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Welcome to the Pre-Post-PC Era

And the hits just keep on coming…

Today’s float on the parade of the PC-is-dead prognostications comes from The Register, which says, “At the very moment that Linux desktops seem to be reaching new levels of sophistication, polish and ‘just works’ ease-of-use, the entire future of the desktop computer (by which I also mean laptop) feels in doubt.”

The only thing that’s in doubt is whether that sentence is anywhere near remotely accurate. But let’s put that aside for a moment and assume we can see the future of how we deal with our digital lives.

Sure, you can see a Post-PC future from here all right. Of course, you’re going to need the Hubble to do so.

Naturally, there are things that you can do with your Post-PC apparatus, like surf the web, watch videos and all those important digital activities. But bear in mind that you’re not going to be using Blender on your smartphone.

So while we wait for Hallmark to make up cards heralding the Post-PC era, allow me to introduce a new placeholder era: the pre-Post-PC era.

In the pre-Post-PC era, discussions involve how and what you can — and can’t — do with new technology like tablets and smartphones, followed by heated discussion about the same, punctuated by name-calling, general flaming and hurt feelings around issues of disagreement, at which time parties go to neutral corners and take a 10-count before coming back into the proverbial ring to discuss the issue with cooler heads.

Meanwhile, technology marches on and as evening falls on the pre-Post-PC era — which might be called the post-pre-Post-PC era by purists, opening another argumentative can of worms as a sideshow — Blender developers will actually get an Android version for tablets up and running, just proving the point that you can do it, but ignoring the important question around why you would make software run on something that’s not built for the job.

“Because they can,” some might say, and many may consider that a valid answer.

One more prediction: Upon sailing through the Post-PC era, there will be a post-Post-PC era, after the advent of the pre-post-Post-PC era, where people will start thinking, “You know, I had a laptop (or desktop…or both) once where I didn’t have to strain my eyes on such a small screen, and where I actually got stuff done rather than just wasting time.” Or something like that.

At that time, the post-Post-PC era will allow everyone to realize what most of us already know: That what’s nebulously referred to as post-PC hardware works in tandem with, not as a substitute to, the hardware like laptops and desktops that already exist.


  1. Jim Anderson Jim Anderson December 24, 2014

    As long as people need to actually get something done, like in school, business, or content-creation, they will need a PC of some sort. Even ChromeBooks are, essentially, PC-Lite, and they will be more PC-like as they acquire more off-line capabilities. What about “convergence” where mobile devices will interact with (and possibly run the same OS as), wait for it… PCs! My concern is what OS those PCs will run. It is my hope that the push for open standards by government will enable open formats and Linux to provide OS and software choice on PCs for everybody.

  2. Colonel Panik Colonel Panik December 24, 2014

    Larry Larry Larry, Did you not say “Choice is Good”?

    Just cause you don’t does not mean I won’t.

    All this stuff is going to continue to morph to to point you
    and I will not even know which end we should be looking at.
    My phone has Geo-located me to the right spot several times,
    I like that. Dr, clinic, hospital are all using the tablet
    format for “real work” at least I think saving lives is sort
    of real. Mechanics at auto repair shops are using tablets
    right at fender side to access AllData. Speaking of which,
    I can get a dongle for the OBDII plug on the car and it
    Bluetooths to my Droid phone with all the info you can get
    from a $400 scantool. That is a $25 dongle and a $10 buck

    Salesmen making presentations and placing orders from their
    phone. Ask them if their commission is real. The Colonel
    remembers standing in line with other salesmen waiting to
    contact the warehouse to see when his customer will get his
    wigit. People are doing what you say can’t or shouldn’t
    be done everywhere all the time because they can and need
    to. I bet most of them think it is real.

    When I can get a tablet that will run Mint Debian with
    Firefox I sure as hell will get one. For now, well, this
    post is being hammered out from my Lenovo X220 because for
    me it works.

    The desktop/laptop will disappear when the keyboard does.
    But that format will be like newspapers….something for
    old people.

    Choice is good!

  3. Mike Mike December 24, 2014

    There is truth to the concept of the post-pc era.

    You mention Blender, a program I enjoy using, but what percentage of pc users use any type of modelling software? I’m betting it is vanishingly small.

