Why desktop computing failed

Why desktop computing failed

Summary: Traditional desktop computing has failed. It failed partly because we couldn't handle the great power and great responsibility of a full-blown operating system. Help is here and there's an app for that.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Hardware
136

Desktop computing failed because of you and me, the end user. Software manufacturers, as much as we'd love to blame them, are not at fault. They tried to fulfill our every wish and whim but they just couldn't--not with a desktop operating system. With applications, they excel but with desktops not so much. Desktops can't be all things to all people. Apple realized that with its introduction of iOS and its App Store. The local operating system has lost its importance. Traditional desktop computing failed and not a moment too soon.

The desktop computing revolution began with the introduction of Windows 95. It was a new-fangled operating system with a look and feel like something Apple came up with years before. But, for Windows 3.x users, it was new. And, NT 4.0 had that same slick interface that gave users the opportunity to place dozens of icons and shortcuts to their frequently used programs right on the desktop surface.

And, connecting desktop computers to a LAN and the Internet opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Access to information at the speed of Token Ring was awesome. It also opened up a world of viruses, malware, spam and other goodies and baddies that could render a desktop unusable within seconds of opening a tainted email message. As a former desktop support engineer, I can tell you that supporting full-blown desktops is not fun. Nor is it fulfilling. It's a losing battle against malware, poor software, viruses and the ever-tinkering user.

Desktop computing failed because we couldn't handle it. Developers tried desperately to "dumb down" the operating systems on which they worked for the sake of the lowly user but couldn't make the operating system dumb enough. Software is complex. Making it simple for the user is even more difficult and adds another factor of complexity to the developer's work. And, the more complex something is, the easier it is to destroy via viruses, inadvertent actions and your neighbor the computer "expert's" expertise.

Even Apple's extremely dumbed-down operating system failed. OS2 failed. Windows failed. Linux failed.

The successor to the fat and stupid operating system is not virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). VDI is a poorly conceived idea that moves the desktop from your local system to a remote one. It's still fat. It's still stupid. And, it still breaks at the speed of virtual Ethernet. The answer, my friend, is in lightweight operating systemlets such as iOS, ChromeOS, Windows Mobile, MeeGo, Android, and WebOS.

Applications, not the OS, is where it's at. Who cares to interact with the operating system for anything other than to run applications? I do but I'm a computer guy. But, if there's an app for that, I want to use it. I can't think of any reason whatsoever, under normal circumstances, for ordinary users to interact with the operating system. Sure, some of us techie-types like to mess with the OS but for most people, it's just not a need. I've never found it limiting in any way that I can't* get under the surface of iOS 4.x on my iPad. It hasn't bothered me or limited my ability to work at all.

If I feel the need to tinker, I can use a Linux system or if I really want to tear things to bits, I can open a connection to a Windows system.

And, that statement alone is very telling. Desktop computing fails, in part, because the operating system is so easy to corrupt, even for an ordinary user. That should not be the case.

Perhaps it failed too because of human nature. That innate need to disassemble, to analyze, to break and to seek what's underneath the pretty icons and floating mouse cursor. Computers are objects of affection and affliction. It seems perfectly OK to tinker, twist, adjust, torture and twiddle with a computer. Try those same activities with your automobile, coffee maker or wristwatch. You probably won't do that for fear of the consequences but you will with your computer.

Desktop computing failed. It's your fault. It's my fault.

And, the solution is to make an operating system as lightweight and as unobtrusive as possible. Move the working parts to the background and feature the applications--where the real work takes place. But, for the tinkerers among you, opportunities to jailbreak, to explore and to boldly go will always exist.

* I could but I want to maintain the warranty. Plus, it was too expensive to break into for no reason.

Topic: Hardware

About

Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

136 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Why desktop computing failed

    450 million Windows 7 licenses sold. I would die to have a failure like that. Can we develop apps on devices running iOS, Android, WP7, WebOS, Meego ? *shudders at the thought of touch keyboards and palm sized screens*
    1773
    • RE: Why desktop computing failed

      @1773

      Wow, 450 million? That's a lot. At that level, shouldn't Microsoft have more money than Apple?
      khess
      • RE: Why desktop computing failed

        @khess

        They do. They have twice as much cash reported on their balance sheet as Apple.
        spdragoo@...
      • Apple hoardes the dividends which would go to stockholders,

        while Microsoft still pays dividends to their shareholders. If Microsoft did as Apple, their cash stockpile would be many times as big as Apple's. However, Microsoft still has a hefty cash-on-hand stockpile.
        adornoe
      • Dont forget their other revenue streams

        @khess They seem to be pulling in a lot of cash from Android manufacturers!
        otaddy
    • RE: Why desktop computing failed

