Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Discussion of the Coming Irrelevance of `Desktops and OS


I have been using Linux on my personal computer as the OS for years now.  I Started with SUSE 6.2 back at the turn of the millennium and waffle back and forth between distros.  I used Macs when I owned my own business, I used Windows when other people paid my bills.  Hell, for that matter, I remember back to the VAX-VMS days with RSTS as the OS or HP3000's with HPUX.

They all do the same thing in different ways.  They all have their strong points and weak points. But in general they are pretty much the same tool, as envisaged by different manufacturers.  I really think that you should all take the time to read "In the Beginning was the Command Line" by Neal Stephenson to get an excellent analysis of the different flavors and as well as some old discontinued flavors.

Everything that I have spoken of is centered around the idea of the computer as a general purpose tool, a do-it-all, Swiss Army Knife kind of logic engine that could get down and solve any problem that you care to feed to it.  This is passé except to an oddball aficionado such as your humble correspondent.

The use of a general purpose tool is not for the greater bulk of the populace.  What most folks want is an appliance to perform specific tasks for them, when and where they want those specific tasks done.  They also seem to have a particular desire for the simplistic and the vacuous (e.g. Facefook).   So when you couple the massive overkill of a general purpose operating system with the huge indifference of the great mass of users and you have a system of irrelevant power applied to trivial wants.

Apple was the first company to recognize this trend.  Their OS is still marginal with only maybe seven percent of the install base, so it isn't the Macintosh that is driving the increase in value of that company. No, the Mac is just a tarted up rendition of BSD that works just dandy but is no great shakes.

What Apple discovered is the vacuous needs of the general population and exploited them ruthlessly.  Pop music a la iPod, Facefook a la iPhone, fifty shades of smut on your iPad.

Google Android is trying to break into the exploitation of the masses, but the Apple lawyers have been guarding the gates, trying to keep the others from doing to their appliances what Microsoft did to their Macintosh.   This is where the money is, this is where the main attention will be paid.

So that leaves us with the trusty computer upon which I am writing this screed.  The damn thing is grossly overpowered for the tasks that I give it, and it important to remember that the damn thing is five years old, runs dual pentium chips, has two gig of RAM, cost me $399.00 and is still too much for what I have it do.

The truth of the matter is we are moving past general purpose computing.  Oh they will always be there for folks who need them. But the masses will want simple and fashionable, hence the iPads, the Surface, Kindle Fire, Nexus, and other such scaled down and simplified systems.  They aren't there for people to create content. they are there for people to consume the content.

The general purpose operating system world will gradually become more and more self-referential and specialist in nature.  It will gradually devolve into a set of specific tools designed to facilitate the provision of content.

The mothership is dying.

1 comment:

Publius said...

Very interesting take, and very true.
I think, however, that just like HAM radios still exist and have a devoted base of hobbyists, general purpose computing will always have a large base of users and experimentalists.

The power that a real computer gives you is just too great for the (dare I use the word elite?) minority to ever drop it. You can do literally anything, and not depend on the corporate scum at Apple or even Samsung or Microserf to give it to you.

Just as some people will always grow their own food (more will have to if they wish to avoid starvation), some people will always be into general purpose computers (more will have to if they wish to avoid enslavement and curtailment of their digital freedom).