Home > GNU/Linux, linux, Linux > Welcome to the pre-Post-PC era

Welcome to the pre-Post-PC era

March 9, 2012

Joe Brockmeier wrote an insightful piece on ReadWrite entitled “What We Lose in a Post-PC World” that starts off with this: “Tim Cook, Ray Ozzie, and a host of others have proclaimed that we’re in a “post-PC world.” Well, not quite yet, but you can see it from here.”

You can see it all right, with the Hubble. It’s that far off in the distance.

I agree with most of that Joe writes, incidentally. In fact, I agree with all of what Joe writes, except for the “see it from here” thing (I’m assuming he didn’t use a telescope, space-borne or otherwise). There are things that you can do with your post-PC apparatus, like surf the web, watch videos and all those important digital experiences. But bear in mind that you’re not going to be using Blender on your Android tablet anytime soon.

So while we wait for Hallmark to make up cards heralding the Post-PC era, allow me an introduction of a new placeholder era: the pre-Post-PC era. In the pre-Post-PC era, discussions we’re now having involve the 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 and discussing 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 to run on something that’s not built for the job.

“Because they can,” they might say, and that’s a valid answer.

One more prognostication: 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.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Eliminate DRM!

  1. March 9, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    But this is all going to be in the hands of “Generation WTF”

  2. March 10, 2012 at 12:05 am

    Last I heard, a few hundred million people own sort-of-smart phones but not other connected devices. Some of those people don’t have electricity in their dwellings let alone PCs.

    No doubt today’s teenagers aren’t all that interested in PCs, or cars, or major-network TVs shows, or compact discs . . .

    While I always enjoy reading your views, the “pre-Post-PC era” viewpoint is U.S.-centric and ignores demographic trends.

    • March 10, 2012 at 1:22 am

      And what are they doing with these so-called sort-of-smart phones? Making any contributions or playing Angry Birds?

      You’re reading way too much into this, Alison, and I’m sorry you feel that way. The issue of whether the third world catches up with the first is an entirely different topic, but I’d be willing to bet they don’t do it with hand-held devices. Just sayin’

      • March 10, 2012 at 1:49 am

        Larry, I am insulted.

        I live in the third world and while I use and love my *desktop* PC, it is my even more personal PC [ smart-phone ] that I turn to more and more for computing tasks and yes, I am not running blender on it but some of these devices are capable.

        Incidentally, I agree with you that the “Post-PC era” [ bullshit phrase there ] is far off but these hand held devices are making a difference in this part of the world and what’s more can adopt a desktop form-factor if needed [ HDMI cable+display, USB KB+Mouse required ] something that a desktop PC just cannot do [ go off-grid and be super portable ]

        The third world does not need to catch-up with the first world, it needs to chart its own path, solving it’s problems with the resources it has and not depend on first worlds solutions.

        Portable “Post-PC” devices [ again, bull-shit phrase ] are available now, fit in with the constraints and are getting adapted to solving problems in ways that first-worlders would not think of, it is a problem the do not have hence they are ill placed to develop the solutions for it.

      • March 10, 2012 at 7:59 am

        I’m sorry if you’re insulted, Ibrahim. It truly surprises me that you and Alison are insulted, and if you are, I think you should re-read the blog. I was not remotely addressing the wide gap in first-world/third world availability of technology (which, in and of itself is pretty serious). This blog was a satirical attack on the penchant people have for naming different stages of technological development.

        One point you may have missed is that while you can do pretty basic things on your smart phone, digitally speaking, it does not replace your computer for doing the digital heavy lifting. If you program, do you do it on your smart phone? I’m thinking the answer is “no.”

      • March 10, 2012 at 8:27 am

        I agree completely with Ibrahim, who put the case much better than me.

        Many people find handheld device more useful than non-portable ones. These people are not necessarily indigent or uneducated or young. The world is full of users who travel incessantly, for example, for whom a tablet plus an e-book reader plus a phone with docks in various locations is best.

        Docks are the forerunner of a future with “ubiquitous” embedded displays and I/O devices that make it unnecessary to carry anything around but a CPU (or some storage perhaps, or maybe just an identifier dongle). To believe that “the year of the Linux desktop” or the PC are still important is to live in the past. While PCs (and mainframe computers) will be with us indefinitely, their mindshare and importance are diminishing. Shuttleworth is not the only believer in this trend; the Gnome Foundation and KDE and Mozilla Foundation and Apple and book/magazine publishers believe it too.

        Ignore the future if you like. I used to work in a cleanroom but switched to embedded Linux since I believe that embracing change is a better personal strategy than hoping it will go away

      • March 10, 2012 at 9:07 am

        Well, good luck there, Alison. I don’t think change is always a good thing.

      • March 10, 2012 at 3:45 pm

        Larry, I didn’t say “change is good,” I said change is already here, and you can ignore it, but can’t make it go away.

  3. March 10, 2012 at 12:20 am

    >“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 a keyboard.

    > and where I actually got stuff done rather than just wasting
    > time.” Or something like that

    Exactly that.

  4. John
    March 10, 2012 at 3:40 am


    Some sensible statements.

