The Core Dump

A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures

[By Nic Lindh on Thursday, 27 January 2011]

Your computer is becoming an appliance. Deal.

The future and now of personal computing is appliances. This post parses why you shouldn’t worry about it.

Apple won’t let me install whatever software I want on my iPhone and my iPad. Neither does Nintendo on my Wii or Microsoft on my XBox 360, neither does Amazon on my Kindle, and neither will the cell phone carriers on your Android phone.

Which as it turns out will not lead to the apocalypse and all that is good in the world crushed under the boot heel of fascism.

Allow me to explain.

One of the interesting parts of my job is to act as a conduit between the world of nerditry and normal people. “Normal” being defined as somebody who sees their computer as a tool that allows them to accomplish certain tasks. Somebody who could not possibly give a single rat’s behind less about what is going on with the machine itself.

Which leads us to computers-as-appliances and the frothing angst going on in some corners of the nerdosphere. The argument basically goes that we, the people, need to be able to do whatever we want with our computers and that anybody who limits what we can do is on some kind of evil powertrip. (For some fun, Google Blog search “apple draconian control” and feel the wrath.)

As the iPhone sales numbers prove, the normals don’t seem too concerned about Apple’s (Voice of Doom) Draconian Control.

And why should they be? Here’s a nifty device that allows you to do the things you want. You can’t—and don’t have to—do any of the crap you bully a teenager into doing for you on your PC. Problem with that?

Noper. That teenager smells funny, anyway.

See, the problem with the “open” computer model for normal people is that it’s like driving a classic Camaro. It’s great and you can fix it yourself. The problem is that you’re going to spend a ton of time and energy keeping it running and you have to be a mechanic so you can fix it yourself. Unless you pay somebody else to do it.

A device that lets you do whatever it is you bought the thing for and doesn’t turn you into a shady-tree mechanic is a pretty good tradeoff for most people. Because, and let me reiterate this since it doesn’t seem to sink in for a lot of nerds, most people don’t want to dink around with their computers. Got it? Couldn’t care less about it. They want to write an e-mail and send it. Period. Or manipulate an image. What most people don’t want to do is dork around with a computer. The company that comes closest to delivering that will utterly dominate. And at this point it’s Apple. Because even though they’re a company staffed with the most high-powered über-nerds in the world, they understand at a deep level what it is that people who aren’t nerds actually want.

If I were the prognosticating type, I’d say the era of the open computer as a tool for most people is drawing to a close and the era of the appliance is upon us.

But it’s not all bad news for nerds. If you happen to be the kind of nerd who likes tinkering with your computer, that niche will continue to exist. But it will be a niche. Like people driving and repairing classic cars. You’ll be able to buy hardware and software that will allow you to enjoy things like editing your boot record, but nobody else will have to.

It’s a good future.

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