So long desktops

By | May 12, 2009

Reflecting on people and places I’ve visited the home desktop PC seems to be a thing of the past. Now you can buy tricked out consoles for gaming, e-readers, lightweight netbooks and smart phones for connectivity on the move. Why would we want desktops in our homes?

This morning I was listening to a discussion with Leo Laport on the TWiT podcast [from 3 May] in which they were discussing Apple’s aquisition of chip designer P.A. Semi and what this meant. On the Apple jobs site a quick search for hardware turns up a bunch of new posts for hardware engineering positions so there is movement in that space. I subscribe to the theory that Apple will start designing their own chips for mobile devices with the longer term view of dropping desktops and eventually laptops (they just started with Intel chips in desktops/laptops so I don’t think they’ll design for those).

What the TWiT podcasters didn’t pursue was where the long view of this takes us. Underlying the chat of so long to the desktops are the first trickles of pervasive and ubiquitous computing. To paraphrase Mark Weiser, it is certain that computational machinery is disappearing into the fabric of everyday life. That is now never a question. Yet we’re still a long way from the ubiquitous support system envisaged as omnipresent smart dust that unobtrusively manipulates our world in our benefit.

It will take a whole new set of standards and technologies in spaces such as location, context, communications, and human understanding before we can start to see this next generation of technology in everyday life. The reason that Apple may have a big advantatge here is that they like to live in a closed world of machines, networking, peripherals and storage. This means that their systems can work together right out the box. All-Apple environments can safely rely on homogeneous hardware and software in which to operate.

So what about Windows? After the Vista debacle it is likely that Windows 7 will be the penultimate desktop OS from Microsoft. Their research labs already host world-class minds who are working towards the Weiser-world.