They're killing the PC

They're killing the PC

Summary: Who? Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft to name four. Do you even care? You should.

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First things first. Yes, PC sales are dismal. They're not coming back. It's not just because we love our tablets and smartphones. It's also because almost all the vendors are pushing us away from the PC model to sealed, cloud-based appliances as fast as they can.

KayPro II
1982's KayPro II was my first "portable" PC. Underpowered in every way by our standards, it was still "my" computer, not a vendor or a carrier's locked-down device.

When I first start working with computers in the late 70s and early 80s, we were in a revolution. I was one of the people with a foot in both camps. I cut my programming teeth on mainframes and polished my administrative skills on Unix minis, but I also loved those first CP/M PCs. I knew that while "big iron" would always be important, the freedom that came first with CP/M- and  DOS-powered PCs was going to change the world.

Indeed, I can even fix on a date when the world changed: August 12, 1981. That was the day IBM introduced the IBM PC. With this, power shifted from IT to individual users.

Fast forward to 2013, and what do we see? We see computers everywhere. They're in our pockets as smartphones, they're in our purses and satchels as tablets, and, yes, some remain on our desktops as PCs.

But, the balance of power has changed. More and more, for all the speed of their processors and all gigabytes of storage that even the slowest and smallest have, it's no longer individuals, or IT, that's calling the shots. It's the vendors and carriers who decide what we can and can't do with them, whether we own our content, indeed whether we can do anything with "our" devices outside their many-eyed Argus gaze.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, ZDNet writer and a long-time Windows fan, has given up on Windows because Microsoft is making Windows 8.x increasingly hostile to experienced users with its "change for the sake of change." I agree. I saw Windows 8's failure coming from the start and Microsoft hasn't changed its course.

You know what? I doubt Microsoft really cares that Windows 8's adoption rate is behind even Vista's dismal first year.

Why? Because Microsoft looks to make its future dollars not from the desktop and its burned hardware partners, but from its own appliance lines, the Surface Pro 2 and the Surface 2, and its cloud-based applications such as Office 365.

Think about it. If Microsoft really wanted to keep users on Windows-based PCs, would they be offering OneNote, Lync, Skype, and SkyDrive available on Android and iOS? An Office 365-tethered version of Office Mobile is already available on iPhones, while Web versions of the core Office apps are also available on iPad and Android tablets. If Microsoft can rent you their services I don't think they give a damn what you're running them on.

Jason Perlow, like myself and Adrian is a ZDNet writer and a guy who grew up working and playing on PCs recently wrote. Jason wrote: "Where the end-point 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." In short, "It's all about the Apps, stupid. And the delivery mechanism for those apps and the data services they need resides in the Cloud." 

Amazon knows that. It's the company that turned the cloud from marketing hype to a business reality. Now, Amazon is trying to move what I think may prove to be the last of the truly popular PC operating systems, Windows 7, to the cloud.

I think Amazon will wind up having a roaring success with this since Microsoft sure doesn't want you using Windows 7, but users love it. There is, however, one major difference. Amazon doesn't give you a real PC with Windows; they're giving you a PC-like experience with Windows Server 2008R2 using its Destkop Experience running on top of their Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud.

It may look like a desktop, it may act like a desktop, but it's really Desktop as a Service (DaaS).

Google also gets this. The Chromebook is nominally a Linux-based PC, but it depends on Google's software-as-a-service (SaaS) cloud.

And, take a close look at the newest version of Google's other operating system: Android KitKat. You'll find that the Google Experience Launcher brings Google Now's predictive search functionality to the home screen. As ExtremeTech's Ryan Whitwam put it, "Google’s services are now front and center, and pushes all those OEM customizations into the background. This launcher is headed for a lot of Android phones, whether OEMs like it or not." 

We can talk all we want about which Android smartphone, tablet or Chromebook is the best, but the bottom line is Google search and SaaS bind them together into a single, seamless cloud-based whole.

It's the same with Apple. Their devices, unlike PCs, have always been closed boxes, but recently they've become even more sealed. Did it surprise anyone when iFixit gave the latest MacBook its lowest possible repairability score? Have you noticed that Apple still hasn't issued the Mavericks security patches to Mountain Lion?

Here's what I see happening: Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft all want us to buy appliances, not PCs. An appliance is a closed box. It can only run the operating system they stick you with. It will only run the applications they approve for it. Apple and Microsoft are particularly strict about this.

A corollary to this is that you must buy a new appliance every few years because the company will only support it that long. For example, you simply can't upgrade to the latest applications or operating system on older Apple or Android tablets and smartphones. With a PC, you could upgrade it, baby it, and run the newest programs and operating system for up to a decade. That isn't even an option with appliances.