    Tablets and smart phones are cool gadgets. Handy while out and about, entertaining, and genuinely useful..

    A device that scans bar codes in the supermarket so you can see if there are places locally where a can of kidney beans is a few pennies cheaper is not really suited to designing an opera house. Or rendering an animation, or filling in a customer service form at a help desk.

    Problem is.. The greatest proponents are teenage kids. Flushed with the joy of owning a high tech bit of kit that their friends can envy, who really do only use it for face-book and Youtube.
    THe rest of us use computers for work, or for more advanced leisure activities.

    I can;t imagine using a schematic design program on my 7 inch tablet. Truth be told, I’d quite like a bigger than my 22 inch monitor, so I could see more of what is happening. And editing an image with my finger? No thanks.

    Home PCs owned by generally computer hostile people who barely use them might be replaced by a tablet or a phone. Work computers.. Not a hope in hell. And higher end workstations and the like.. Not within the next decade. If not later.

  5. AC
    March 10, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    I’m looking forward to the post-post-PC era, when we get our PCs back.

  6. Ed crumly
    March 10, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    You know, up until I recently saw the recent Ubuntu on Android demo, I’d have agreed with the author completely. After seeing the demo, I think the “seeing it on the horizon ” point is correct. You don’t need a phone to do the lifting, that’s what server’s are for. Think of it, a decent docking station connected to a 27″ monitor, bluetooth keyboard and mouse, ethernet connection to Virtual server’s….. Seem’s pretty doable to me. Just saying.

  7. March 10, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    The future is here but it is not evenly distributed?

  8. March 10, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    Larry, I’m insulted.

    I’m insulted by the way Apple Corp. have presumed to play us for the techno-addicted, consumerist hosers that we actually do tend to be. This whole kerfuffle started when Steve Jobs’s successor (sorry, can’t remember his name or be bothered to Google it right now) spewed this “post-PC” propaganda in an effort to convince us that we should simply give up desktop computing in an effort to sell us more Apple-brand chotchkies that lock us further into the Apple hive mind.

    I don’t have any facts to back this up, but I suspect Apple is in league with Amazon over all this. Brockmeier concisely points out, in addition to lock-in, other companies are very much in on the whole scam to shake us down. And Amazon just won’t stop tweaking up the Kindles. I hesitate to point out that Kindles are not PC’s, therefore, supportive of the post-PC hypothesis.

    And here, for me, lies the crux of the issue. A hypothesis generally referred to as “The Goldilocks Hypothesis.” I propose that there are three general formats for computing devices — small, medium, and large. Or, if you look at the history of computing and compare these devices to the original titans of digital computing from the Zeus Z3 to EDSAC, small, smaller, and smallest.

    The smallest practical computing device currently available is the so-called smart phone. Again, Apple has the hive mind firmly enthralled with the iPhone® which does what it does very nicely, while firmly locking the owner into Apple’s way of doing things for a price many users have found (barely) affordable. The iPhone® is also remarkable for its planned obsolesence. Like any number of other Apple devices, you can’t replace the batteries easily, comes with iron-clad contract lock in involving expensive data plans, limited upgradability, a wimpy camera, absolute fealty to iTunes®, and a spate of other disadvantages.

    Graduated up from the smartphone is the well-known notebook format (we’re going to skip the netbook format here because dissatisfaction with this generally underpowered format has run high among many). Again, Apple has offerd an ubercool device with a number of disadvantages. The Air® is a beautiful thing that overheats, offers limited graphic options, no optical drive, no ethernet hardware, crappy audio, and limited upgradability. To its credit, it seems the Air® has influenced the notebook format in a positive direction, but it remains to be seen how the promise of the “ultraportable” laptops plays out.

    And finally, there is the desktop computer format. Here it bears saying Apple has seen fit to throw in the towel. Sure they still offer really cool looking desktop hardware, but when is the last time you saw the news pimping the hot new Apple desktops? Right. Apple offers those products, but they don’t really want to talk about them. Why? Possibly because they have never been able to capture a significant share of the desktop market. Of course, devotees of Apple Corps. will ebay their children to get their hands on a Mac, but most people look at the offerings of not-Apple and conclude that their money is better spent on less glamorous and expensive hardware that is easier to upgrade.

    Yes, despite the pronouncements of Apple Corps. people are still buying desktop PC’s. Other formats are certainly garnering their share of business, but desktops are still the best choice for some things. Smaller formats certainly have their attractions — you can carry a laptop or tablet in a backpack or a cellphone in your pocket, but if you care to look, you will find that people developing applications for those smaller formats are doing so on desktops.

    This is because, while small formats are great for some things, you don’t want to do other things with a small format. At some point, those dual 22″ monitors and full-size keyboard just can’t be beat. You can read your Facebook wall on a phone or tablet, but when it comes to posting stuff, the phone is miserable and the tablet may hardly be optimal. Put together a research paper on a cellphone or tablet with no keyboard? Get real. I’m not saying it *can’t* be done; I’m saying it wouldn’t be easy.

    On the other hand, just reading the news on a desktop can be uncomfortable and cumbersome. A tablet is just about right. Making a phone call? I suppose a tablet of some kind with a bluetooth headset could be all right, but carrying a tablet around when you’re tyring to travel light and just need a phone doesn’t make much sense.

