It's not about Windows: The repairable PC is dead

It's not about Windows: The repairable PC is dead

Summary: My ZDNet colleague, Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, has aired his grievances about Windows PCs and has decided to switch to Macs. But I reckon the root cause of his mid-life computing crisis runs deeper than just the OS.

TOPICS: Cloud, Apple, PCs, Windows

Mid-life crises suck. You question why you got to where you are in the first place, perhaps thinking about all that time and effort doing the things that make up who you really are, and whether or not that time and effort was wasted.

You decide to make changes, perhaps rash and drastic ones.

Most males, by the time they hit age 40 or so, have had some sort of personal crisis along these lines. Heck, I probably have one of these on a monthly basis. Generally speaking I find the consumption of beer and whiskey to be excellent, but temporary solutions.

I read my colleague Adrian Kingsley-Hughes' most recent column with a great degree of sadness. And it isn't his decision to ditch Windows in favor of the Mac that disturbs me. 

As I read further into this and play armchair psychoanalyst, his grievances with Windows appear to be a relatively small bunch of straws as part of a much larger bundle that eventually broke the camel's back, in my honest opinion.

It's all about the Apps, stupid. And the delivery mechanism for those apps and the data services they need resides in the Cloud.

We should not dismiss them outright, but there are much larger and far more disruptive issues at play here than his choice to switch client OSes.

The root cause of Adrian's defection goes much deeper.

I understand what he is going though because Adrian and I come from similar backgrounds.

We are both dyed-in-the-wool PC enthusiasts, tinkerers and system builders by nature. We have both built, fixed, optimized and upgraded so many systems over the course of our professional lives that we lost count after the first few hundred, however many years ago that was.

Adrian's Twitter handle is @the_pc_doc. His core identity and his raison d'être is to be a PC expert. And he is ZDNet's PC hardware columnist. So his desire to switch platforms has to be a painful one.

The evolution of the PC industry over the last several years has not been good to the old-school PC professional, particularly for those whose careers have been heavily hardware-oriented. 

I touched on these issues in previous pieces, such as one which I wrote back in February of 2013, which centers on the trend of laptops and ultrabooks becoming more like sealed appliances than user-servicable systems.

Not long after that, in May, Adrian and I went face to face in a ZDNet Great Debate regarding the state of PC homebrewing and whiteboxing industry. I declared it dead, whereas Adrian declared it as very much alive. 

To quote Adrian in his summary article,  

I'm a huge fan of building PCs. I make no apologies for being a hardcore supporter of building PCs. Want to take that away from me? You can pry the #2 Phillips from my cold, dead hands!

Want to know why I'm such a huge supporter of DIY PCs? It's because I know that it's a system that works.

What a difference six months makes for Adrian.

To old-school PC wonks like Adrian and myself, this trend is disruptive and also renders many of our hard-acquired skills obsolete. And it is upsetting to those of us who invested so much of our identity in being PC enthusiasts.

But it also represents an important milestone in the maturity of our industry, and one that is ultimately necessary to achieve broader and more important goals, which is providing applications and computing in the most commoditized, cost-effective means possible.

This trend in the PC industry towards more appliance-like, non user-servicable devices and systems and away from those that are friendly to the home brewer/PC is analagous to how the automobile industry has also evolved, where component integration has driven down manufacturing costs.

This has come at the expense of being able to self-service vehicles as well as no longer being able to repair or recondition many parts, and an increased dependency on dealership and authorized service center expertise. The car has become, in effect, an appliance as well.

Adrian's decision to move to Mac hardware and Mac OS X is not going to change this very same trend in personal computing. The latest generation of Mac notebooks and desktops is about as maintenance and expansion unfriendly as you can possibly get.

And as we have learned recently, maxxing out a commodity Mac and using Apple's latest OS doesn't necessarily yield optimal results.

Sure, maybe he plans to spend some of his hard-earned money on one of those new Mac Pros, which is the most "PC-like" of all of Apple's offerings right now. But I would hardly qualify it as a system with a flexible architecture, nor an affordable one for most end-users.

It's a niche machine designed for high-end content creation, and it's also desktop overkill for anyone who isn't doing those types of things.

The bottom line is that the future of the "PC enthusiast" is not tied to having a deep relationship with our endpoint devices. In fact, there's really no future in us being PC enthusiasts at all.

Where the endpont devices are concerned, whether we use Windows or Mac or something else entirely, such as a mobile OS like iOS or Android, we are simply end-users.

It's all about the Apps, stupid. And the delivery mechanism for those apps and the data services they need resides in the Cloud.

So if there is a future for folks like Adrian and myself to make a skills transfer of our two plus decades each working with PCs and PC operating systems, it's understanding how to use them in the context of cloud application delivery technologies.

Sounds crazy? Maybe you might want to bring that up with Amazon, who launched their Workspaces offering yesterday, which provides a remote Windows environment that allows you to run all of your business-critical and personal applications in EC2.

Amazon is certainly not the first service provider to do this, but its endorsement of the technology speaks volumes about where we as an industry are going.

You don't need an expandable, servicable PC to get to that desktop and the applications that are hosted there. Indeed, Windows still serves a very key role in that scenario, but within the datacenter and public clouds.

And all those grievances that Adrian talks about regarding Windows and traditional PCs as an endpoint device? Those pretty much all go away when you are using certified, out of the box appliance-like devices and the applications that run on them are consumed as services and are centrally managed with defined Service Level Agreements (SLAs).

No more trying to make hand-picked white boxed or retail components work with each other and spending hours prepping systems. You buy a PC, it comes with an OS, and it just plain works. And your applications are subscriber-based, so you're always up to date.

