Post-PC: It's not about the hardware

Post-PC: It's not about the hardware

Summary: Conversations about post-PC center around the hardware changes of recent years. That's not really the profound change, it's the mobilization of the operating system.

TOPICS: Mobile OS, PCs, Windows 8
Post-PC PC

A lot of pixels have been invested in discussing the post-PC era and whether or not it even exists. The discussion usually revolves around new hardware types, spurred on by the mass acceptance of tablets and other types of mobile computers.

Whether you believe that the post-PC era is real or not, there is no question that the computing industry is in the midst of a profound change. Contrary to common belief, this change has more to do with the operating system and connectivity than the hardware.

My colleague Adrian Kingsley-Hughes published a fine column questioning what the PC will look like in the post-PC era. He points out that how we (computers users) interact with technology is changing, and this will drive how PC hardware evolves in the future.

The shift from PCs to post-PC devices is a lot more than just replacing desktops and notebooks with smartphones and tablets, it's a change in how we interact with, and even bond with our devices. One of the most significant differences is that post-PC devices are more intimate, and we are far less likely to share them with others. A PC may have numerous users, but a tablet or smartphone is likely to have only one.

This observation is a good description of how PC use is changing--has already changed if we're honest. The change has OEMs pushing new hardware forms on the market, but that hardware is not what is defining the post-PC era.

Windows is the very heart of the PC, yet Windows 8 is as post-PC as any platform.

The mobilization of the OS is what's behind the fundamental change we are coming to describe as post-PC. This is the result of mobile platforms being snapped up by hundreds of millions of consumers using smartphones and tablets.

The devices running mobile OSes are secondary to the fundamental computing changes we are currently experiencing. The biggest impact driving the post-PC era is the mobilzation of the OS.

The mobile platforms leading the change, the largest being iOS and Android, have conditioned users to expect constant connectivity. The platforms have leveraged that ubiquitous connectivity and evolved to offer full computing capability far beyond the original phone operation that spawned it.

The always-connected mobile operating environment led to app ecosystems that made the mobile OS far more powerful than early versions, and this narrowed the gap between the conventional desktop OS and the mobile OS.

This evolution of computing capability is what led to the rise of the tablet, which Steve Jobs famously proclaimed as the start of the post-PC era. He was half-right, it was the mobile OS and app ecosystem that led to profound change, not the hardware. Without the OS providing the capabilities that users needed, the hardware was just a paperweight.

This always-on expectation we have grown used to is the core of the post-PC era. It's even becoming a major part of our desktop OSes. That's evident when you look at the latest version of Windows from Microsoft.

Windows is the very heart of the PC, yet Windows 8 is as post-PC as any platform. Behind the mobile-inspired tile Start Screen operated by touching and swiping the screen, lurks an operating system that expects, almost demands to be always connected to be fully functional.

This is apparent as soon as you lose connectivity on a Windows 8 PC. The user's start screen customizations are stored in the cloud behind the Microsoft account log-in. Lose connectivity and Windows 8 won't let you in until you create a "local account." Using the local account when the PC is offline and you lose all the careful customization you've done on your online PC. Even though you set your computer up locally, it will only let you use it the way you want if you're online.

Common to all mobile platforms, and Windows 8 is definitely a mobile platform, is that having constant connectivity makes everything work to maximum effect. Account settings drive the operation of whatever physical device is being used, and cloud storage of user information is readily available. Turn off the network connection and it's less of an experience.

It's not the hardware that defines what post-PC means, it's the OS. As platforms go mobile, and Windows 8 is the latest, the post-PC era becomes more of a mainstay. That's driven by the platforms being always online to provide full functionality. As platforms evolve to rely on constant connectivity, the computing ecosystem depends less on the hardware and more on the mobile OS. That's what is driving the post-PC era.

So to answer Adrian's question of what the post-PC computer will look like, I offer this answer: it will look like many different things. It will be small and large. It will be portable and sitting on a desk. It will be light and too heavy to carry. It will have displays that vary from the tiny to the very large.

What the post-PC computer will have is a mobile OS that is always connected to be fully functional. It will run apps bought at an online app store. It will be a mobile OS that follows the user from one device to another. It will leverage cloud storage for information that is free from hardware.

See also:

Topics: Mobile OS, PCs, Windows 8

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  • From what you describe

    it sounds like Chromebooks and the Chrome OS fit that as well as anything, except for one thing you dictated into the Post PC OS.

