Updated: April 29, 2013
Several weeks ago, an alpha-quality release of Microsoft Windows Blue was accidentally leaked on purpose to the Web, to create a pre-buzz buzz. Everyone and their mother rushed to join the whorefest, recycling the few screenshots of what appears to be nothing more than a glorified service pack for the failure called Windows 8. I did not participate in the orgy, but now it's time for my little input.
As it turns out, the copypasta fever also had another component - a fresh new conspiracy claiming the inevitable death of the desktop. The reasoning? The Start menu is not coming back, and more functionality has been merged into the Modern Metro whatever interface. So everyone started talking about death, death, death. And now let me explain things.
First, we need to reiterate my ultimate awesomeness and complete accuracy in market predictions, in everything. Read some of my articles, like the Panda thingie, Gnome shutdown button, Firefox market bullshit, to get a good idea of who is telling you these things, so that you never once doubt what you will read here. All right, once you do some preliminary homework, please continue with the current article.
So, the pundits who seek attention so, by posting inflammatory and deliberately dramatic topics backed up by fictitious would-be claims and hyperbole, would want you to believe that the desktop will vanish, with the release of Windows 9, and that we will all be happily living in a Minority Report kind of Utopia, using our left and right hands for an enhanced touch experience, which goes beyond the keyboard, mouse, paper and pen, and circlejerking. This is not going to happen. Plain and simple. Now, let's be more specific.
Everything we use has a purpose. Human gadgets are a direct evolutionary extension of our basic and not-so-basic needs, be it food or entertainment. Hence, if something exists, it exists for a reason, or it stops existing. Sometimes, the shape and usage of tools is dictated by technology, but the functionality does not change. For example, killing people in medieval times was done using different tools than today, but the actual purpose of tools at hand remains.
Likewise here, humans need to interact with software in some way. There are many possible ways this can be done, including touch, voice, eye contact, and other sensory inputs. At the moment, the most prevalent technology is touch, having transformed from manuscript to typewriters to digital keyboards, with some usage of the mouse as a pointing device.
The keyboard seems like the most primitive of these tools, being very little different from the good ole typewriter, which hails back at least 150 years. However, there is a very basic, anatomical reason why we use keyboards, why letters are placed the certain why, and why keys are of a certain size. Which is why the advent of technology has not affected the typing functionality that much.
Some people are calling for the transformation of touch, from using a typing device like the keyboard and a pointing device like mouse, to a pure digital experience. In a way, this kind of makes sense, right. You replace one type of technology for another, while offering users the same functionality. The best example would be the wheel. It powered carts thousands of years ago and it still powers supercars like Bugatti Veyron. So the same logic should apply when you go from physical keyboard to touch, right? Well, not quite.
Humans have always written text from a sitting position, on horizontal surfaces. Before computers, the position of text was in line with the written manuscript. Typewriters separated the input and output, creating a revolutionary concept that we know as blind typing. It allowed us to have two dimensions to our alphabet experience, one where our hands remain horizontal, the other where our eyes could be positioned more naturally.
So we went from horizontal-horizontal to horizontal-vertical, and that was the big leap, which enhanced the experience. The proponents of modern touch only bullshit call for using vertical-vertical, or again, horizontal-horizontal. This is a dramatic change in how humans interact with text. Either way, it is a regression from a two-dimensional space into a one-dimensional form.
Therefore, whether we will have keyboards vs. touch is irrelevant. The only question is, will humans accept this regression? The answer is quite simple. They will not, because it goes again the need and purpose behind the technology. Indeed, if you look at this from a different angle - you will be more productive typing on a physical keyboard than a virtual device.
The mouse is an interesting one, the second part of the touch formula - it replaces the index finger as the pointing device and the chief sensor for our touch experience. The beauty of the mouse is that lives in the same 2D world like the keyboard, allowing for a seamless usage. Moreover, it can be tuned to different speeds and sensitivity, and can access very tiny areas precisely.
