Google Search

Monday, August 30, 2010

My PC Ain’t Dead Yet!

The last few months I’ve been hearing more and more about people and companies saying that the Desktop PC is dying.

Most of these people are non-entities (unlike me!) and their opinions don’t really matter (unlike mine!).  However, when Google made the statement that Desktop PC’s will be dead within 3 years I actually sat up and took notice.  (Well, for a few minutes, anyway.)

For more info on what Google said, check out this article.

So, being active in the IT industry, I started thinking about this statement, and the implications that it would have on people and businesses.  And my conclusion?  It’s total nonsense.

As evidence of the declining popularity of Desktop PC’s, people are pointing to statistics and graphs like these:

PC Sales

This graph clearly shows the declining sales of Desktop PC’s compared to various portable systems, and most notably the increase in sales of tablet PC’s, along with a projection of these sales (if current trends keep up) up until 2015.

However, there are a few flaws with this graph, or more specifically, with drawing those conclusions from this graph.

Firstly, the graph doesn’t show how many of those purchases are insurance-related purchases, or replacements for broken or stolen devices.  You see, portable devices are stolen much more frequently than desktop PC’s, not to mention the number of laptops that inadvertently take a journey down the stairs…  These devices then obviously need to be replaced, leading to an increase in sales.

The second problem I have with this graph is that it doesn’t show PC component sales, only full PC sales.  It’s common knowledge that desktop PC’s are far more upgradeable than portable devices.  Over the last few years, technology has been “stable” – meaning that a PC purchased new 4 years ago can often be upgraded today to fairly good specifications.  This means that (especially with a world-wide recession) people would rather upgrade their PC’s than purchase a new one, which is not the case with portable systems, and which would influence the conclusions we draw from this graph.

I have one more point to make about this.  If desktop PC’s were dying, then why would people be buying more and larger LCD and LED monitors?  If the trend was really “size-related”, why then are people purchasing things that take up even more desk space?  The answer is simple – there are certain things that people don’t want to do on a small screen.  I don’t want to watch movies on my BlackBerry (though I can if I want to).  I don’t want to play Lord of the Rings Online with my laptop’s pathetic integrated graphics.  I do my video editing, gaming, movie watching, music playing, and graphic designing on a system with more power than an Apple iPad.  Because I want to.

What are your thoughts on the matter?  Do you agree, or do you have a different opinion?  (At the risk of sounding like King Julian, your opinion counts, because you are my readers!)  So comment away; I read all comments, even if I don’t always reply.

So, for now, signing off from my DESKTOP PC, and damn proud of it,

Lourens, out.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Going Mobile

A while ago some of you requested that I look at mobile technology as an alternative for PC’s.  Inspired by this, and the fact that I’m trying to save on my internet bandwidth, I decided to see how much of what I regularly do on my PC, I can move to my mobile device.

Now, in my case my mobile device is a BlackBerry Curve 8310 (yes, I know it’s oldish, but it’s still an awesome piece of technology).  With Vodacom South Africa, I have a BlackBerry Bundle on my prepaid sim card which costs me R59 per month.  This includes all of the BlackBerry services, including e-mail push, the awesome BlackBerry Messenger, and unlimited web surfing (sort of).  That’s right, for R59 per month I can surf the web as much as I want, as long as (a) I only use the BlackBerry device (not my PC with the BlackBerry as modem), and (b) I don’t do any large downloads (unless I’m mistaken, the limit is around 7MB per file).  For someone who probably spends around 12 hours per day on the internet, and who’s constantly complaining about the high bandwidth costs in SA, the benefits of this should be obvious.

The good news is that I manage to do most of the things I like to do on-line, on the BlackBerry.  Though web browsing is fairly slow (my 8310 only supports GPRS / EDGE), it is quite fast enough with WAP sites (and many companies are getting them these days, including Ster Kinekor and Nu Metro). 

Normal web sites tend not to display properly; but for this I installed Opera Mini as an extra browser.  It really is quite an awesome piece of software.  When it opens a normal web site, you can see the entire page (with menus and everything) on the small screen, with a box that you can use to select an area to zoom into.  When you select an area, immediately that area is displayed properly on-screen, and you can still move to other areas on the page.

Facebook is quite efficient on the BlackBerry as well.  I installed the BlackBerry Facebook app, which is quite good, but slightly limited.  Sometimes I also use Opera Mini’s Facebook page, which is better in some ways, but worse in others.  But for all those things I can’t do any other way, I use Opera Mini’s standard web page view to open the normal Facebook web site.

Opera Mini also has a very good Feed Reader – so all of the blogs I follow are shown in a single view, with notifications of new posts.  I can even comment!

E-mail is, of course, a pleasure – after all, it was the main selling point for BlackBerry devices a few years ago.  I have my complete address book and everything right there.  Composing and reading e-mails, even with attachments, is a pleasure.

One major drawback with using the BlackBerry as a complete alternative for my laptop was the absence of proper Office suites.  BlackBerry comes with Documents-To-Go included, but the free version won’t allow you to create new documents.  It can display word processor documents, as well as spreadsheets and presentations, and allow you to edit them (to a certain extent), and it is quite compatible with Microsoft Office; but still, it’s very limited. 