    "It will run apps bought at an online app store."

    Why would it not also include FREE apps downloaded from an app store of software center, etc..

    I just could not help but notice that FREE apps are excluded from your Post PC era vision here.

    Also if one mobile OS is a clear leader in usage why do you list it out of that order?

    "The mobile platforms leading the change, the largest being iOS and Android, have conditioned users to expect constant connectivity."
  • James, why the blatant misinformation?

    "This is apparent as soon as you lose connectivity on a Windows 8 PC. The user's start screen customizations are stored in the cloud behind the Microsoft account login. Lose connectivity and Windows 8 won't let you in until you create a "local account"."

    I won't call this a LIE because that implies that you wrote this KNOWING that you were spreading misinformation. The fact that this is wrong isn't actually as important as WHY you wrote something that is so incredibly and utterly wrong. What rationale did you use to write something in your blog that would be as easy to confirm as unplugging your Windows 8 PC from the Internet and then trying to log on? Where did you get this misinformation from? Are you going to update your blog with the correct information now that you have been informed that it is completely incorrect? If not, your innocent, yet naïve action here today starts to drift into lie territory if you don't correct something once you have been informed of its inaccuracy.

    Thanks James.
    • I happened to me

      During my stint with the Surface RT I tried to log onto it when my connectivity was down. It did exactly as I described, wouldn't let me log into my own Surface. I had to create a local account as indicated by Windows 8 and my Start Screen customizations were not there. That is by design and not a bad thing IMHO. It just is.
      • I just did this with my Windows 8 PC and my Surface RT

        So no, this is NOT by design. Whether or not you think this is a "bad" thing or a "good" thing is irrelevant. It is a "wrong" thing to write since it isn't true.

        Now, why is it that I have a hard time believing that you discovered this on your own? A week ago, SJVN - a known Microsoft hater and spreader of FUD - wrote this:
        "What happens when you try to start your Windows 8 laptop somewhere without Internet access? You can't log in. Ain't that a kick in the head? You have to open a local account and then set everything else back to the way you like it."


        What this suggests is that you read this and simply repeated it. The Internet Echo Chamber at its finest.
      • You are wrong. Very wrong.

        Please explain how I unlocked my Surface and Windows 8 PC at the airport and on my plane ride last night considering I was not connected to public or GoGo air wifi or any network come to that.
        • Notice that no correction has been provided

          James, will you be correcting the misinformation in your post or are you comfortable letting this misinformation stand, forever attached to your name?
          • SJVN Repeats this FUD too

            From Computerworld.

          • Re: SJVN Repeats this FUD too

            Maybe it's not FUD, then: if two different reputable bloggers report the same phenomenon, maybe it's real.
      • That is not the design at all

        James, that is not the design nor is that how it works. Most likely you mistyped your password, or you had changed it on another computer and then were typing the new one on the Surface (but it only knew your old one since it was offline).

        If you mistype your password and are offline, it will point out that you are offline because it has no way of knowing if your password has changed since it was last connected, and because it can't offer password reset options when you're offline.
      • You are totally wrong

        You don't have to login into Microsoft Account. It allows you to login into your account even if you are not connected. This is there since first DP of Windows 8. James this is nothing but a big lie and you are just trying settle scores with Microsoft by spreading FUD. Nice work James, really nice work in lying.
        Ram U
        • Notice he STILL hasn't corrected this

          ZDNet, this has become shameful.
    • I did find this and a few other

      forum posts about the on-line off-line login scenario:

      From the forum:

      "Scenario: Windows 8 RTM working fine, use msn acct for login. Took my notebook to a new location, new wifi and got the "Your PC is offline. etc" I could not connect to the wifi, just went back to the user log in screen and I had no NIC. I unlocked the Admin account following instructions I found on the web (NT Pwd edit). Logged in as Admin and connected to the wifi and internet and switched user to the original account and it took the pwd.

      This is a major flaw if the network connection is the issue to log in using your Microsoft account. You change wifi networks and you can't boot your computer! My solution is to leave the Admin account active and set a strong password. "

      Can you enlighten me on this?
      • I don't know the 1 person who wrote that

        "Can you enlighten me on this?"