    In the eighties, it was difficult for the average person to see the need to own a computer. Manufacturers advertised the ability to balance your home budget, and play games, and…that was about it. PC’s were niche devices, used by hobbyists, programmers, scientists, engineers, and some specialized office uses. In the nineties, the market exploded as non-technical people wanted computers to send e-mail, browse the web, and play games. Today people can buy a phone or a tablet to do those same things. The PC is fast becoming a niche device again, as it was in the eighties.

    Does that mean the pc will disappear? No, of course not. But that lost market share is never coming back. PC’s are simply overkill for what most people need. It just took this long for something simpler to possess all the capabilities needed to replace them.

    Mobile devices have just started to supplant pc’s for most people. They will continue to do so, absorbing things that have been exclusively the purview of pc’s as they mature. ARM cpu’s are gaining on their bigger Intel cousins rapidly and mobile operating systems continue to evolve. They will continue to become more and more capable, eating into the pc market as they ironically become more like the pc’s they are replacing. They are computers after all, just with a different set of IO peripherals.

    The pc is dead, long live the pc.

  4. Ernest Ernest December 25, 2014

    Well said. The reality is that small devices will always suffer from limitations that bigger devices don’t have, namely small screens and inefficient input methods.

  5. A Lurker A Lurker December 25, 2014

    The “Post PC” era is driven by rise of tablets and smartphones and the slowing sales of PCs. The first address a need for many to have device with some real capabilities while relaxing or while mobile. The slowing PC sales curve has a couple reasons which have nothing to do with obsolescence. First, many people do need more power in a desktop or laptop. As long the current one(s) are working, the only reason to “upgrade” is because some software vendor (Microsoft) decide to obsolete older PCs by the software system requirements. Second is the PC, ~40 yr old product, has reached a level of maturity and more importantly penetration that the sales will naturally slow down; fewer new adopters available. I believe both markets will do well in the future since the devices have different capabilities.

    The handwringing is about someone fulfilling a previous untapped use case and a failure to understand that all devices have strengths and limitations.

    Good article by the way.

  6. Larry Cafiero Larry Cafiero Post author | December 25, 2014

    Colonel Panik – We have had this discussion before. We will probably have it again.

    Your phone geolocates you – that’s what it’s supposed to do. Doctors carrying their info on tablets when they once carried it on individual clipboards – that’s a good use of tablets. Salesmen making money – that’s a good use of a tablet, too, I guess, if you’re a salesman.

    Tablets and smartphones have their uses, but a substitute for desktops and laptops isn’t one of them. This is where “Post-PC” era adherents have yet to make a significant solid claim as to how smaller form factors will supplant desktops and laptops anytime soon.

    If anything, it’s just selling the “Coolest New Thing”(TM) to the public.

    One more thing: Try using vi or emacs on your smartphone – both are available for Android. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

  7. Christine Hall Christine Hall December 25, 2014

    Gawd! Don’t tell RMS that emacs is available for Android. He’d either go postal or have a heart attack. Maybe both. He might even come up with a new GPL license. 😉

  8. loopyToop loopyToop December 25, 2014

    Computers will never go away, never.Too many people use them for work and a phone or tablet will never take their place. Only poeple who dont know what computing is keep on predicting stupid stuff like this. Phones have their place so do tablets just not where you need to develop software or make anything in software or do office work or payroll or anything serious really.

  9. Randal Randal December 26, 2014

    Let us start with PC does NOT mean Windows, and I think your forgetting here, it means Personal Computer.
    These Smart phones and Tablets ARE personal computers, and they do the jobs their owners need them to do, get access to their data.
    Does everyone need a laptop or desktop? No more then everyone needs or has a smart phone. They are still personal computers and by that, THEY GET PERSONALIZED, to the needs of their owners. In a lot of ways, this is the start of ubiquitous computing, where you have lower cost, always or quickly on, appliance type computing devices, to make your life easier.
    Kind of humorous that Microsoft wants “PC” to mean Windows and Linux based OS’es are preinstalled on these other “devices” (personal computers), that are replacing Microsoft’s “PC’s”. (and preinstalls are where Linus see’s Linux desktop as having a failure)

  10. Larry Cafiero Larry Cafiero Post author | December 26, 2014

    Randal said:

    “Let us start with PC does NOT mean Windows, and I think your forgetting here, it means Personal Computer.”

