What will our desktop and notebook replacements look like in 2 years’ time?

by Frank 18. December 2011 13:00

I have written previously about the growing dominance in the business world of mobile devices. I have also written about the need for a new or variable form factor for a new generation of mobile devices.

As an iPad and Smartphone user I already see desktop PCs and notebooks as archaic devices saddled with being too big, too heavy and having too many cables and connections. To me, my DELL Optiplex Desktop PC and DELL Precision notebook look like big, ugly, bulky, awkward museum pieces taking up way too much desk real estate even though they are current technology.

Please note that I run a software development company and that I am heavily involved in designing and developing application software products for Windows so I and my staff have little current choice in what hardware and software we use for our core tasks. We have Windows 7 PCs and notebooks and Windows Server 2008 R2 servers. We use Visual Development Studio 2010 and use SQL Server 2008 as our relational database. We are, as they say, a Microsoft shop and our legacy products are solid Microsoft .NET smart clients based on Visual Studio 2008, SQL Server 2008 and the .NET Framework.

But, there are new boys on the block in 2011. We now also have Apple PC’s and develop in Xcode for the iPod, iPhone and iPad. We also develop Android applications for Smartphones and tablets like those from Samsung. We will shortly start adding our new apps to the Apple Store and the Android Marketplace.

Even in our Windows development projects we are moving away from .NET fat and smart clients and developing all future products as either web clients able to run in virtually any browser on virtually any operating system or native mode apps running under iOS and Android. None of my future products will require the Microsoft .NET Framework. In fact our current web based products no longer require the .NET Framework and are both browser and operating system independent; these are our models for all future developments.

These two changes (web and mobile) represent a paradigm shift of seismic proportions in the software development industry. The end result will be that my customers will shortly no longer need Windows PCs to run my applications. They will be able to run my applications on any device they choose. They won’t need Intel chipsets and they won’t need Microsoft’s desktop Windows operating system, Windows 7 for now and the much touted Windows 8 in the future. All my future products will be either web based clients or native mode mobile apps.

If most other software companies are following our lead then Microsoft has a very rocky road ahead come two years or so into the future.

True, we will still need Windows PCs and Windows Servers for software development and our customers will still need Windows servers; at least for the medium term.

There is an opportunity in the market for a non-Microsoft software development environment. That is, something other than Visual Studio and there is also a market opportunity for a new development language that allows common source code across multiple platforms.  No smart developer really wants to support multiple source code versions of its products; that is just redundant work and dumb.

Note that none of this is new. Fifteen years ago we were all developing thin-client applications using ASP and IIS. Twenty years ago we were developing applications for multiple platforms using common source code with languages like Pascal, C and MicroFocus COBOL. The pain in those days was the need to compile and test on all the different platforms we supported. We had white-coated acolytes running from one end of town to the other ‘borrowing’ different servers and operating systems to compile and build our products on all the machines and operating systems we supported. That part of the process I won’t miss and would not like to see repeated.

If Microsoft gets smart again, and in my opinion it is far from smart now, it will seize the opportunity and leverage off its best human assets to give us the truly platform independent language and development environment we all need. Maybe Bill Gates needs to come out of retirement and kick more than little ass at Microsoft; I for one would vote for that to happen. Microsoft’s future depends upon it changing its business model and getting ahead of the eight ball for the first time in a very long time. Winners aren’t chasers, winners are leaders.

Back to the topic; what will our desktop PCs and notebooks look like in two years’ time if everyone in the software development business follows our lead? The simple answer is they won’t look like anything because they won’t be on our desktops or on our laps at Starbucks. My end user customers will be using Smartphones and tablets and will have no need for clumsy, overcomplicated, heavy, antiquated PCs and notebooks. Home users will have also no need for PCs and notebooks and will no longer have to suffer because of all the troubles associated with these overcomplicated devices and unfathomable Windows. They too will be using Smartphones and tablets.

It will probably be another two years before us developers have alternatives to replace PCs for development and maybe another two years before we no longer need Windows servers. On this last matter the key factor will be Microsoft making SQL Server a cross platform solution as it should have done at least ten years ago. What we need is SQL server on Apple, SQL server on Unix, SQL Server on Linux, SQL Server on Android, etc. Mark my words; if Microsoft doesn’t do it, someone else will come up with a viable SQL Server alternative that is platform independent and software developers and customers will switch. Perhaps even Oracle will mend its ways and become a friendly partner? Then again, maybe it will snow in Sydney at Christmas.

Maybe I should have called this blog the future of Microsoft? The truth is that the only reason we are saddled with overcomplicated PCs and notebooks that suck up all our productive hours just keeping them running is because we all have to run the Windows operating system. Take away the need for Windows and you also take away the need for PCs and notebooks.

I think PCs and notebooks and Windows for that matter are already in their death-throes and I for one will not miss them; I have suffered for long enough. They are long past their use-by date and we have waited way too long for something smaller, faster, simpler and better.

The replacement devices will be the next generation of Smartphone and tablet devices probably powered by either iOS or Android; most of the current alternatives will simply die out.  Unlike today, we will have the choice of several form factors from pocket size to say 12 to maybe 14 inch (approx. 30 to 35 CM) diagonal. We may even have adjustable form factors using new technologies. We will have the option of wireless/Bluetooth keyboards just as we have now and we will probably use keyboards at work but not at home or when travelling, relying then on the soft keyboard. Everything will be Wi-Fi enabled and we will all be running much higher speeds than we are now. Everything will be lighter, easier to use and more stable. I can’t wait.


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