Friday, September 2, 2011

My latest commentary about computers. The Desktop is Dead.

Well, I've been using an iPhone and iPad most exclusively for my computing needs for the last six months or so. This is probably because I have been mostly incapable of sitting in the chair for any length of time due to the various symptoms. But it's also because I have become fond of these devices. I can take them wherever I want, whether walking around, lying down in bed or sitting in a comfy chair, etc. Makes computing so much easier.

In any case, tonight I had a project to do which consisted of consolidating a bunch of e-mails on my desktop iMac and creating a chart out of them in Microsoft Word. It should have been a very simple project. Should not be difficult, right? Well, it took me about two hours to do it. Unbelievable.

I had not used my new fancy iMac for about two weeks. I am running Parallels with Windows 7, running under OS X. The computer has been mostly in sleep mode over the past few weeks but it had been 'on' some of the time, so conceivably it could have updated itself and been ready to roll. In any case, I powered it up and sat down ready to do some quick work on it and get to bed at a timely hour. Whether it is the electronic goblins, the Muses who are working their wiles against me, or just a ridiculous state of complexity of microcomputers, I don't know, but the stark contrast to the ease with which iOS devices (the iPad in the iPhone) work became so obvious to me that I almost pulled my hair out and threw my computer, as brand-new and shiny as it is, out the window.

Now admittedly, I am dealing with a pinched nerve in my neck and it's giving me major back pain so I am not a particularly happy camper, and I have this incredible tremor from the Parkinson's disease or whatever. So I am not long on patience right now. But still, I am a clever guy, and I know how to get around computers and have written many books about them over the years. So usually I can just skin a cat one way or the other and do the 'computer whisperer' thing, and get stuff to work.

Suffice it to say I had about 20 dialog boxes come up over the course of the time I was working, maybe more. Did I want to update iTunes? How about security updates for OS X. Did I want to? Windows had some updates to do, too. Ad-Aware needed urgently to update. The computer slowed to a crawl a few times with the hard drive getting continuous disc hits, and the CPU pegged despite the fact that I was intentionally doing next to nothing. I had to close all the browser windows I had open and methodically shut down all kinds of stuff like the Apple Mail program and Outlook in order to get the CPU out of the gutter. I eventually just decided to shut down the Windows 7 virtual machine and Parallels, then reboot OS X. So, I had to reboot two operating systems which took another about 15 minutes to do. This was in part because various programs failed to shut down even though I told the operating systems to shut down. And it wasn't just Windows, it was also OS X, too. Mail would not shut down, for example, so I had to force quit it.

After rebooting, the scanner that I was trying to use with Paperport could not be found. In an hour's worth of trying to reconnect it through software and hardware tricks, I did not succeed. I tried another scanner. That didn't work either. Flash wanted to be updated, Java wanted to be updated. The NTFS driver that I have for Mac OS X so I can use my external hard drive timed out and needed to be repurchased. Many another dialog boxes and error messages, things not found, and so forth presented themselves from time to time.

Next, I realized how frustrating it is to actually work with the mouse. I have both a mouse and the magic trackpad connected to the iMac. But with the 27-inch screen on the iMac, getting from one corner to the other corner really takes some hand work. I had to close programs and aim at the little red X or the little red dot in the corner of the application window. Numerous times I missed. Or, I was trying to select a bunch of text and then had to right click on it or remember the right keyboard control sequence for a copy and paste, which happens to be different between Windows and OS X. So I was busy navigating between apps, with a lot of dexterity required. I overshot a few times and application documents disappeared, and so forth. You know, the usual.

Geeze, all I wanted to do was copy some text from some e-mails and put them in another e-mail or in a Word document so I can send it to somebody.

Once I saved the document, it went into some remote folder somewhere, so that I had to navigate to that. Then right click on it and choose Send to > Mail recipient, and then that opened up Word to create a new mail document, and then I had to navigate my recipient list, and so forth. Eventually after rooting around for a while, I got the e-mail sent. The entire endeavor took about two hours. It was excruciating.

I was just saying to a friend today that computers are like relationships: If you have too many of them around you're really asking for trouble. They all take maintenance. I suggest that if you are considering having more than one computer in your life, forget about it. Each one takes so much maintenance that it's not worth having more than one. And once you become familiar with one operating system or one set of applications or one interface or one keyboard or whatever, switching between them is too much mental overhead.

Desktop personal computers are just too damn complicated. Period. I was more than happy to get back to my iPad so I could dictate this rant. Sure, it takes several steps, dictating into Dragon, and double clicking the Home button to switch back and forth between that and BlogPress, but big deal. It's not too difficult, and it actually works.

As much as I hate the idea of having everything on 'the Cloud', and losing control over my data, where it is, who's looking at it, and losing control over my applications, I have to say that it's probably going to be a giant breakthrough when we no longer have to maintain, update, replace, repurchase, purchase new, or whatever all of our applications, all of the time. Updating our operating systems, our virus protection programs, our various other malware protection programs is a gigantic pain in the butt.

Viva le tablet and le Cloud!



  1. Linux - I've really been impressed by Ubuntu recently (well, I've used it on web and Samba servers for years, but newer versions are beginning to have a nice desktop).

    What is really nice about Linux is that old hardware is still supported. My old (as in Windows 95 era) full size transparency scanner still works in Linux - Microsoft and HP have no drivers that work with XP, not to mention Windows 7. That includes the Adaptec 2940 SCSI adapter.

    And the Open Office/Libre Office Suites work just like MS Office (unless you are brave enough to have the newest MS version with the bugs not yet fixed).

    Wine isn't perfect - Some versions of Adobe CS work but others don't, so I still have to use Windows 7/64 for video editing...

    I always run Webmin on my Linux workstations so I can easily get into the nitty gritty system admin tools - another interface that doesn't change much - unlike every time Redmond releases a new product version and we have to learn everything all over again.

  2. Aha! OK. Thanks, Evil Auntie. I just saw this today. Been a bit distracted. Anyway, thanks for posting. Glad you're still up to no good, as Evil Auntie :)

    At this point, the only Windows I have running is in one Asus netbook (Windows 7 Starter), and on two Macs (Mini and new iMac). I've become such a typical consumer, too. Mostly I'm running email, calendar, address book, occasional SS (I tend to use the iPad and Numbers for that), lots of web browsing, and some Facebook. All the apps I need are on the iPad, pretty much. I do have Final Cut on the Mini, so I can do editing there, although it would be faster on the iMac (i5 CPU, Mtn Lion, etc. etc.) When I get through all the other imposing stuff I have to do, maybe I'll get back to the video editing that is waiting on my desk.



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