The Personal Computer Is Dead
The PC is dead. Rising numbers of mobile, lightweight, cloud-centric devices don’t merely represent a change in form factor. Rather, we’re seeing an unprecedented shift of power from end users and software developers on the one hand, to operating system vendors on the other—and even those who keep their PCs are being swept along. This is a little for the better, and much for the worse.
The transformation is one from product to service. The platforms we used to purchase every few years—like operating systems—have become ongoing relationships with vendors, both for end users and software developers. I wrote about this impending shift, driven by a desire for better security and more convenience, in my 2008 book The Future of the Internet—and How to Stop It.
For decades we’ve enjoyed a simple way for people to create software and share or sell it to others. People bought general-purpose computers—PCs, including those that say Mac. Those computers came with operating systems that took care of the basics. Anyone could write and run software for an operating system, and up popped an endless assortment of spreadsheets, word processors, instant messengers, Web browsers, e-mail, and games. That software ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous to the dangerous—and there was no referee except the user’s good taste and sense, with a little help from nearby nerds or antivirus software. (This worked so long as the antivirus software was not itself malware, a phenomenon that turned out to be distressingly common.)
Choosing an OS used to mean taking a bit of a plunge: since software was anchored to it, a choice of, say, Windows over Mac meant a long-term choice between different available software collections. Even if a software developer offered versions of its wares for each OS, switching from one OS to another typically meant having to buy that software all over again.