The Overblown Death of the PC – Part 1

USIEb

A month ago Regina Pilkington posed the question “Do you envision desktop computers as obsolete in a few years?” on LinkedIn and I waited before I answered, curious what others would say. I didn’t have to wait long. What I heard surprised me. And my response will surprise you.

Most of what I heard was:

  • The PC is dead or so in decline, it may as well be dead.
  • It has no future, it is being replaced by digital devices.
  • The PC is a dinosaur and is being replaced by BYOD and virtualization.
  • In a decade or less, there will be no market for PCs, look at their inevitable decline in the market.
  • Apple is getting out of the business, Dell is shifting markets, HP is foundering, the PC’s reign is over.

There were a few more moderate voices:

  • “The obsolescence of the desktop in my opinion is held back by the effectiveness of the desktop interface.”
  • “The form factor will survive over the next 5 – 10 years. The ease and size of the system is not possible in the tablet for now.” 
  • “My feeling is it will never be obsolete, it will be one of many different ways (just not the only one) to compute.”

And then one other voice rang out with the question, I think everyone was dreading:

  • “How long ago did that dinosaur called the mainframe disappear?” (He clarified saying he was being facetious because mainframes are still not dead.)

This question irks me when I see it making the rounds on the tech journals and publications because of the weak premise and lame assumptions used to prognosticate the Death of the PC and as if to make it worse, these tech pundits want to make predictions as if they were any better at predicting long-term technology trends than religious leaders are at predicting the end of the world. Let me save you the trouble. Manufacturers are scrambling and technology is changing but it is safe to say, the personal computer will be around for quite some time to come even if it doesn’t look quite like you remember it.

My response: No. The PC era is not over. Not by a long shot. Not even in a decade.

No matter what form it takes, no matter what it will look like, (smartphone, tablet, head-up display) the era of the PC (Personal Computer) is not over and not likely to be any time soon. If it is based in silicon, it is still a personal computer.

“Big boxes of mostly air” (as they are known by PC technicians) may fall from grace for those people who think smaller and more mobile is better, but those are the same people who will be complaining when network connectivity and data transfer rates can’t keep up with the increasing demand being placed on networked devices and the networks that serve them.

Add to this equation the varying reliability of the cloud infrastructure and people who depend on their portable device for computational ability will be sorely disappointed as more devices means interruptions in service due to demand load, poor design of software and hardware, incompatibilities of design and infrastructure, malware, viruses and good old-fashioned human error.

Despite the Microsoft and Apple compulsion to squeeze out new OS every two years or less, the software infrastructure for PCs is still more robust, stable and better defended than the portable OSs being used right now.

Those portable OSs are ripe for attack because they are being developed faster than they are being protected. Yes, someone will get around to writing tools for protection, but since there is little agreement on standards and protocols, hackers and their ilk will have a field day while such agreements are being forged. If you think the transition to portable devices will be smooth and seamless, you will be disappointed, no matter what pundits predict.

On top of everything else, those more portable devices are still not as powerful, not as expandable, not as configurable as a current desktop or well-made laptop, nor do they offer as many options for use.

  • They cannot be used in tandem, compounding their power and effectiveness. 
  • You will not see a server farm made with iPhones any time soon. 
  • They cannot be programmed or developed from, easily, if at all. 
  • They are primarily tools of data use, information viewing and consumption 
  • Devices are the digital equivalent of a television, a phone, and a piece of paper. 
  • Until they get an interface which integrates voice and gesture into an effective interface, they will always be substandard tools to do any advanced work such as design.

What smaller devices offer flexibility and portability. They are still PCs, now more personal than ever. They will still require powerful servers to coordinate their data, access search engines, and store data for use by these smaller RPC (remote personal computers). The PC era is not dead and will not likely be dead until such time as we are producing computers that are biological in nature and do not require the use of any technologies which currently resemble anything we do today.

