Thursday 7 June 2012

The grand convergence is coming

Recently I blogged about the post-PC revolution, and since replacing my old desktop computer I have a few more words to say on this matter. For about 17 years I have been a loyal Mac user, from the early days of System 7 on a five-inch black and white display, through to the first colour Power Macs, the marvel that was the original iMac, and several generations of Powerbooks, iBooks, and MacBooks. This time, when hunting for a new computer, I did the unthinkable and went for a Windows 7 PC.

Why? To be honest, I think Apple is stagnating. There has been little real innovation in their "old world" computers for several years now (apart from the Macbook Air), and the latest refresh of their OS, Lion, feels like a relatively poor effort. All the old features are there, but they have bolted an iPad on top (the "Launchpad" feature) as a token gesture towards convergence with their mobile platform. iCloud is only any use if you have an iPhone. In short, Apple aren't ready for the profound changes happening to computing, and their answer isn't complete enough.

The signs of this convergence are everywhere. In the 2010s, innovation comes to mobile computers first: responsive touchscreens, new operating systems, entirely cloud-based ways of working. The desktop is lumbering behind, struggling to catch up. Apple's answer is to keep Mac OS relatively unchanged, pristine on the marble column it has occupied for many years now, cautiously adding a few features from its mobile ecosystem. Touchscreen Macs are nowhere to be found, although any Mac will work well with a multitouch trackpad.

Microsoft, for once, is getting it right. Windows 8 represents total convergence between all classes of computer: desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphone. The user interface will be the same, the experience will be the same, and all will access a standard cloud file system (SkyDrive). Everything will be based on touch. This is a far more complete and forward-looking solution to Apple's cautious and outdated way of doing things. I once thought that Macs were more futuristic, more capable, faster, and more reliable than PCs, but to be honest I have come to see that all of these assumptions are now years out of date.

So, I bought a Lenovo B520. This machine is amazing. It has a 23 inch capacative touchscreen display, a 1TB hard disk (which is insane compared to the 160GB disk in my old MacBook) and 4GB of RAM even in the budget model. It comes with Windows 7 built-in, but to be honest after two days I'm already finding it better and easier to use than Mac OS X Lion. I intend to upgrade it to Windows 8 as soon as it's released.

The grand convergence--which will finally see the end to conflicting interface metaphors between different classes of computer--is almost here. In 2013 I think computers will finally come of age. The transition isn't going to be easy for many people, conditioned to use the desktop and icon way of doing things, but sometimes progress requires drastic measures. We can only wonder what will come next.

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