01 April 2012

New Age Computing Explained

Computers. In the traditional sense when you think about a computer you get the box, monitor, keyboard, mouse, punch-cards and German submarines image in your head. Some people think mainframe and terminals, younger people think laptop. Think about a child at the age of 3, when it gets to 20 and someone says computer to it the association of the handheld it plugs into the TV to do school work and gaming pops out. Everybody defines computer based on his basic impression of the technology. Some people I know have a difficulty understanding what a server is and think it is a different concept from what they are used to as a computer. On the other hand a tablet is much more computer like in their psyche. And then they have the audacity to ask what the cloud is! Since we are not all actually mental we will accept a common definition of computer as a desktop or laptop, specifically for the purposes of this blog post. What used to be a cell phone is now a smart-phone and if you keep up with the current trends it is actually a transitional device on a course to merge with the desktop computer. I currently own an Android Tablet device that has more processing power than my ex main desktop, and there are mobile devices on the market that are as powerful as my current main desktop (for clarification, when I build myself a 5 year box I use it 5 years).

If the distinction between computers and mobile devices is only performance than the merge has happened and we missed it. But they are surely distinct devices as it is obvious by the usage scenarios. I can write this blog post on the tablet or on a phone, but I am using a full keyboard and big monitor connected to a computer. I could use my laptop but I will still want to plug a good keyboard to optimize my productivity. So the distinction should be the human interface method. But there are peripheral devices that cross that gap and we are still wondering what a computer is? Seriously, you can connect a monitor a keyboard and a mouse to a handheld device and use it on the top of your desk, hence desktop.

The remaining component is the operating system. I could slap the android community for not having a native version of LibreOffice, but I don't need LibreOffice to write this blog post. I have my preference of using Linux but anything with Chrome or Firefox will do. And Android is merging back into Linux so soon-ish we just may see Ice Cream Sandwich in the repos. The other camps are moving in the same direction. Apple's OS X and iOS have nothing to benefit from each-other and they are both ungodly abominations so normal people don't care. To me Apple has been in the business of selling uselessness to fashionable people who are useless themselves. iOS and OS X are currently very distinct which is logical since the restricted nature of Apple's mobile offering presuppose it is an accompanying device to the PC, thus being inline with the single vendor mentality of Apple ( iPhone or iPad, MacBook, AirPort, AppleTv etc. ). And Microsoft are about to abandon the make sense abstraction of icons symbolizing real world objects in a classical proven multi workspace ( window ) environment to usher in a color coded single tasking fullscreen monstrosity called Metro. Not that Gnome 3 and the "new Unity" ( not so new in Linux terms ) from Ubuntu didn't scare the hell out of me. I can see how Microsoft is trying to implement the "dumb it down" philosophy, everybody can use a phone and not everybody can use a computer. Yes Bill, by all means turn the workhorse of our time into a fluff box for the masses! I can't see how Windows is still relevant to the industry. For me personally Windows is as unimportant as Nokia ( Nokia are awesome for Qt and Symbian ) and there is a correlation there. But the rant against everybody is besides the point. What I want to convey to you is that I am under the impression that operating systems are going in the wrong direction. I wanted a gnome 2 smartphone and I am about to get an Android desktop!

In closing I can only say that the industry is going to abandon the classical understanding of what a computer is and we are on the road of merging everything with everything else. And as the lines get blurry and unclear while developers and manufacturers try to find the guiding light in the fog of consumer demand, people like me will feel more and more left out. One day the good keyboards are going to be just obscure remnants of the past in a future of touchy feely voice operated devices.