The PC is transformed (again) it is now the Remote Personal Computer, it is the Server Computer, it is the distributed computing system (another aspect of ‘the cloud’.) This penchant for imagining the death of the PC is the same as when cars appeared and the death of the bicycle or the train were predicted. I still see trains and they are as vital a technology as they have ever been. I am still running over bike messengers on my way to work.

Instead of alarmist (and futile) predictions of the end of the PC as we know it, let’s instead predict how the PC will be transformed into a tool of greater utility and diversity, how we will make it easier to store, utilize and share information effectively without creating larger, slower, less efficient networks. Then we can talk about creating the next generation of computers which might truly lay the PC as we know it today, in all of its iterations, to rest.

The New Age of Malware (courtesy of BYOD)

BYOD: We can't repel malware of that magnitude! -- Admiral Ackbar

As I have mentioned in other articles, [http://exm.nr/x8dv4p] malware is not going away. If anything it is going to explode in the coming years due to the continued erosion of IT standards in the workplace. Technologies such as cloud computing, social media and memes such as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device [to the workplace]) are prepared to compromise enterprise security by:

1. Allowing devices that cannot be managed or secured into the workplace environment and allowing users to store company data on those devices. Such devices can easily be lost, stolen and the information vulnerable due to a lack of viable security measures or even the ability to be wiped remotely.

2. Devices such as smartphones or other mobile technology often has limited wireless security or protection, making grabbing data from such technology the next logical step from the cracking community. Do you remember Firesheep? A tool that allowed a remote hacker to grab information from Mozilla browsers in unsecure environments such as coffee shops. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firesheep]

3. As the rise of BYOD continues and resistance to standardization grows, malware will continue to be a rising threat for Android and iDevices alike, [http://zd.net/w20FMG - Android users hit by scareware scam], for the simple reason that apps created for both devices, while monitored loosely, are not absolutely guaranteed of being without sinister purposes in addition to providing whatever resource information they APPEAR to be providing. So while it may be providing you a map to downtown Boston, it could also be monitoring your credit card or online bank information at different locations as well.

4. Social media has not stopped being both a productivity time sink, costing the nation billions in lost productivity (neither commenting for the good or the bad of this, noting it, nothing more) and a vector for virus transmission, personal information gathering, and credit information hacking. Facebook, Twitter, Sony, Google and Amazon have all experienced theft, leaks, loss or outright sale of personal data in 2010-2011 and this trend show no sign of slowing.

5. While the cloud offers the option of being a means of creating virtual environments that are claimed to be safer than your current environment, it means relying increasing on an internet whose services are either being turned into commodities (allowing their prices to be changed, usually higher, without warning or recourse) or those services will be subject to powerful new government interventions such as SOPA or Protect IP [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Online_Piracy_Act], which may make working with materials and providers who will be forced to increase the costs of their service to offset their increases caused by having to improve monitoring of their technology for copyright infringement. This cost is always directed at the user of the technology.

6. Nor does SOPA actually ensure you are any safer from hacking, indeed it may simply be another way such activity is lost in the shuffle as hackers are far more agile in their ability to develop their responses to technology than mainstream users. During the transition to SOPA standards, systems will be more vulnerable than ever.

7. It appears IT is losing the battle for standardization as a means of protecting the enterprise. New technologies such as virtualization promise the ability to deliver the PC experience to any device but most of those are also dependent on the Internet as the deliverer of service. This only means one thing. The cost of protecting your enterprise will increase as the vectors — devices, browsers, clients, cloud, virtualization, continue to proliferate.

In summary: Our enterprise networks have never truly been safe. The threats ranged from:

  • Inadequate layered defenses against attacks: There are still numerous environments especially in small to medium size businesses that do not have firewalls of any kind, any sort of data protection, backup, or redeployment procedure in case of equipment failure, anti-malware, or anti-virus technology in place.
  • Social engineering: manipulating users in an environment to release information about the systems they use to make hacking easier
  • Poor Password Management: Not creating standards for the effective use, configuration or dissemination of difficult to crack passwords
  • Poor standardization of environments: reducing the number of potential holes in the environment by reducing the number of different versions of operating systems, programs and infrastructure support systems
  • Poor policy management: The inability of environments to create usable, enforceable policies designed to make repair, replication, storage, service agreements, backup and responsible use of the office technology to protect company assets from theft, loss, or accidental erasure.