So I tried the cloud-based Office packages I discussed in my previous post; Microsoft Office Live doesn’t even open on the BlackBerry.  ThinkFree and Google Docs both open documents, but they are limited to viewing documents only, just like Documents-To-Go.  This begs the question – WHY?!  Apparently the iPhone already supports most of these features (+1 to Apple’s score); why not the BlackBerry?  Well, on the bright side, in my search I stumbled upon Mooo – which is a Mobile version of (a completely free and open source alternative for Microsoft Office, for PC’s).  Unfortunately Moo’s still in development.

Thankfully I have found a slight work-around to enable the creation of new documents in Documents-To-Go; however, since it is… well… maybe not illegal, but dubious in nature, I will not explain it here.  You can Google it if you want it.

Also, there seems to be a shocking absence of good PDF Readers for the BlackBerry – I can open a PDF when it is sent to my phone as an e-mail attachment, but the moment I save the PDF, I need to pay for software to open it.  This once again begs the question – WHY?!  PDF’s can be opened free of charge on PC’s, and that has been the case for years.  Why not on the BlackBerry?

Apart from these things, I already use my BlackBerry as my MP3 player (using the built-in music software), digital camera, movie player (using XPlayer and EncodeHD), Bible (using YouVersion Bible Software), and e-book reader (using MobiPocket Reader).  Life without my BlackBerry is almost unimaginable.

So I have moved the greatest percentage of my PC activities to the BlackBerry.  If only the BlackBerry had a larger screen, proper Office software access, a slightly larger keyboard, PDF reader built-in, and maybe a Lord of the Rings Online client, I may have moved completely…

So, in conclusion; a mere 10 years ago I never would have thought that I would ever be doing all these things on my phone.  So all in all, that’s pretty awesome!  Let’s be thankful for the progress that’s been made so far, and keep hoping for (and working on) improvements!

That’s it for now.  Happy surfing!

Lourens, out.

Monday, August 2, 2010

I Got My Head In The Cloud

Every few years there’s some new catch-phrase in the computer world, and it seems you just don’t know what you’re talking about if you don’t use that catch-phrase at least twice in each sentence.  Now I’ve been in the IT field long enough to remember when e-mail was that catch-phrase; almost nobody knew what it was, exactly, but you had to at least mention it in a conversation if you were to have any credibility.

Today it seems the latest catchphrase is “cloud computing”.  Everyone wants stuff to be “in the cloud”.  And though I’ve known about the concept of cloud computing for a while now, it seems most people (even IT guys) still have no idea what it is (I think it’s because of our limited internet capabilities in South Africa – see my previous post).

So, what is cloud computing?  Well, in essence, "Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand, like the electricity grid…” according to Wikipedia.  Yeah, that definition didn’t help me a lot either (I mean, what is “the electricity grid” anyway?!), so let me just try to explain it in my own special way.

Imagine a computer with little or no software installed.  Not much use, is it?  I mean, you need an operating system, at the very least, but even an OS isn’t much use without applications and other software.  You need a word processor, a spreadsheet application, and some other productivity-type stuff.  But all work and no play makes someone-or-other slightly boring, so you need some entertainment as well – which means that you will need to install games, video and music players, etc.  So without all of this a computer is virtually useless, isn’t it?

Well, no, not anymore.  Cloud computing is basically internet-based computing.  With everything being “in the cloud”, you can easily type your letters, do your spreadsheet calculations, watch your movies, and even play your games, on-line, with little or no software installed locally!  (And did I mention that most of it can be done FREE of charge?)

For example; you can log in to Office Live for most of your Microsoft Office needs.  You can edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents on-line, without paying any license fees!  Or, if you prefer Microsoft alternatives, you can go for Google Docs or ThinkFree.  Another great benefit of most of these options is that you can have your documents available to you online, so you can log in from another computer in another country and still access all of your data!

Most of the software you use regularly will either be available “in the cloud”, or have a cloud-based alternative.  This includes media players, video editors, photo editors, and virtually anything you can think of.

About the only thing I can’t think of that you can’t really do in the cloud to such a large extent is gaming.  Yes, there are many online games that DON’T require local software installation, and many of them are really quite good.  I mean, Facebook has many great games; I’m totally addicted to Bejewelled Blitz, for instance.  You can also play many old DOS-based games, and even older Nintendo and Sega games, live on the internet, using only a web browser.  There’s even an online version of Quake.  But for real hard-core gamers the options are limited; you won’t be able to play Crysis 2 in the cloud, for example.

But all in all, cloud computing is a great concept.  You can have a perfectly capable PC, running all of the software you need, without any expensive licenses.  Google are even in process of developing the Google Chromium OS (which is basically the Google Chrome browser as an operating system), designed specifically with cloud computing in mind.  Many Linux distributions are doing the same thing.  It’s a great way to resurrect your “working but old” Pentium II’s and use them productively again!  Even if you install an old version of Linux, with a web browser, you’re set to “surf the cloud”.

The only negative comment I can make about cloud computing at the moment is, once again, the pathetic state of internet access in South Africa.  I apologize for hammering on the same point again, but I just can’t think of a good reason why internet bandwidth in this country should be so expensive.

Well, anyway, that’s it for now.  Have a great week!

Lourens, out.