        Nope, I have no idea who that person is or why they had an issue when clearly, even from YOUR links, there is no issue logging on to a Microsoft account on a Windows 8 machine even when you have no network. To suggest that the loss of Internet was the reason this person could not log on would be like suggesting that one person, somewhere, was unable to log on to a Linux or os x computer while not connected to the Internet, therefore os x and Linux require active connections to the Internet to allow for log on. Ridiculous.
      • Did you notice

        The "Please sign in with the last password used on this PC" part? As far as my experience goes, if your machine has been offline, is not connected to the network while you're logging in AND you changed the online account password from another machine, then you'll get this message.

        If this happens, try to remember the old password and make sure you enter it right.

        There are several things that help.

        Touch/click on the little eye at the end of the password field to reveal the password (when nobody is looking). This will help you to make sure that you didn't make a mistake.

        Or, use a numeric PIN to log on. Or use a picture password.

        JAMES, it would be nice if you researched these options before just writing that it was designed incorrectly. It is of course possible that there is some sort of bug, but it definitely works for me, all the time.

        Alas, I've come co accept the lowest quality of opinion based, not fact-based articles on ZDNet. One thing I can't accept though is when people who don't check the facts and don't do research call themselves "journalists" and/or ”experts".
  • Also, really curious why you won't answer relevant questions

    From your review yesterday ( you refused to answer how thick and heavy your ipad was while inside the keyboard case. This is extremely relevant information to any review of a mobile device.

    Also, it would be great if you could answer why you still need a Chromebook if the ipad + keyboard lets you do everything you want and lets you type hundreds of thousands of words with ease. What use case does your ipad + keyboard fail at that you require a Chromebook to handle? Again, this is extremely relevant information to anyone looking to buy an ipad as a laptop replacement (this is what you said the ipad was - a laptop replacement that requires a Chromebook to complete it).

    Thanks James, you've already provided me with my smile today.
    • Done with senseless debate

      I am done debating my choices with you. I am happy with them whether you are or not. There is nothing gained by daily back and forth justifying my choices. I get that you are happy with your choices and I'm glad for you. I am also happy with my own and have no need to justify them to you on an ongoing basis.

      'Nuff said.
      • So what is the purpose of your blog?

        If you won't tell us very basic things like the weight and thickness of a mobile device you are using, or why an ipad + keyboard owner should consider purchasing a Chromebook to make up for the flaws in their ipad, what is the purpose of your blog? Is it to let us know every time you purchase something and when we ask why, or for weight and measurement information, you tell us that you don't want to tell us?

        Odd. The thickness and weight measurements are SO easy for you to provide. That you won't can only lead us to believe that these measurements are not flattering. By not telling us, you have to make us guess. Not good.

        Also, telling that you are fighting so much to not tell us what gap a Chromebook fills in your otherwise wonderful ipad + keyboard. It makes us guess as to what the ipad can't do. Again, not good.
        • So what is the purpose of YOUR posts?

          Oh, silly me, I forgot for a moment. You are a maniacal MS shill who writes long post after long post, just to try to brow beat everyone into agreeing with your views and agenda.

          I recognize your posts from the general Blog subject and the verbosity of your writing, before I even see your handle. I don't even need to read them.

          Chill out and lighten up a bit. You are a real drag most of the time around here. You cannot be much fun in real life.
          • It's called credibility

            I'm not defending toddbottom3, but he does raise several very valid points. My particular immediate observation was James' failure to mention the price aspect of his recent iPad+Zagg purchase. The fact that James repeatedly fails to address these key omissions in his articles places a red flag around his integrity as a journalist, his knowledge of mobile tech, and his level of honesty toward not just his readers, but himself. Let's not even get into his history of generating click-bait and clear bias reflecting in dozens of his articles. The guy doesn't even attend CES any more!

            As a reader and consumer, I expect nothing less than honest, unbiased, critical opinion based on extensive, hands-on experience and a detailed, thorough analyses. James' mantra is to throw these out the window, and as a result, I have to say I can no longer take his word for anything that it is worth. A guy with BS coming out his mouth and money coming out his rectum is not a guy I want giving me advice.

            I could go on further, but I'll end by saying that I happen to just be putting a Surface RT through it's paces. It is a very capable tool for both blogging and writing - something that James has openly rejected.

            Enough said.
  • Local Account?

    Lose connectivity and Windows 8 won't let you in until you create a "local account".
    Really? LOL Have you really tried Windows 8 before? I know you have wrote plenty articles but such a flawed statement.