To put things into perspective, on a 1920x1080px resolution screen displayed on a 24" monitor, you can select tiles as tiny as 5x5px without any real problems, with equal accessibility whether they are located in the center of the screen or any of the corners. This translates into roughly 1:83,000 sensitivity ratio for the resolution, and 1:6,900 per millimeter sensitivity ratio. If you're having troubles with the math, it's just very simple Pythagoras, with 16:9 aspect between the two cathetuses and the hypotenuse being the screen size.
Now, can you achieve this kind of sensitivity with your finger? Probably not, because the touch area of your index finger is roughly ~100 times larger than that of the mouse pointer, and imprecise, both in terms of pressure, incident angle, friction, noise, etc. This means that if you want to have a touch screen that is as usable as one controlled by a mouse, you will need screen areas that are roughly 100 times larger than what we have today.
Then, we hit human anatomy again. A monitor that is 240 inches in diameter is too large to access by hands. Even if we could somehow magically control that kind of monitor, we would have to be within the reach distance. And then, we hit another problem, and that is the comfortable viewing angle, which translates into how far back we sit from the screen.
For most people, the viewing distance is approximately equal to their hand reach, so any work with touch is infeasible. And if we want the same functionality, we need big screens, which means even greater distance and less ability to control the entire surface with touch with equal opportunity, as we can with the mouse device.
Which tells us why the touch only proponents are full of SHIT.
This also explains why touch features on NORMAL monitors look big and stupid. Touch sliders and such bullshit are designed for human fingers, only they are displayed on monitors that are approx. 10 times smaller than they should be. This is why touch technology looks childish and simplistic and borrowed from Idiocracy, because you are using it on a scale that is one order of magnitude too small. And this is why tablets and smartphones look the way they do, and why morons prefer them.
Therefore, any future touch technology that will replace the basic of the desktop, which are the keyboard and the mouse, will have to offer a SUPERIOR 2D experience, with equal or better sensitivity of input. Anything else will fail. There you go morons, argument number one.
All right, we discussed the human body. Let us examine some of the past and current trends, where technology and functionality met in perfect harmony and the transition happened, and then, vice versa, look at some more examples where they did not, and the transition did not happen.
Here we have identical functionality. Even so, it took almost 30 years for the tape to fully vanish and the CD to become the media of choice, for listening and recording sound. The important fact is, nothing changed in the core element of the problem at hand.
When the laptop appeared on the market, dipshits like the people hailing smartphones and tablets as the next cure for cancer probably claimed that the laptop would KILL the desktop. Fast forward twenty years, did this happen? No. Why?
The reason is simple - functionality. The laptop does not fulfill all the needs of a typical desktop, and that includes price efficiency, computing efficiency, robustness, availability, comfort, and many other things. However, desktop did suffer some slice of the market, because the laptop offered mobility and Wireless connectivity.
Here's my own quote, about the TOTAL market share - and remember the pie only gets bigger and bigger, but that's too much math for most idiots out there, and I wrote this way back, before tablets became popular, so replace the word smartphone for any mobile device with touch:
Now, the important thing, my figures above represent the MAJOR use case for listed technologies, not the total
share. We're not talking 100%, because there's nothing that says a person ought to use only one computing
device, although most people won't need much more than that. However, the overall balance will be something
High-end users will run one or more desktops, combined with a convenience device for lightweight use. This could be a netbook if they require comfort or maybe a smartphone.
Mid-range users will either run a desktop, if they are conservative or inclined toward static, home setups, including parents who want to control their kids and whatnot, or a mid-range laptop that offers good results for an affordable price. The second computing device will probably consist of a smartphone.
Low-end users will use smartphones, first and foremost, usually a single device. They might also own a laptop of some kind, probably a mid-range to low-range notebook, to compensate for the functionality that does not exist in smartphones.
Business will continue expanding into the mobile market, replacing some of the expensive static hardware for cheaper mobile devices with casual users that do not require too many CPU cycles. For instance, engineers will always need monster workstations; however, secretaries, administrative assistants, marketing people, or even managers do not really need i7 processors to write mails and prepare some bad-looking PowerPoint presentations.
What do you have to say now? Why didn't the landline phone vanish? How come? After all, the mobile phone is almost identical to the landline, if not superior, right? And let us not talk about smartphones. Still, for some reason, the landline remains, and it has not vanished.