      @1773 [450 million Windows 7 licenses sold. I would die to have a failure like that.] The million dollar question is: How many were actually sold to end users, rather than the distribution chain? Oh wait Microsoft does not count endusers, just the distribution chain.
      Rick_Kl
      • RE: Why desktop computing failed

        @Rick_Kl And how does that matter ? MS gets the money !!
        1773
      • RE: Why desktop computing failed

        @1773 Microsoft does not get full retail price from the distribution channel. Then there is the co-marketing funds they pay out, to the OEMs. Maybe this is why there is no significant growth in revenue from the Windows unit in the last several years. What I would like to personally see is all vendors (and I mean all of them) publish accurate numbers based on sales to end users, not the channel. For example: The company I work for has 2,500 computers (spread over roughly 12 buildings), and they recently renewed their site license (Volume license, whatever it is called these days). I am sure they are listed as using Windows 7, even though they are currently still on XP. Sure they could update the systems to Windows 7, but since everything they use still works on XP, why go through the hassle to update 2,500 systems?
        Rick_Kl
      • RE: Why desktop computing failed

        @Rick_Kl

        Microsoft counts. Microsoft counts everything. Just about every MS machine reports back to the mothership regularly. Check out the IE6 countdown page. MS even tracks the pirated copies of XP.
        tkejlboom
      • RE: Why desktop computing failed

        @Rick_Kl
        HA!. lmao..
        Now Rick, that's not entirely true. All those corporate end users count. That's why M$ is working so hard to get Win8 out, so those corporate users will finally adopt Win7.
        Jerome.Thomas
    • RE: Why desktop computing failed

      @1773 I believe that number is actually windows 7 connections to windows update.
      grayknight
      • RE: Why desktop computing failed

        @G Computer Network

        Right...because the other players are so perfect. What a foolish comment.
        Rob.sharp
    • Author still living in the early 90's...

      @1773 Totally agree. Desktops failed? LOL Perhaps the author should look up the word "fail" in the dictionary. I haven't seen a blue screen since Windows 3.1. My primary desktop still runs on Vista and the only times it has been rebooted since Vista first came out is when Microsoft reboots it after a patch. On the other hand, I regularly have to do a hardware reset on my iPhone. Portable devices are as flaky as desktops were 15 years ago.
      BillDem
  • RE: Why desktop computing failed

    Desktop computing has not failed. Stop writing nonsense just to get some paychecks. You're pathetic.

    Windows 8 is still desktop computing, notwithstanding its cloud integration.

    OS/2 was simply great -- IBM was not (and it's still poorly managed).

    Linux on the desktop is the greatest failure of all.

    As for the Mac aficionados...
    beranger
    • RE: Why desktop computing failed

      @beranger

      I think you'll find its adoption on traditional desktop/laptops very slow. This is not a Post-PC Era but a post fat desktop era. Everyone is always so hyped about a new OS release. Remember Windows Me? How about Vista? Ah, yes, the good ol' days.
      khess
      • Thin client? Really?

        @khess

        Desktops have the power. Phones not so much, simply because they will always be resource constrained by size. Display size, available power, keyboard size (and the keyboard is never going away), all this makes phones a poor second to a full blown desktop.
        wolf_z
      • RE: Why desktop computing failed

        @khess

        Agreed...App stores and all the apps are like the old days of AOL. Let's try to dumb down the internet...look where that got AOL. At first it was hot stuff and it faded away. App stores and the hype are the same thing. A lot of the apps out there are trash or so simple they should be included in the OS from the get go. The OS is still a key player and will be for a very long time.
        Rob.sharp
      • RE: Why desktop computing failed

        @khess Actually, you don't hear much about Vista anymore, even though there are millions of computers out there still running on it. Why? Because MS has done a good job of fixing its deficiencies. I have 3 PCs running on Vista and they are just as good as the ones I have running on Win 7......
        tradergeorge
  • RE: Why desktop computing failed

    There are two groups of different peoples; content providers and content consumers. The hype that we are on a post-pc era has been gaining mad momentum. While it could be true for the content consumers, it certainly go down well with the content providers. Much of what is created in the web is through the desktop. I do agree that the desktop operating systems are so fat, and the OS which has scooped trophies in the fat OS competition is win7. And still, the desktop isn't just about apps. There are certain functionalitys which are found in certain OS's and not in the other.
    capaldi
    • RE: Why desktop computing failed

      @capaldi <br>You are absolutely correct about content providers and consumers. The problem is that there are at least 10 times more consumers than providers. That would mean a big increase in platforms like iOS and decrease in platforms like Windows...
      prof123