The complexities of PC security, technical support, all of the things that Adrian talks about -- all of the cummulative pain points which we have dealt with after 30 years as a mature platfom are alleviated when we move to this model. 

Is it disruptive? Does it fundamentally change the role of the enthusiast and the PC professional? Yes, to both points. But we will all be the better for it when the transition is made.

Has the change towards appliance-like PCs brought you towards a "Mid-life crisis" as well? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Cloud, Apple, PCs, Windows


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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    I have an iPad and a Windows tablet, and the sad reality is that I use my Windows tablet as a laptop with the keyboard accessory because the Windows OS is horrible as a mobile OS.

    It's just bloated Windows with Metro bolt-ons, and that is ABSOLUTELY no way to drive mobile for your company.

    Windows is and will always be a bloated mess... registry and all. Having a mobile OS with a registry means you've already failed.

    Tablets are supposed to do things seamlessly, out of the purview of the user. The last thing you want to do in the middle of mobile surfing is run a virus scan, or worse yet, be hit with a BSOD.
    • What does that have to do with anything?

      This isn't a Windows article, it's a notebook/desktop article.

      Why are you talking about tablets?
      • Just read the title...

        "It's not about Windows: The repairable PC is dead"

        "It's not about Windows"

        • This is why you should Linux

          No NSA spies will be hiding in your OS because there is no place to hide. Also, you can repair and tweak to your hearts content.
          • Source?

            I keep hearing you guys talk about NSA backdoors, but I've never gotten a clear and concise answer.

            Care to link something with credible evidence, instead of something based on speculation and rumors?
          • Where have you been?

            Where have you been for the last 6 months? Living in a cave somewhere?
          • dummy

            I asked for "Care to link something with credible evidence, instead of something based on speculation and rumors?"
            of BACK DOORS in the OS.
            I'll guess you couldn't find any?
          • I guess...

            ...he wasn't looking for any. Or doesn't have the time, skill, or tools to do it. What difference does it make? I haven't seen a drug dealer in my half a century of living, or a live platypuss for that matter. That does not mean they don't exist... Don't be silly!
          • check EULA

          • Its not about Windows

            Source. I suppose it never occurred to you to bother reading the press, you know its that old fashioned media that comes printed on paper. The mess with the NSA sort of passed you by did it?
          • Speculation and rumors...

            ... are good enough for me! That's why:1. I never leave my Internet connection ON all the time. I just start it when I surf. 2. I've already switched my main PC to Linux. Make no mistake, I used to be a die-hard MSOS supporter. Windows 7 and subsequently Windows 8 have coaxed me into switching camps. When XP will end its life I'll move entirely into the Linux camp. Not mentioning that the business I work for is doing the same.
          • Will XP ever really die?

            Just because Microsoft stops supporting XP, doesn't mean you have to stop using it. I am sure that there will be grey market 3rd party support for a long time. A lot of my customers have software that only runs on XP and they have no path or money to upgrade.
            Jaime Moksha
          • Edward Snowden

            Google Edward Snowden. Hence why he had to seek esylum in russia and may have to move to yet another country. Mircrosft, Yahoo, google etc all cooperated in having backdoors, and giving data to the NSA, Homeland, FBI, etc etc etc.
          • Trust me ...

            Concern about back doors and the like in software is all a matter of trust. While I personally have never examined the entire source code of a Linux kernel, I know that it is open-source and I do trust that many responsible people have examined it carefully. Very, very few outside of the developers themselves have access to the source code for either Windows or OS X ... and I neither know nor have any particular reason to trust those who do, especially since the NSA and FISA court have been shown to "gag" software companies when it comes to actual NSA involvement.
          • The NSA does not need backdoors ...

            ... if you use any internet service (such as google) which collects data about you, the NSA can simply pick it up off the servers where it is stored. Thanks to the Patriot Act, Neither Google nor anyone else can withhold information which is stored on their servers if the NSA says they are asking for the information on the basis of national security.

            The bottom line is that if you don't want the NSA to know anything about you, you will have to "go off the grid". That means no electronically accessible accounts of any kind. That means living an anonymous, cash-only lifestyle.

            There is plenty of information about what the NSA is doing in the New York Times.
            M Wagner
          • curious why adrian didnt switch to linux

            It seems to be a given that when people switch, they choose ios.
          • Probably...

            Because Linux is the Bastardization of powerful Unix!
          • Linux and Unix, Mac OSX and Unix

            Mac OSX is also a bastardization of Unix. It just took Apple a few years longer to figure out (about 25 years) that Unix got it right in 1975. And guess what, so is iOS.
          • Linux is

            meant for those that think the tinkering is still a viable means of computing, when in fact, it's just tinkering w/o always paying for it. But in the case of Linux, there are TONS of mainstream apps and certain h/w you don't get to use because they aren't available on Linux
          • Linux - Tinkering??

            Ubuntu is my current OS of choice for general purpose computing. Sure I can't run Microsoft bloated Office (I use Libre Office), or IE 11 (which can't support some critical sites, have to use Firefox), or have to buy CD/DVD burning software.

            I don't have to download bloated software drivers for my HP Photosmart printers and try to figure out what went wrong with the Windows installer - Ubuntu finds my printers in seconds and installs the proper drivers in far less time than Windows.

            But -- to get on topic of the article -- I don't see where the repairable PC is dead -- I have not seen a desktop system (except for the all-in-one computers) that are so proprietary that hard drives, memory, power supplies cannot be replaced.

            Laptops are another story -- I plan on not getting more than a year of use from a laptop. I buy just above entry level laptops. After a year, I just replace it, install Ubuntu alongside the current version of WIndows and bring over any virtual machines I may want to keep.