    I didn’t forget. I don’t think anyone commenting on this article forgot. In fact, that never came up. From the post on down to this comment, this has always been about the PC — Personal Computer — as a form factor, Randal. Until you brought it up, Windows was never mentioned. But, well, thanks for mentioning it.

    Randal also added:

    “These Smart phones and Tablets ARE personal computers, and they do the jobs their owners need them to do, get access to their data.”

    You could make a point to define them as “personal computers” (i.e., they are personal and they compute), but I wouldn’t. Also, it’s not the definition used by, oh, the industry and the general public since there is a clear distinction in form factors between PCs — as you so aptly define above, which again everyone here understood before you brought it up — and tablets and smartphones, which if I understand correctly fall under the broader category of “mobile.” If smaller form factors like “mobile” were considered “PCs,” there wouldn’t be talk of a “PC-as-in-Personal-Computer-is-dead.” Whether or not that’s just marketing pap, it’s still out there and it needs to be challenged because, frankly, it’s not true.

    Movies and radio coexisted for a better part of the last century. When television came along, there were probably those who said at the time “movies are dead” or “radio-is-dead, but as you can see, that never happened. All exist, and everyone uses them for their own purposes. Sound familiar?

    Randal even went further:

    “In a lot of ways, this is the start of ubiquitous computing, where you have lower cost, always or quickly on, appliance type computing devices, to make your life easier.”

    Depends, and clearly you missed one of the major points of this article. You need to use the right tool for the job. How is a smartphone the right tool for, say, web design or producing artwork or graphics, to say nothing of how is it the right tool for programming? Of course, I could use the saw in my Leatherman to fell a redwood, given a few decades and a herculean effort, but — say it with me — it’s not the right tool for the job.

    The “job at hand” is to lounge around on your sofa and post cat pictures on Facebook — and I have no doubt a lot of this is done currently with tablets and even with smartphones — before watching the latest hit movie on Netflix, then congratulations: right tool for the job. No doubt, many people do this, and I get that’s where their digital existence begins and ends. But in many instances, where people are trying to get — oh, I don’t know — important and relevant work done, it may not be the right tool.

    Randal concluded:

    “Kind of humorous that Microsoft wants ‘PC’ to mean Windows and Linux based OS’es are preinstalled on these other ‘devices’ (personal computers), that are replacing Microsoft’s ‘PC’s’. (and preinstalls are where Linus see’s Linux desktop as having a failure)”

    I guess. But still, thanks to preinstalls on the mass-produced PC form factor hardware (including laptops) and not what’s generally considered “mobile” (e.g., tablets and smartphones), Windows might be laughing all the way to the bank on the former regardless of the fact they’re get hammered on the latter. And clearly another topic for another time would be buying Linux-installed hardware from vendors providing it, like ZaReason.

  11. Eli Cummings Eli Cummings December 26, 2014

    I’m going with Mike on this one maybe because I remember the eighties and all that marketing hype about storing recipes and household lists etc. which were ridiculous uses of a PC. I used one for business and discouraged a number of people from getting one when I asked them what would you do with it and was met with a blank stare. In most cases people thought it would somehow organize their lives for them. Besides, if you couldn’t type, the first thing you would have to do was get a copy of Mavis Beacon’s typing tutor program.

    As it is now, I still use a computer for business (laptops only – got rid of all the desktops a couple of years ago). I also am a bit of techie so I like messing around with Linux and a little programming. If it wasn’t for my business work, I probably wouldn’t bother with a laptop. I would just get a tablet which I consider mainly an output device (viewer) as opposed to input (the keyboard on the screen just isn’t enough – and there’s only so much one can do right now with pre-programmed touch).

    But, give me a tablet at the price of a laptop with 4 gig of ram and 160G SSD, USB ports that allow for my rubber keyboard (that rolls up) and other assorted peripherals like printer, scanner etc. and I will be right there with my card out.

    I figure we should be there soon. Hardware has always progressed much faster than software.

  12. Steven Rosenberg Steven Rosenberg December 26, 2014

    The tracking aspect of Android and iOS devices is troubling, indeed. And then you get the “But I have nothing to hide” argument.

    As much as we might complain about the NSA in the post-Snowden era, we’re all submitting to 24/7 tracking by huge corporations.