    My point here is that the “post-PC” idea only makes sense if it means that the PC will now coexist with all the other shiny, shiny doo-dads that compete for our hard-earned dollars. The snakeoil salesmen that offer up their latest and greatest shiny, shiny as the ultimate do-everything replacement offer a deal with the Devil for those of us who can’t afford everything the market has to offer. For the growing number of us who must pick and choose our technology carefully, finding that “just right” platform is not something done lightly. We should ignore the snakoil salesmen and put the work into finding out what we think we ought to use.

    At least that’s my 2¢.


  9. March 11, 2012 at 5:48 am

    “Post PC” has nothing to do with device form factors. Sorry guys, but the devices themselves are only tangentially relevant to the discussion. “Post PC” means we now live in a world where anyone who is foolish enough to build an application that needs to be installed on the Windows desktop deserves the complete lack of take-up they will get. In the Post-PC Era, applications live on the server (your own server or in the cloud, that’s a separate discussion as well). In the Post-PC era, a well written application is equally as comfortable on an iHandcuff, an Android, a tablet, or a desktop computer. In the Post-PC Era, you can move between devices without having to copy your data around. In the Post-PC Era, the IT department can run backups of their servers and not have to worry about Joe from Accounting who saved the Q4 Projections to C:\ and then spilled coffee on his hard disk.

    The Post-PC Era is, essentially, “Network Computing” finally come to fruition. It’s here — it’s here today — and I say, God bless it!

  10. Jeff Albertson
    March 12, 2012 at 8:14 am

    Gotta agree with Larry about the things that are far off in the distance being touted as just around the corner or worse, how one paradigm is going to replace others in particularly touch.
    I understand how touch works when you have a handheld but on regular monitors, its a non-starter. I can move my hand half an inch on the mouse and do everything I need.
    I view pictures on my friends All in One HP touchsmart and I get shoulder pain after two dozens pictures slid over.
    Certain paradigms work with some hardware and some dont.
    The world is NOT going to go to touch simply because its a solution in search of a problem in many cases. Swinging your hands and arms is NOT easier than a mouse-trackpad-etc…

    And like most people I sit at my 24=27in monitor at home to work and play, as well as my 50 inch TV that runs Mythbuntu and 24inch screens at work, I use a 10 inch netbook only when Im taking the train/plane or when waiting for the kids soccer practices. Besides that, i like my screens big.

    heck, when I get a couple of those Raspberry Pi, im not putting one on a 10 or 14inch screen but on the 32 inch TV in our bedroom.

    different form factors and hardware is one thing, but claims that people will ditch their big monitors or TV’s (many people surf that way) for small screens are hyperbole: you know… marketing BS.

  11. March 12, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Well clearly, you’re all wrong!

    I know this was only a light satirical post, but …

    I think we are well into a ‘post-pc’ era: if you consider that ‘pc’ stands for ‘personal computer’. i.e. a pc is not defined by it’s form factor, but by how you are able to use it (some of us still remember a time before microsoft dos or microsoft windows was the only game in town). Clearly for example an openpandora is most definitely a ‘personal computer’ in all the ways that an apple iphone is not.

    Although on the surface a pocket computer might seem more personal than a desktop: if you cannot change it’s battery, operating system, or fully control the software it runs then there’s nothing personal about it at all. All you really have is a pocket tv on which you can change the wallpaper and the physical cover, all the while pretend you’ve ‘personalised’ it.

    Arguably the same is true of desktop computers running certain operating systems too: although they are also capable of much more, for many people they are simply corporate media delivery platforms. And things like EFI are definitely closer than the horizon; another tool to take the personal out of the computer and give more control to those with the money to buy it.

    (this point is the most important: it’s all about money and control)

    Even with the Raspberry PI – whose primary reason for existence is to put the personal back into personal computing before the skills required to do more than find a youtube video (or in other words, change channel on the tv) disappear – one of the main selling points (because it seems to illicit the greatest interest) is it’s ability to play HD video. Yay.

    We’ve already entered an era where:

    o we pay full buying-price to effectively rent intentionally crippled but otherwise capable hardware, which is also designed to stop working after a short time and must be replaced.
    o give up all of our personal and previously private information (once protected by laws) to faceless corporations beyond the reach of national laws (which for practical purposes means the law simply does not apply to them), which slice and dice it in order to make a profit however they like. Even watching stuff on youtube, reading an e-book, or even e-mail, or listening to internet radio, is giving up valuable information which was previously private (unless you had a ratings box on your tv).
    o also give up all this information to increasingly paranoid and dangerous governments who use it to control what we’re allowed to even think, also beyond the borders of our own nations who appear to have deferred sovereignty to a central power.
    o and we get to PAY someone for the privilege! Either directly or by having to put up with so many ads it’s sometimes hard to tell where the information is.

    Nothing personal about any of that.

  1. March 10, 2012 at 12:14 am
  2. March 12, 2012 at 4:31 am
  3. March 12, 2012 at 12:15 pm
  4. March 17, 2012 at 3:37 am
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