The iPad did it?

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I know of a few people who only own a computer because they need to have access to email. This is especially true of older people whose family may have spread far enough away from the family home that email is the best way to keep in contact. If not email, video via a messenger service is good for keeping in contact. Many will have learned how to play Windows Solitaire too, but what a waste of a full featured PC.

The truth is that millions of people didn’t really need a computer at all, certainly not a desktop type. Trouble is that Microsoft Windows 95 made it look like fun, like anybody can learn to use a computer, white boffin coat not required.

Desktop computers are the best in terms of ease of use, viewability, performance, repairing etc. Unfortunately, they need a permanent home, a large desk, lighting, a space for the printer, a keyboard tray large enough to accommodate a keyboard AND mouse, surge protection and so on. This is all great as long as you have the space in your home, but many don’t. And you can’t pack it all away when you are finished. It sits there, a monstrous and untidy pile of plastic and cables, and for what? A couple of emails?

Enter the laptop. They used to be called bricks, and carrying the early ones around was more punishment than fun. Migrating from a desktop to a laptop was not a good experience. Small screens, nasty keyboards, Trackpoint mice, slow as molasses and not always very good construction were not exactly high points, but a die was being cast. They could at least be put away when not in use, and could be used on a kitchen or dining table, so no cable infested pile of junk on an ugly desk. 

Laptops came a long way, but screens got bigger and weight was still an issue. Laptops are not particularly stable on anything but a desk or table, and should be not used on anything but a rigid flat surface, but at least you can use any flat surface anywhere. Also, as laptops became more powerful, battery life and heat became big issues.

The world and his dog were crying out for something more portable that didn’t need to be sat somewhere. There had always been a need, but the technology was not available. Now, it is. Wireless connection to the Internet along with powerful low consumption internals are the real breakthroughs.

We used desktops, and subsequently heavy laptops, because that is all that was available. I would love to be able to switch form a desktop to a laptop, but there are hidden dangers.

You see, I lived through a time when all things computer were repairable. There were no motherboards with integrated this and that. If I wanted a modem, I bought one and added it to the system. If it needed to be upgraded or it broke, I replaced it. The same applied to video and sound cards. If the motherboard crapped out, I took off all the cards, replaced the motherboard, put back all of the cards and VOILA.. a working computer.

Laptops are not serviceable in that way. If video and sound crap out, you have to buy a new computer. If the power input breaks, its a trip to the repairers and hourly work rates. Ouch. I don’t have any of that, and can repair or upgrade my desktop PC for half or less than the cost of a new laptop because I can keep the case, power supply drives, keyboard and mouse.

The prospect of owning a machine which is ‘as is’ scares me, that and the reduced life of more portable devices, harder to read screens, awkward keyboards etc. I like the portability of the new machines as much as anybody else, but I don’t want to have to take on board repair replacement costs of the new machines. Tablets take portability to the extreme, but they are as awkward as all hell to use, and if they break? This is the price I am not willing to pay. Owners of these new devices have yet to learn that these new devices are not indestructible and, like many other things in this modern world, are not end-user serviceable.

What we are seeing is a mix of devices which we would have seen right at the beginning had the technology existed that makes everything possible. It was only a matter of time, and that time ‘is in the building’..

From the very solid, large, unmovable, slightly messy desk of Mike Hall, MVP.. Smile

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