At the same time, shrink-wrapped software is all but dead. It's not just physical shrink-wrapped I'm talking about, it's any downloadable software. Vendors would prefer that you have only a stub to launch a Web-based application or simply use a Web-based SaaS.

Indeed, everyone in the technology business is moving you to SaaS as fast as they can. Soon, if these companies have their way, all your applications and data will be on the cloud.

The PC revolution will have been over-turned. Once more, they, and not us, will control our computers. Privacy? What privacy? We'll have turned over everything to our corporate computer overlords.

Sure, some of us will still be making homebrew PCs, buying white box PCs, running our own servers, and using desktop Linux distributions for our operating systems. But, we'll be a tiny minority of hobbyists. In the late 70s, we were the vanguard of the PC revolution. In the mid-10s, we'll be the last remainder of do-it-yourself PC users.

It was fun while it lasted, but the convenience of appliances and the cloud is clearly more important to people than the freedom of choice and privacy that came with PCs. I, for one, will be sorry to see it go. Yes, I like the benefits of this new computing paradigm as much as anyone, but I know what we're losing. And, I, for one, will also still be using my own standalone PCs, servers, operating systems and applications to the bitter end.

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Topics: Hardware, Amazon, Apple, Cloud, Google, Microsoft, Smartphones, Tablets, PCs

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107 comments
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  • welcome to the age of disposable technology

    that's where we are going, cell phones started it, smartphones accelerated it, and tablets pushed it even further....
    dracodos
    • still going on that Win8 is a fail

      You're fooling no one SJVN
      Win 8 is a success and the MSFT stock is trading at 52 week highs
      hubivedder
      • MSFT stock is on the rise...

        because of the imminent exit of the bald freak that stuck us with windows 8
        TrishaDishaWarEagle
        • After Windows 8 is dead and buried, what happens then?

          With PC sales in freefall, and the Post-PC era upon us, what will happen to Windows?

          Fewer and fewer people will be using Windows PCs. There will come a time when there are not enough users to support its development into the future.

          Jason's article says the last PC users will be on Linux. I agree.

          Maybe the way to escape our "corporate computer overlords" is to use a device that is not controlled by those overlords. Emerging mobile OSes may hold the answer, such as Ubuntu Mobile, Sailfish and Firefox OS. People will have to support them and make them popular.
          Vbitrate
          • Firefox maybe..

            But not ubuntu....

            Ubuntu peaked at lucid lynx and maverick... Sunce then they've been heading the close off and tie in route bit by bit... They have the most exciting mobile OS currently revealed but i wouldn't describe them as the opposing force to corperate overlords... Ff by contrast do seem to make their browser more open to developers?
            MarknWill
          • PCs will be in the workplace for years to come

            At least another decade.

            What we're finally seeing is the divergence of workplace and home/leisure computing. Workplace computing may be possible on tablets or smartphones for some limited uses and/or some niches, but the bulk of it will be require physical PCs or remote virtual PCs.

            If most of what one does involves internet connections, then connection speed becomes the prime determiner of perceived system performance. Cheap PCs and tablets can look as good as gaming PCs running browsers or Windows Store apps.
            hrlngrv 
        • MSFT's stock price

          is also at a 52-week high because of just how low it sank last December when the first rumors of how disappointing Surface RT sales were started trickling in. Didn't help that Ballmer was making noises about sticking around until 2017.

          As always when looking at big % changes, you have to consider the starting value too.
          hrlngrv 
      • Re: Win 8 is a success...

        Does anybody care?
        danbi
      • You're an idiot

        Even a blind fool could see the mass failure of W8 a mile away. This failure is worse than that of Vista's.

        People have been trading in their brand new W8 operating systems for old W7 models online because they're that desperate for W7 back and the stores won't sell them. Older enterprises are what the public wants, MS isn't allowing it. W8.1 did absolutely nothing but bring the start button back, which wasn't the full root of the problem. The problem lies within more than just the Metro style "modern" layout or the absence of the start button, this is the fact new buyers have no choice but to go with an operating system that no one cares for or understands. Or, people like me. Who know exactly how to run it without a problem but still despise the OS. Somewhere along the lines MS stopped caring about their customers or our preferences. They're aiming too hard to duplicate Mac's style. Hello! I'm a PC for a reason, I liked the format and the way it operated, they're changing it for no good reason and it's clearly not having a positive impact.

        What W8 did was force all of MS users to forget about everything they've learned about how PC works and navigates and replace it with an insignificant, un-user-friendly, useless change that didn't need to be made in the first place. This is an epidemic and the beginning of the end for MS PC.
        monacrimosa
        • Trading win 8 back for win 7?????

