Friday, August 12, 2011

PC Turns 30: Seen Trying the "Trump Comb-Over"

So the personal computer turns 30 years old today. Wow.

I was reading a PC Magazine Article today that interviewed some of the folks that rode that wave and helped shaped the industry (Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Raymond Kurzweil, etc). They asked this group of technology luminaries the 3 most hard-hitting, insightful questions that you would expect from any mass-media outlet:
What was the biggest innovation for personal computing in the last 30 years?
How has personal computing changed people's lives for the better?
What do you see happening in personal computing over the next 30 years?

Not to get down on the PC Magazine staff, but if I had access to those folks - I think a more fitting (and interesting) set of questions would have been:
What has the rise of the personal computer NOT affected in our society?
Has personal computing changed people's lives for the better?
What will "computing" look like in 10 years?

I'm not just playing armchair quarterback here. 30 years ago I was a junior in high school. So I'm old enough to remember the actual launch of the IBM PC (Charlie Chaplin ads and all) and the Apple I, etc... It was, in retrospect, an awesome set of events that has (obviously) changed all of our lives in the most profound ways possible. Beyond the Twitters and Facebooks and smartphones and that whole "Internet-thing" - the rise of the personal computers (and the supporting infrastructure and software) has literally changed the face of the world.

Now, according to the technology press, we're entering what Steve Jobs has declared "The post-PC era." When Jobs said that that on May 31, 2011 Apple was just launching the iPad 2 - so apparently for Apple the post-PC era is one where everyone buys an iPad and ditches their laptop. But, I digress.

Obviously, when we go from room-sized computers to smartphones with 1,000,000 times the power at 1/1,000,000th the price - technology and "personal computing" will naturally evolve into something is ubiquitous. As the physical size of computers get smaller, their speed and memory increase and their price gets lower, technology is going to get more and more unobtrusive, and more and more integrated into our daily life.

The mainframe was seen as the end-all-be-all. It was so big, complicated and expensive that people would "rent" time on there to run their programs. Even when the computer actually hit the desktop in 1981 - you had to enter DOS commands to get anything to run (oh yay - that was loads of fun! - NOT!). Then came the graphical user interface (GUI) with the Mac in 1984 - the mainstream of the Internet in 1994 (ish) - and now we have iPhone and tablet PCs are beginning to take over the portable market of computing.

With more and more us storing more and more of our stuff in the cloud (off site) - the idea "personal computing" is changing. Personal computing back then referred to the fact that you were untethered to a mainframe - and you could save your own files and run your own programs without being a slave to the IT department.

Now that most of our data is stored on servers we never see, and we only interact with the interface of the software we use in a web browser - we're going back to a mainframe model and our computers function more like the "dumb terminals" of the late 1970s.

"Personal computing" today means how you personally interact with data and other humans who are also interacting with data. No one wants to buys software in stores, install it using physical media (anyone still have the 10 disk Windows installer lying around?), and then have to store the data locally, back it up, archive it, etc. Heck, we can't even be bothered to go down to the local store and rent a movie on physical media. Nowdays it's all about streaming content. Pandora streams music; Netflix and Hulu streams movies and TV shows; etc., etc.

That's why Apple is doing their iCloud thing. That's why Google gives away productivity applications - and stores your data for free. That's also why your Internet connection at home costs $50 per month. It's all about convenience and transparency. iCloud will backup everything to you have and wirelessly synchronize it to all your other devices. It's only a matter of time before we have something that I talked about in a previous blog - which is the continuity of your entire session across devices (e.g.all open documents you were working on at work appear on whatever computer you log into when you get home).

So, whether you buy into Steve Jobs' "post-PC era" mindset or not - the fact of the matter is that the birth of the PC has ushered in a whole new era of "personal" computing that has fundamentally changed the way we interact with each other (social media, skype, FaceTime) and how we buy and consume our entertainment (iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Pandora).

In the future - there will be more "personal" computing - not less.

And, I'm not really sure if that's a good thing, or a bad thing.

What do you think?

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