The Penalty of PCs

The New PC Paradigm - Share on OviI want to extend a bit on my post from yesterday, as well as some other thoughts that have passed here for some time. The thought is a simple one: there is a lot more administration that’s needed around conventional PCs and we accept it (now) without thinking about it. When we are confronted with a change in that paradigm of use/thought, we either run towards the change, or rebel into a worse cycle. Hence the penalty.

I’ve been watching/participating a friend try to setup his overly connected laptop to a Bluetooth speaker. He tried with the dongle he had, with my dongle, and purchased yet another. Driver hell would be an understatement.

The same person prefers to do more of what could be considered power user activites for his computing environment. He does a lot of manual setup for devices, there are wires everywhere with little that simply connects and is ready, and there are several computers and physical hard drives on his network that he has to deal with. Honestly speaking, he’s spent more time dealing with integration issues than getting the slicker solutions to work.

Now, the Mac users amongst us would clam that they have it easier. Things (for the most part) seem to just plug in and work. Yet, I’ve seen similar setups with similar administration headaches. You don’t get away from it with conventional  PCs. It is actually part of the computing paradigm to have to deal with these types of issues from time to time.

I can’t stand it.

I don’t even like it when my mobiles start acting up and I need to do something drastic like sit still and uninstall/install applications (or worse, reformat the entire device). The penalty of the PC culture (or its benefit if it keeps your lights on) is that we are not just users but administrators to some degree. To get away from that means to be counter to the idea that computing isn’t being done.

My friend (the person I mentioned earlier) and I had an exchange later in the day. He quipped that my answer to him would be “yes my mobile can do what his laptop does – and probably better.” I remarked in reply that for all intents and purposes, it won’t be better, but it would be a lot less of a headache. To do video chat, I fire up Fring or Nimbuzz (despite having video calling built-in). I have TV-Out, so no accessory card needed there, just the cable that came with the device. I don’t eat power and cause heat, so no heating pad needed when all I’m doing is checking email. And fanciful enough, I can actually take my PC with me. I’m [mostly] not bound by the administration of a box that can’t move.

Mobile is in many ways freeing from the 2nd or 3rd iteration of computing. PCs – the set-top-box and its laptop/netbook relative – were personal mainframes and terminals. Personal creation stations. They were and are needed. Just not for the definition of computing.

That’s not to say that mobile doesn’t have its own issues (carriers, sideloading, managing data, browsers, etc.). There’s a lot that is on the plate of mobile users, but it is not nearly the trouble that you’d find on a PC. Seriously, else I’d gone back to one instead of typing this on one of my mobiles.

Ranting aside, I’m more or less concerned that PCs really haven’t evolved very much. Why aren’t more laptops using cameras as part of the interface like this? Why aren’t keyboards designed to change with the application you have on-screen (contextual keys), instead of slamming so many functions into shortcuts and designing special keys for everything? Why aren’t vendors like Apple, Dell, and LG not using their smartphones as mice and second screens for their laptops? Heck, why is it that only Apple can seem to make a laptop that doesn’t just run cool, but lasts for an entire workday (7-8hrs) on battery alone? Where’s the movement?

I thought that something was going to happen when the One Laptop Per Child program came forward. Not only did they rethink the idea of computing, but they designed the hardware and software not around keeping things as they were, but designed it to grow with the user. It had a moment, but more than anything made netbooks the “market” and we never really got back to looking at why we use these devices anyways.

As I type this, I guess it is just that I’m tired of not seeing as much innovation as what I think can and should happen. Part of that is that we are the generation that’s being quickly weaned from PCs as computing to content/context as computing. I’m pretty sure that things will look much different in a few years time, and until then, there’s going to be a vocal bunch of folks who’d rather live with the penalty of PC use and administration, rather than reduce the right kinds of friction and get to actually using computing resources to change their lives and the lives of others.

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