There are many other threats, but our environments have been safer than before many of these ideas were enacted, but the truth of the matter has been our virus software is always at least one day behind the release of any new virus, malware or exploit. Indeed, the zero day release of a virus or exploit could allow thousands or even millions of devices to be infected before anyone is aware the problem has occurred.

In days to come, the already existing suite of issues will only be added to with the continued threat of cloud computing downtime, legitimate accessibility as well as unwanted attacks from outside sources, rising costs both in terms of energy use and costs from service providers and the increasing vulnerability BYOD will bring to the enterprise as hackers/crackers begin to exploit the weaknesses of said devices while under-staffed, overworked and under-appreciated IT departments attempt to stem the tide while providing these new and highly desired services and technologies users feel empower them, without understanding the consequences of that empowerment. It empowers the Dark Side as well. [http://www.csoonline.com/article/print/696325]

@ebonstorm – Thaddeus Howze Atreides

iPad2 = Macintosh SE-30

Macintosh se30: Remember when this was state of the art?

Big business is out to steal your PC from you. You may not realize it but if you are a real consumer, you have a plethora of technological gadgets at your disposal: digital camera, digital camcorder, cellular phone, smartphone, desktop computer, laptop computer, digital reader, digital handheld (iPad, Xoom) devices.

Have you noticed the trend in the industry to convince you to consolidate your devices? They tell you its about you having the convenience to carry only one device or less devices. Hence your digital camera and your cell phone became a single unit. Now it takes crappy pictures and can barely hold a decent call while you are moving faster than a walk, but you only have to carry one device. Then they wanted you to believe your cell phone could double as a computer interface giving you access to the internet and your email, and your Facebook and your Twitter account.

So, now you have a crappy camera, connected to a barely usable cellphone that also allows you to connect to the internet at dialup speeds (Wheeeee!) and can surf the overburdened telephone network with your supersized web pages that have long since ditched any level of simplicity and instead download scripts, and php pages and database files and viruses to your handheld that does not have any anti-virus protection and they tell you its a good thing because you don’t have to wait until you get back to your computer to use Facebook or Twitter or email or whatever services they are pushing off onto your bank account next.

Lets not forget the constant push toward the cloud, and the constant need to convince you the cloud is good. “To the cloud” is the watchword for Microsoft ads these days. Does anyone watching these ads have any idea of what “the cloud” is? Do they have any idea of the fact they are simply doing what we have done for the last thirty years as distributed computing. If the word “Wang” means anything to you, you have dealt with distributed computing before. And if it doesn’t, you are likely paying for a service you don’t need or know enough about to be giving money away before you find out what it is. I am not trying to cause anyone to be concerned, per se. But I am tired of hearing about how the cloud is going to save us. Let me tell you what is really going on.

Big business has only one agenda. To separate you from your cash. If you work for corporate America, their second agenda is to make sure you aren’t make much cash to begin with, the better to keep you coming to work tomorrow. The best way to separate canny consumers from their cash today, because let’s face it, you are going to be more frugal than you have been in the past, with the economy the way it is, so you have to be convinced, okay, let’s keep it real, tricked, into giving big corporations your hard earned money.

3G, 4G, 5G: no standards for any of them, so when will you know you have it?

So the three card monty goes something like this: Big business wants more customers to pay more fees for services they don’t need so they need to convince people to use something they don’t need and create a non-existent need so people will feel they are being left out if they are not able to participate. The predicted market for smartphones is estimated to be sixty million devices by the year 2014. There are a lot of fees associated with smart phones. Phone purchase, check, service activation, check, data transfer fees, check, peak hour fees, check, non-subscriber connection fees, check, the purchase of apps for your smart device, check, antivirus (not yet available, but coming soon to a smartphone near you,) 3G or 4G or 5G network connection fees and any miscellaneous fees they can hide inside of the fine print you are too damn busy to read, check.

