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

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.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

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.

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