Is the PC (laptop) dead? Or is just the Windows PC (laptop) dead?

There are helluva lot more Consumers when compared to Producers, which is to be expected. For consuming content — youtube videos, movies, music, news etc, an ipad, android or windows tablet will suffice; keyboard input will be minimal and so a virtual keyboard will do.Voice input is also an option but has restrictions as it cannot be used in public places.

A Producer needs lots more CPU horsepower, more screen real-estate and a physical keyboard.
What are the options for Producers?

Option #1: Standard Laptop
This has a screen between 11 and 17 inches, can be used standalone with its display and keyboard— portable — or with large monitor and/or full-size keyboard.

Option #2:
An ipad/android/windows tablet with a small bluetooth keyboard is portable and can be used when light keyboard input is required. The next step up is where you place your tablet next to a big monitor(s) and keyboard. The tablet connects to the monitor(s) and keyboard wirelessly.

With Option #2, can a Producer be as effective as one who is using the Standard Laptop (Option #1)? Note that this mass market tablet is designed for millions of Consumers and so has to be relatively inexpensive, weigh less, consume less power so that it will last over 10 hrs on battery — main usecase is untethered and on battery. So, the Producer using Option #2 will have a sub-optimal experience when compared to Option #1. Note that a tablet made in year N may run rings around a laptop made in year N-2 but this is not germane.

Tablet manufacturers cannot make a one-size-fits-all tablet that provides the same experience as a Standard Laptop — if they did either it will be too expensive and will not sell well to its primary market (Consumers) or it will be too underpowered and will not appeal to Producers.

Note that some Producers may not care about a Retina display on a 7 inch screen — the screen would be a waste of money, power and space which can be replaced with more memory and CPU cores. They will be happy with no screen where they can show the contents on a 24 inch super-high resolution monitor.

So, to state the obvious, a laptop-replacement should be able to replace a laptop. So there will always be 2 classes of devices, a large market for tablets for Consumers, and a much smaller market for a much more capable device which is a laptop-replacement for Producers.

So, to answer the first question in the title of the blog, “Is the PC (laptop) dead?”, the answer is an emphatic “No”. We may or may not call it the “laptop” and it doesn’t matter what we call it.

But the answer to the second question in the title “Or is just the Windows PC (laptop) dead?”, the answer is not clear and this is not good news for Microsoft.

What shape will this “much more capable” device take? The OS seems to be getting less and less relevant as applications are moving to the cloud, more apps are using the browser as a platform. Many users may not even know what OS their device is running.

In this context, if a OS is a “poor performer” its survival is at stake. I am afraid that Windows 8, in my opinion, is a poor performer. I have used Windows 95, 98, XP, NT, 7 and 8 (touchscreen). While XP and NT had many of the same problems that are still there in Windows 8, this was not an issue for Microsoft as there was no real alternative then for the majority of users. This is not the case now — ChromeOS, ios, MacOS, even Linux. I used the Macbook Pro for one year and even before I started using it I had high expectations given the high price — just like someone who buys a BMW 3 series will. I was not disappointed with the MacPro — its multi-touch trackpad worked flawlessly every time, battery life was excellent even after 1 year, keyboard was very good, didn’t need an update and reboot every 2 weeks, didn’t need to allocate 10% of cpu for running AntiVirus s/w etc. My experience is a bit different as I first started with Unix (bsd, not Linux) before I used Windows and so MacPro was a like a Unix laptop with a much better GUI than X-Windows. The well known jobs-and-gates dumb-it-down was there as I went from a 3 button mouse on a Sun Workstation to a 2 button mouse on a Windows PC to a single button on the Mac. But the multi-touch-trakckpad made up for it. A fundamental problem with the Mac design is the use of a single menu-bar at the top of the screen which didn’t allow the use of “keyboard-focus-follows-mouse-without-autoraise” which is very handy. This was not a problem when Apple sold Macintosh desktop with a 7 inch screen, but if you have a 24 inch monitor and an app window at the bottom of screen, you have to move the mouse cursor a mile to access the menu.

Getting back to Windows 8, I understand that Apple has a much easier job as they make both the h/w and s/w that goes into the Mac. With Windows, Microsoft has to ensure that it works with several h/w vendors. However, the vendors need to pass strict Microsoft certification checks. Furthermore, Microsoft has been doing this for more than 2 decades and so this cannot be a factor/excuse anymore.

When Ballmer announced that he was going to retire in 12 months, the Stock Market value of Microsoft went up (temporarily as it turned out) some 25 billion. More than any employee evaluation report, this would have hurt Ballmer. Imagine the hubris that resulted in manufacturing ‘900 million dollars’ worth of Surface tablets? — and the contriteness that followed when they wrote it off; removing the desktop in Windows 8 and bringing it back in 8.1 as customers asked for it; who came up with the idea of apps using the full screen with no choice given to the user? — this is supposedly fixed in 8.1; using the word Metro in many advertisements and later removing it as it was infringing; same with the use of the name SkyDrive. Who is doing the due diligence at Microsoft? Sky Broadcasting is well known in the UK.

Microsoft has to stop its love affair with rebooting. WIFI doesn’t work? Reboot and it will. Some app doesn’t work — reboot. Install updates every couple of weeks and reboot.

The Wifi on my windows 8 touch laptop frequently stops working. The only thing the Diagnostics program knows to say is “Sorry”. Sometimes disabling and enabling the adapter works, sometimes it doesn’t and I have to reboot. On many occasions, the bluetooth mouse stops working after I close and open the lid of the laptop: disabling bluetooth and enabling it fixes the problem most of the time. I now have windows open just to disable&enable Wifi and bluetooth. Sometimes parts of the screen are blank and as you move the cursor over the blank area, those parts get repainted. For e.g. Windows-P (Second Screen) will give you a blank window and as you move your mouse over it, parts will be repainted and you can make your selection when the option you want is rendered! When using WiFi and bluetooth, if you use the charms bar and turn on Airplane mode, both WiFi and bluetooth are turned off which is correct, but when you turn off Airplane mode, both WiFi and bluetooth are still off. The charms window displays “Wifi Off” with no option there to turn it back on. I have seen enough complaints on the Web to know that most of my issues are not just specific to my laptop. The multi-touch trackpad is a very poor substitute for the one on the MacPro — not complaining here as Windows laptops are cheaper.

The CEO-designate who will be replacing Ballmer should call his top lieutenants and tell them 3 things.

  1. The next version of Windows OS should not require a reboot — ever . There should be no reboot or restart button. Small updates should silently happen in the background.
  2. Should have self-diagnostics and self-repair. For e.g. the system should know that Wifi is not working and start fixing it even before the user notices it.
  3. The next version should be ready in 6 to 8 months or it may be too late.

The future does look bleak for Windows OS. But I hope that I am proved wrong. There are lots of things I like about Windows 7 and Windows 8.

About Babu Srinivasan

My interests are in computer security, cryptography, functional programming and general aviation. I occasionally write articles on these and other topics in my blog.

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