  13. Eddie G. Eddie G. December 27, 2014

    Ok..I’ve heard the argument about the PC being dead over a million times this year, and I think its time to just lay it to rest. The PC is something that people use, whether it be for entertainment, work, casual info gathering etc. A tablet, and a cell phone (ops sorry I meant “Smart Phone”) will NOT replace a PC. They are different “tools” for different uses.
    Think “Construction Worker”: Yes. a bulldozer COULD break the wall that the worker needs broken, but the worker would rather use a claw hammer and a chisel, same results…(sort of) different tools and techniques. Tablets havwe their place in the corporate-medical-business world, But not EVERYWHERE in the corporate-medical-business world. As someone pointed out, there are doctors that use them, and mechanics, and it goes beyond just those two fields, farmers, librarians,terachers & professors, security personnel, warehouse/dock workers, the list goes on, so yes, tablets do have their uses, but they will NOT replace the PC that a web-developer uses, or a programmer who’s scripting in Python or C#, it will NOT replace the PC that the budding author uses to wrtite his first novel, ot the school student that is delving into science programming and chemical manipulation using sampled templates etc. A smartphone while it also has it uses? will NEVER be used for the aforementioned activities, because no one wants to strain their eyes trying to read line 324 of their script, and no one would attempt to manipulate the 3-D graphic simulation their building on a 6 inch screen. So those who keep screaming from the mountaintops that the PC is “dead””?…well that’s exactly what is happening in THEIR world! But in the REAL world? the PC is alive and WELL. In fact the prices for most of the PC’s that were priced astronomically back in the days have dropped considerably to the point where I’m considering buying a new one just because it’s affordable, (plus I’m going to be using it for Linux Administration studies….programming studies…maybe some cloud technology and SQL practice!) While someone else would buy one just to stream media or sufr the internet, and someone ELSE might get one to just use it for typing college papers…the uses are limitless, and no tablet or smartphone will ever replace the uses that a PC has become “famous” for. Will there ever be a time when PC’s will nto be sold? I doubt it, businesses use them religiously, and no tablet is ever going to take over that niche! So in closing let those who want to imagine the death of the PC go right along and thin that….there are those who know…and those who “Know”!…LoL!

  14. CFWhitman CFWhitman December 29, 2014

    As to what “PC” actually means: Yes, “PC” stands for “Personal Computer.” However, if you know the history of computing, you realize why the term “PC” is generally used to refer to Windows based computers.

    The term “personal computer” was used as a generic term to refer to the device of the new era of people having their own dedicated computer rather than sharing time on a terminal server. The movement actually started out as a consumer/hobbyist one, but businesses quickly caught on. IBM started making personal computers and decided to actually call their initial model a “PC”. Other personal computers available during the early days of personal computing had different names like “Commodore 64”, “Apple ][“, “Amiga”, “Mac”, “ST”, “TRS-80”, etc. When people compared different types of computers they naturally referred to IBM computers as “PCs” and later computers designed to be compatible with IBM computers as “PC compatibles.”

    So, yes, “PC” stands for “Personal Computer,” and many different computers were referred to as “personal computers.” However, the term “PC” was very early on used specifically to refer to computers compatible with IBM machines, and it was IBM’s doing, not Microsoft’s. Using the term “PC” in a more generic sense for any personal computing device is actually a more recent idea based on what “PC” stood for and the fact that no model of computer actually called a “PC” has existed for a long time now.

  15. littlenoodles littlenoodles December 29, 2014

    No, the PC will not go away. But nobody in their right mind will develop the kind of software that used to run on PC’s. Namely, fat-client client/server applications. That is not a niche that PC’s server well – even if the form factor (keyboard, mouse and big monitor) does. That will be web software, and it may well be run on a Chromebook. And the web may not be the best platform for that stuff either – but it’s ubiquitous and requires zero installation, and that trumps everything else.

    Blender, GIMP, LibreOffice and the like may go mobile, but they will be best used on a full-sized PC. And those apps will be multi-platform, so PC can mean Windows, Mac or Linux. But no new business software that’s tied to a database will be written Windows-only. Of course, it may take decades for the existing Windows-only stuff to die – unless Microsoft tries to strong-arm the public to ditch Win32 – in which case Windows will become irrelevant even faster than it’s becoming so already.

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