Retelling the future, chapter 1: The end of the PC

Introduction

Coming back to Vivaldi.net has led to me reconnecting to this Vivaldi blog, originally on My.Opera,com beginning 18 years ago. Two months after Facebook, a website that has turned out rather more successful so far. Like every web publication of age, it has the signs of aging like link rot and moving resources.

This series will dredge out past futures from that stream. Let’s begin with the personal computer:

So, 16 years ago I claimed that the PC could disappear in 15 years or so:

The PC is feeling fine

The end of the PC era

Since the late 1980s I have been among those predicting the end of the Personal Computer, and that end is now in sight. The PC is going the way of the typewriter, but not overnight. It took the PC about 15 years to completely replace the typewriter, and we can expect a similar interval before it finally disappear, possibly ending up among the same hobbyists where it started.


The PC is a package created by cost and manufacturing concerns, again much like the T-Ford. To a much lesser extent has it been formed by user needs. Devices that have been formed by user needs have not been able to communicate with other devices. As the rigid manufacturing regimes are falling, communication gets easier, and the cost is gone, the computers become a component of the product instead of the product itself. This will diversify computers as well as simplify them, with the big beige house altar gone.

The PC computers will change skin before retirement. Cost and manufacturing has led to mobile PCs, the black clamshelled boxes called everything from portable to notebook, being competitive with stationary PCs, and soon they will be cheaper. Just as phones are entering a clamshell phase, the notebook may leave it. The heaviest component in a notebook is the battery, the biggest is the screen. The other components, including keyboard, storage, and processor can be neatly folded up more tightly than today. Dual-screen notebooks, battery booster packs (with bundled media player?), notebook set-top boxes, foldable screens, or simply a phone with an attached keyboard and/or screen bundle. With the software divested from the hardware, and data divested from the software, such components could be of use for other devices too.

While the even the stationary PCs may become tossable, most won’t move much during their lifetime. Smaller computers means that it is as natural to plug them into other devices as it is to plug devices into them. Gradually they will lose their elevated personal assistant status. It won’t matter if you have previously a task on one device or another, the next time you do that task you use the device that is most handy. With the exclusivity gone, the Personal in front of the Computer, the computer will retreat to the background to do its tasks to let the device perform its role.

Ironically, this is written on a stationary PC. It still has the form factor of an Asus EeeBox, a small brick PC that came out in 2007. And it still doesn’t have a battery.

I thought that was a reasonable prediction. As batteries get ever cheaper and PCs use less energy, having a battery for at least 10 minutes power to safely shut down, or to move it to a different location would cost little money or space. But there clearly has been no demand for that mobile stationary PC.

As for the clamshell-less laptop, we had been working on several tablets for years by then, but of course Apple hadn’t yet invented them. Foldable screens were a thing back then, a thing right now, and still we don’t use them. Same goes for projections. We could do them, we can do them, but we don’t. So: Clamshell off, clamshell on.

Screens to this day are mostly connected by wire.

Of course, then as now, the big changes are behind the screen curtain. For thirty years now I have likened the Internet to the sewage system: As long as it is working, you will not notice it is there. Successful technology is invisible.

Virtualisation has become more of a thing. Back then it was painfully slow and limited. Distributed systems have become less of a thing. That was also painfully slow and limited back then.

The end of the mobile phone

The mobile phone is another product with the end in sight. 15 years from now it might disappear.

No more phones? I can’t see it.

Bypasses: On WAP and Web: A matter of weight was ostensibly on a standard that even back then was well dead, but really on conciseness and efficiency. In other words bloat, a recurring topic. While the discontinued XHTML 2.0 is another spec to return to, with XForms, Webforms, XSLT, SGML, UserJS, Open Source, The 2004 presidential elections in Ukraine had reverberations in 2022. We avoided the .mobi top-level domain, but unfortunately we didn’t avoid the “m.” subdomains. The smallest Opera browser, at 55 kB. Fake news (Microsoft buys Opera).

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