Does the death of the PC herald a closed-device future?

GEDC1556Oh noes! They’re killing the PC! Mass computing devices face the dark future of tablets with restricted operating systems that limit what you can do and what apps you can install! We must all run about in panic!

Except…no, I don’t think that’s right. The article I linked above on ZDNet notes:

Here’s what I see happening: Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft all want us to buy appliances, not PCs. An appliance is a closed box. It can only run the operating system they stick you with. It will only run the applications they approve for it. Apple and Microsoft are particularly strict about this.

Except…that’s not quite true, at least for Android devices. When I bought my Nook HD,

which shipped with B&N’s fairly useless locked-down custom version of Android on it, I was able to root it with CyanogenMod and put plain vanilla Android on it with about 15 minutes of work. A lot of hardware manufacturers are even working with CyanogenMod to make it easier for it to work on their devices, and CyanogenMod just recently put an app which can automatically root some of the more popular Android devices in the Google Play App Store itself. And one of the features of plain-vanilla Android (but not B&N’s version) is that it can be set to accept sideloaded applications from anywhere, not just those that come from the “official” app store.

The article further generalizes that shrink-wrapped software is “all but dead” and everyone is selling software-as-a-service now. With the movement of all applications to the cloud, our privacy will vanish too, and we’ll all be at the mercy of our new online vassals. Blah blah blah.

It was fun while it lasted, but the convenience of appliances and the cloud is clearly more important to people than the freedom of choice and privacy that came with PCs. I, for one, will be sorry to see it go. Yes, I like the benefits of this new computing paradigm as much as anyone, but I know what we’re losing. And, I, for one, will also still be using my own standalone PCs, servers, operating systems and applications to the bitter end.

Yeah, you do that. It sounds to me like just another buggy-whip manufacturer’s lament that the new horseless carriages are coming in, exaggerating the worst aspects of the change while ignoring that those aspects aren’t.

2 Comments on Does the death of the PC herald a closed-device future?

  1. If he’s wrong why did you feel the need to root your Nook HD? I read the article and I think he’s right. Maybe it’s because I lived through the same period of time that saw the freedom the PC and it’s sad to see the trend reversing. There are very real disadvantages to the model that the vendors are trying to seduce us into.

  2. Yes, you can root your Android device, but how many people do it? And how many people buy iOS devices where that is not an option? And even if you root your device and install an alternate build of Android, most of your apps are probably obtained from the Google Play store (unless of course you are getting them from Amazon).

    There will always be techies who will push the envelop, but most people don’t think about all the data being gathered by them on a daily basis by their smart phones and tablets.

    Further, the move to cloud computing means even if the companies don’t pry into your data (though its actually the meta-data that is valuable and dangerous, i.e., what sorts of data you use and how you use it and for what purposes) it ties you subtly to their eco-system. Lets say you store a terabyte of data on Amazon’s cloud service. How likely are you to take the effort of migrating it? Its easier to just keep using Amazon. Heck, hasn’t that been the story of the ebook world. Get people to lock in on a store and it is likely they will never opt out for another option.

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