed to carry out a specific function. But it still makes platform partisanship look a little silly in a post-platform world.