Desktop: “The report of my death was an exaggeration”

Posted on August 31, 2011

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In the past year I have listened to a chorus of mobile device users telling the rest of the world how everyone will soon be getting rid of their desktop computer.  The rest of the world usually does a good job of not responding.  Whether it’s because they are insecure about their own understanding of technology trends or because they just aren’t sure, I am certain many people aren’t speaking up who don’t feel the same way.  Well, for the rest of those tech users out there, I am going to have to stand up and say, “it just ain’t so”.  Mobile computing will definitely grow.  But it will not replace the desktop as it is used today!

Before the iPad fanboys have a conniption, let me explain.  There are some issues with the actual physics involved in humanity’s current technology that prevent the mobile processor from performing at the level of demands of the desktop.  Our processors are, unfortunately, still based on electricity.  This causes heat.  The smaller those little wires are made, the more they heat up.  At the computer capacity of the dumbed-down cell phone, this is not a problem.  As long as computing demand remains low, you won’t need the increased power required to dissipate that heat, which must be done to prevent chip meltdown.  I can perform my simple web browsing and emailing, posting on Facebook or even a quick game of chess with my friends.  Oh, and if I want something really complex and visually mind-blowing, I can even play Angry Birds.  That’s right.  For the most part, the most graphically sophisticated game on a cell phone that can be played is equivalent to every game that can be found on Kongregate.  Don’t you dare ask them to do dual display on even 1680 x 1050!

The reason for this low capacity cannot be physically overcome until something like completely optical computing becomes a mass-produced reality.  That won’t happen within the next 15 years.

What the purely mobile users forget is that not everyone is happy with personal computing that is all done at the power level of a Flash app.  My step-son is into using GIMP for very complex photo editing.  If he had to wait 45 minutes for every color curve edit or perspective transform, he would surely give up on the hobby.  My wife and I both heavily use LibreOffice for spreadsheet and word processing needs.  We need to work with our bank accounts, investment data, news and personal correspondence quickly and use multiple programs to get it done during our precious free time.  For my hobbies I run Eclipse, Matlab, SolidWorks and I use SSH — all at the same time.  The power of a mobile device cannot handle these programs.  It also can’t handle the input appropriately.  I love my Droid Charge.  But swyping an email into it is done out of necessity because I’m on the run.  Not when I’m at home and I can kick back with the power of my ASUS G73S laptop.  Yes, I’ve heard of the possibility that in the future everyone will hook their phone up to a Bluetooth monitor and keyboard at home.  But people will never have a reason to do that until the phone can do EVERYTHING!  Hasn’t anyone noticed how little demand there is for Bluetooth monitors?

I think those that predict that mobile will replace everything are simple computer users.  And that’s fine.  If an iPad truly does everything you need, then use it.  But, your needs are not universal.  There are plenty of people who will use a netbook to work on a spreadsheet on the bus because they just can’t get their work done without a real OS that can run complex programs.  Personally, I think I will never buy a tablet because, as I have said before, for me it’s the worst of both worlds — it runs with the power of my phone and is basically as bulky to carry as a netbook.

And as I said, I love my Droid Charge!  Sure, it’s cute that I can write a quick email from the doctor’s office waiting room.  But when I need to communicate above the level of Twitter or get work done beyond a quick SSH, I need a real computer.  And I am certain it will remain that way for a very long time to come.

Written on my quad-core Dell Optiplex with an nVidia Quadro NVS 420 graphics card powering dual display of a Samsung 1080p LCD HDTV and a Dell 1680 x 1050 monitor, running Pinguy OS 64 bit.  Thank you very much.
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