So what does this have to do with your computer? Glad you asked. Smartphones suck. They are, for all of their technological wonderfulness, simply inadequate for you to do anything significant on. Hence the creation of the laptop, notebook, notepad, iPad, Xoom devices designed to cost less than a desktop/laptop, in theory, and offer you access to a computer-like interface so you can be away from home and work on ideas while you are sipping your latte at Starbucks. And they sell them, like the second coming of Jesus, and if they were as wonderful as they are made out to be, they might be worthwhile, but in comparison to a good desktop, they are simply inadequate to the task.

Underpowered, overpriced, sleekly designed, and marketed with a level of cool that would make liquid nitrogen jealous, they are the most useless devices on the market today. They have all of the failings of smartphones, only bigger. Pitiful CPUs, slow performance, laughable network speeds, slow loading browsers, in some cases, incomplete or poorly performing operating systems (no Flash? Come on, only one of the most important developments since video came to the computer) No keyboards, no mice, no connectivity to printers (in earlier iterations) and most importantly, no real reason to exist except someone said they should. They are designed to required a variety of external peripherals, wireless interfaces, specialized keyboards, stands, covers, bags and the list goes on. When you are finished equipping the device with the tools necessary to be useful, you would have been better off with a laptop that you could actually work on.

Which brings me to the ultimate idea here. When you have been convinced to give up your desktop for this underpowered interface device, you are basically being told, Go Back to Being a Consumer of Content. We want to sell you access to the internet and its services. Anything you used to get for free, we expect you to pay a pretty penny for, in some cases more than you did when it actually cost twice as much to create. This is another fee you have to pony up for and you are losing your ability to create content easily because none of the interface devices: smartphone, iPad, Xoom, etc make it really easy to create content worth looking at, with the power, speed, facility, and connectivity you get from your computer. So the real message here is stop trying to make good or complex content. Just sit back and consume. Take your Soma and go to sleep. We will handle anything worth reading, creating or doing.

All of these smart devices are a menace to the internet, they are simply adding addresses and using resources, utilizing bandwidth and providing nothing useful for anyone, while big corporations lap up the network resources and leave you reading CNN and ESPN and the Wall Street Journal in 720dpi and thinking how cool you look reading while you drink your latte and drive to work at the same time. When the internet, overburdened with crappy, underpowered devices turns into the cyberghetto, you can expect that big corporations will have crafted a new internet with better security, better interfaces, more friendly tools that works better than the Internet they just corrupted and you can join them on the NewerNet for a fee equal to three times what you used to pay on their previous network. And you will pay it. The difference will be the NewerNet won’t have any means for you to create content without paying THEM.

One day, a great idea. Today, a well-designed, overpriced reliquary.

No, I am not a Luddite, or advocate running away from technology. My point of this essay is to make you question, WHY you buy technology or the company line and have you considered the ramifications when hundreds of thousands or millions of these devices, whichever they are, being created, designed and sold without any consideration for the future or the unintended consequences of those devices on everyone using the Internet. How many new devices can we create before we collapse the Internet in a twittering, social media orgasm of video feeds of cute kittens and American Idols as common as houseflies.

I don’t ever intend to give up my computer. They will get my computer and my ability to create content when they pry it from my cold dead fingers.

Soma and Lattes are counter-indicated.

If at this point, the title doesn’t make sense to you, I will help you out. In my personal belief, the iPad and all of these underpowered pieces of technological balderdash are, except for their video output a step backwards in terms of capability, usability and functionality. One day, they may grow up and be more useful or powerful but right now, we are heading backward, mesmerized by pretty video displays while we struggle to post an email using that damn touch screen.