Why the Computer Industry Needs to Save the Desktop

Why the Computer Industry Needs to Save the Desktop

Everything is mobile. That is the mantra we all face. Every angel, every VC, every IT manager, wants to know the mobile angle. Information Week’s Alexander Wolfe, like many before, has declared the desktop dead.

Fresh off a briefing about Intel’s experimental Cloud on a Chip, I think we are being premature about the death of the desktop. With the coming of high-end, three-dimensional images, fully rendered avatars, voice synthesis – not to mention the unstated potential for better information management, I don’t see the desktop as dead, I see it as essential.

At the core of my thoughts is the idea of distributed computing. If the desktop does die, it will be the fault of Microsoft, Google, the open source community and other software developers who can’t figure how to write code that takes good advantage of the distributed processing features already available in current chip architectures. One of the reasons Intel is pursuing the Cloud on a Chip is because network/cloud developers are better than client developers at taking advantage of a distributed architecture. If the traditional client programmers won’t adopt distributed computing, then bring what is working in distributed programming to hardware: let the programming of the Internet drive the future of client computing.

I think it is a shame that software developers now force chip makers to hold back on innovation because they are so focused on maintaining the status quo that they won’t create tools to will support the next great revolution in computing: distributed computing on individual devices. I look to a day when my fast processors work at low power to deliver to me a smarter information environment in the morning than the one I left when I went to bed. Our computers waste an enormous number of cycles. I want to see software developers find a way to use those cycles for something useful to me beyond background virus checks and low level indexing. I want computers to discover relationships within my data.

I don’t need an artificial intelligence to complement my decisions, I just want a computer that makes more sense of what I’ve created, collected and visited; more sense of the people I know and why I know them, and how my information relates to them. I think the answer to this is a distributed approach to computing, one that not only powered by my machine’s local cycles, but on that recognizes my own personal information ecosystem, and coordinates and correlates that information as well.

My desktop will be able to do things beyond what mobile devices can do, especially as they get smaller and more energy conscious. The desktop should be the hub of my personal information space. And as a hub, it will also broker my privacy in a way cloud services can never do. I want my own private Internet that reaches into the greater Internet when it needs to. I don’t want to settle for mobile devices, no matter how powerful. I want to unleash the knowledge hidden in my 30 years of data, and let my computer build a useful profile of me so it can anticipate my needs, better organize my use of information, perhaps even proactively share a few bits on my behalf.

Let’s not let the dirge to the desktop play loudly yet, there is still much life in the personal computer if we decide to take up the challenge of truly making them personal again by using their power to complement and augment our own mental information maps.

Sidebar: Of course, laptops with the right software can do all of this too, but I would argue that a desktop, that is always on, can better coordinate the intermittent use of any type of mobile device better than an intermittently used device can coordinate across a personal information ecosystem.

Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.


    comments user

    Daniel W. Rasmus

    Good point made today that I really should be talking about notebooks and laptops as well as desktops. The argument is really about powerful computers running powerful operating systems originally designed for desktop computers. With laptops outstripping desktops, all classes of classic Microsoft Windows, Linux and Apple Mac OSX system apply.

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