Microsoft, Apple, and the death of the desktop

In his article titled "Dear desktop, welcome back", Ryan Stewart claims that "the desktop is exciting again in a number of interesting ways." Unfortunately (for Microsoft, Apple, and others with a vested interest in the desktop), most of his points actually lead me to the opposite conclusion.

Microsoft, Apple, and the death of the desktop
In his article titled "Dear desktop, welcome back", Ryan Stewart claims that "the desktop is exciting again in a number of interesting ways." Unfortunately (for Microsoft, Apple, and others with a vested interest in the desktop), most of his points actually lead me to the opposite conclusion. For example, Ryan writes:

This dustup between Safari and Mozilla? It’s over a desktop application! Why? Because the desktop is important. It’s the most valuable place. From there you can control the search path, you can control the experience and you can keep rolling out updates. It’s easy to leave a webpage and never come back. But uninstalling a desktop application? A browser? That’s harder.

Installing and uninstalling and maintaining anything on the desktop (be it Windows or Mac or Linux) is hard, and more and more people won't bother. Why? Because there's a better alternative. Another way of saying this is, the browser is the new desktop.

Case in point: My wife has been complaining lately that her "computer was slow". She's running Windows XP on a Dell machine, so first I checked out the usual suspects. Viruses? Nope. Spyware? None found. Crapware? Already gone, from the day after we got the machine. Startup programs?The browser is the new desktop. Removed a few but it didn't help. I started the task manager, but saw nothing suspicious. No processes using CPU or disk I/O. But still, she said it was slow.

So I watched what she was doing. She brought up the browser to check web-based mail on gmail.com. She used google.com to search for something for our kid's classwork. She went to cartoonnetwork.com and webkins.com to play games with the kids. And so forth. Notice a pattern here? Everything was in the browser. It was the *browser* that was slow, not the computer. In her mind, the browser was the computer.

The problem turned out to be too many plug-ins in the browser. She had a Upromise plug-in, a Google toolbar plug-in, a Real media plug-in, and a bunch of other plug-ins I didn't even recognize. I turned it all off, restarted the browser, and poof, "the computer" was several times faster. Cue fanfare.

My point is that even with the technical limitations under the covers--things like browser incompatibilities, offline storage, JavaScript memory leaks, etc. (all those things that developers pull their hair out about)--the convenience of internet-delivered applications is just so compelling that all other issues are falling by the wayside. In the span of a few years, we've witnessed a major paradigm shift in the way computing is surfaced to users.

Sure, there will always be some niche applications that need an old-fashioned desktop. Right now, those include 3D interactive games, graphic design tools, software development tools, and some office productivity tools. As web technology gets more and more powerful, though, expect those to slip more and more into obscurity as internetworked alternatives replace them.

We've already passed the tipping point, Ryan. We're not welcoming the desktop back; we're saying our goodbyes.

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