published Friday, June 10th, 2011

Jenkins: Macs, PCs could become simple appliances as network expands


by Donnie Jenkins

One comment made by Steve Jobs in his keynote speech this week got me to thinking in general terms about where the personal computer stands in today’s tech world.

Jobs spoke of demoting the Mac and PC to being “just devices” rather than the center of a digital hub. This is becoming a common theme, but it’s not anything new.

Throughout the history of personal computers there have been attempts at diminishing the importance of individual PCs in favor of some centralized solution. One famous mantra from the ’80s was: “The network is the computer.”

It is true that networks of computers begin to act as if they are one, as evidenced by the popularity of the Internet and especially the Web. However, this does present one major issue to consider: What happens when the network goes down or doesn’t work properly? Or how do we adapt if the network no longer accomplishes the same tasks as our desktop computer?

Apple has made several business moves that indicate how it’s beginning to move past the Mac desktop in its thinking. The success of the iPhone and iPad has shown that people love mobile networked devices. The new Lion operating system looks to be designed to offer the same “closed box” approach as does the iPhone and iPad.

While this is not all bad or undesirable, it does raise the question of just how this will change our computer experience in the future when all apps or programs install themselves and where we may have fewer choices as to where we purchase them. This is already the case with the Apple App Store in some cases.

Google also has shown that it is looking at computers in the same way. With the release of its Chrome OS (operating system) Google is taking a “network is the computer” approach also, trying to dislodge Microsoft Windows and the Mac OS as the primary gateways to computing. Online writers are divided as to how successful it will be, but it is important to note Google’s effort in this direction.

While I am impressed with all this, I have to remind us all that it was the personal computer that made “the person” important in computing. I would hate to see a world where personal computers no longer existed and we were all dependent upon a network of some kind to do even the smallest tasks.

The ideal solution to all of this is exactly what we have now, a combination of the best of all offerings. You should be able to boot up your computer, do everything you want to do locally and then to connect to the Web or other networks to extend your reach or interests.

Computers and networks will improve over time as will mobile devices, and hopefully they will continue to speak more fluently to each other via wireless connections. Power to the people, I say, and personal computers can only empower us more over time.

Email Donnie Jenkins at donniejenkins@yahoo.com.

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