          I was going to trade my Samsung tablet win 8 back because I was so unhappy with it and it's limitations, BUT i bought a Surface Pro 2. Now the happy is back. I would no sooner go back to win 7 and it's limitations than to hit my face with a flat iron.

          You are so wrong. The right tablet makes a big difference.

          The only thing I want is tabtip.exe from win 7 back on the device. That is is. And I'll gladly suffer the outsided limited vkeyboard until something better comes up (or I figure out how to make Win 8 run the Win 7 ever-so-excellent-virtual-keyboard.
          Ram@...
          • Missing the point, perhaps?

            I think you're missing the point of Monacrimosa's post. W8 is fine for tablets but the OS isn't designed (and shouldn't have been released) for desktop PCs. The move only helps prove the Vaughn-Nichol's point the we are being pushed away from the traditional PC.
            Christopher Loth
          • Of course W8 is great for a tablet..

            But for a PC? No. Absolutely not. As stated by another user, you've completely missed the point.
            monacrimosa
        • Microsoft consistently misjudges markets...

          They released the Zune s later when demand for such a standalone player already peaked and began to slide (2006). Apple released the iPhone a few months later which changed everything.

          MSNTV (WebTV), Spot Watch, Kin (Sidekick)....

          Now they are doing the same with Windows 8. At a time when consumers are reaching for their smart phones and tablets and other post-pc devices to do majority of their computing stuff (apps, email, web, shopping etc), Microsoft decided it was the perfect time to force users to relearn a whole new desktop environment. At a time when consumers are gravitating to simplicity, Microsoft is instroducing complexity by forcing users to learn two UI environments. Force-merging two vastly different worlds, desktop PC and consumption touch device.
          dave95.
      • Dont even bother with them....

        ...they really are a bunch of freaks.

        They cant live with the fact that Windows is living on, will live on and for the foreseeable future the new Windows OS is and will be Windows 8.

        Let them chock on it.

        They are just ridiculous, being lead around by the nose by the likes of SJVN who wouldn't know the first thing about the future of the computer market if he took an entire university program on it. Let the Linux loving Windows hating sheeple have their little corned of ZDNet to play and fanaticize in.

        They don't have much else. Let them have that and maybe they will let the real world alone.
        Cayble
    • but why does SJVN care he hates PCs anyway

      Perhaps its because there wont be any leftover junk to repurpose and tinker with Linux on. They will all be secured, encrypted, and hermetically sealed so that you can't load other OSes and if you crack the case it self immolates.
      greywolf7
      • Simple

        You can run Linux and all the different x86 variants of Linux on the PC. And you have all sorts of options to add, alter, adjust and even create new add-on hardware devices and create drivers and customize the Linux OS kernal to operate all these new fangled hardware devices. hence its a gold mine to Linux fans all over. Now that we are all moving to thse smaller footprint, non-expandable and majority proprietary hardware where its NOT expandable and rather closed. Not for those free thinking open source open system open open open Linux fans like SJVN.
        BruinB88
        • Linux has no problem with non-expandable hardware

          In fact, most of the Linux installations (as numbers) are running on exactly that kind of closed, non-expandable, purpose designed hardware.

          Why is this bad? Even for enthusiasts. The Raspberry Pi is doing fine and it is an very good example of purpose built system.

          The IBM PC idea, in fact, was not that smart and has done more damage on enthusiast computing than anything else.
          danbi
          • If Windows dies in favor of tablets and mobile...

            Linux will become the stuff of old legends and refrigerator firmware.

            Sorry to tell the Linux fans but the only thing making Linux a viable desktop/laptop OS choice at all is the fact that the hardware and opportunity exists for it to be put into use.

            If the Windows style PC dies, rest assured that not a single one, NOT ONE common hardware manufacturer is going to keep a nice line of products available for the Linux sheeple. They can kiss their platform good-bye and had best get on the Android bandwagon in a big hurry.

            Because that will be it. And Google wont be asking for the "communities" help in developing Android. At least not if it isn't the most profitable way for Google to go.

            But...on the lighter side...

            Windows isn't going anywhere but forward, just as it always has.

            The end.
            Cayble
      • No need to hate PC if you are using Linux

        It's obvious that people are just using wrong operation system. Windows is the worst OS for PC. It was never really made for internet age because after all it's just stand-alone operation system. It sucks like hell. Eat malware. NSA is there preinstalled. Terrible Gulag system. Nobody should use it.
        Napoleon XIV
        • Stand alone?

          Oh, you must mean Apple. Windows is a general purpose OS that runs any software designed for it, unlike Apple's which runs only approved software, and worse, IOS.
          Ram@...