The reason, again is - functionality. Landlines do not need recharging, for example. And they have other merits and uses, those that are not met by the mobile and smart devices. As you can see, a pattern begins to emerge, and you realize that you have been reading the wrong kind of articles until now.
And we will not be discussing the crap called hybrid cars. Pure electric, the one morons think are sooooo super-green, because electricity is not produced by coal plants, right. On paper, electric cars sounds great. One, they have massive torque, they are quiet, they supposedly do not pollute that much, they are reliable, and such. Let's ignore the fact you are lugging several hundred kilograms of batteries under your ass, and that the induced electric field could potentially harm your biology. Still, on paper, it's dandy.
However, electric cars are mostly ignored, except the La-la land, where fashionable people need a reason to feel good about their stupid V8 automatic SUV crap. Why? Because electric cars do not have the range of normal cars. And electric cars need a very long recharging time. Without these two being met, they will never reign supreme.
As James May of Top Gear once said, the future car will be like the car of today. And that's exactly that. He nailed. If electric cars had the same functionality like their petrol and diesel counterparts, people would be using them en masse. But since they have maybe 10% range and take approx. 100 times longer to recharge, they are inferior technology, because it does not meet human needs.
Firefox seems like the best example. Two years back, a clockwise circlejerk of fanboys started their boring clickbait fest by predicting the imminent death of Mozilla's browser. Fast forward two years, just as I claimed, the only browser to have suffered a dent in its market share is, naturally, Internet Explorer, having lost most of its points to Google Chrome, while Firefox remains where it was, at a solid 20-30% of total usage, depending on who you ask.
Not only that, Mozilla has a lot in store, including Firefox OS, and you can already fiddle with its Marketplace, an app store of a sort. So what will actually happen, Firefox is going to see an increase in its usage share, and we should see another strong player enter the mobile market. Speaking of penetrations, as always, I win.
Did TV kill the radio? Did the car kill the horse? Did the electric shaver kill the plain ole razor? The thing, the big problem is, when marketing people get a hold of a new buzz, they work it like a boss. It's like they have this binary vision. Everything must conform to this new buzzword, all of a sudden. Take cloud for example. A great example how morons try to forcefeed a silly, useless buzzword to everyone. As if digital clouds do not have huge data centers behind them, with tens of technicians and engineers working to make sure things are peachy.
In fact, the best analogy I have for this whole bullshit is: car vs. moped. Mopeds are smaller, cheaper, more portable, and whatnot. That's your automotive smartphone. Cars are bigger, heavier, more powerful. That's your desktop. If we were to listen to morons wearing suits and ties and having trouble operating their Excel files, then EVERYONE should use ONLY mopeds for everything. The thing is, for some situations, mopeds are superior to cars, no argument there. But when you need to lug and work hard, you will want a car. Or comfort. Or something else entirely. Take this, and project to any which facet of the desktop death story crap. Price, life cycle, convenience, etc. Winning.
This is nothing more than a service pack. That's it. Some polish. And rightly so. For example, the conspiracy culprit number one, the Control Panel. In Windows 8, you had to shuffle between the very basic Metrosexual Control Panel and the classic one to access all of the functions. Now, more stuff has been moved to the new interface, and rightly so. Microsoft, like any big company, cannot ever admit failure, and must continue with whatever it's publicly announced, even if this costs them billions. And so, in line with their strategy, making the tiled interface work better is a smart thing to do, and has nothing to do with any death of any desktop. Oh, not getting the Start menu back was only expected, see my previous sentence.
First of all, let's be clear. One day, desktop MAY vanish in its current form - to be replaced by an EQUALLY functional technology that offers the same speed, convenience, visibility, and whatnot. However, Windows Blue is not even remotely close to being that technology.
Moreover, killing desktop - as in not just killing the desktop form factor of use, but also its core components - means a very drastic shift from the current, socially acceptable usage model. And that means disrupting the entire business, corporate and enterprise sector. Tough one. Still, no problem with that, except these things usually take decades.
Back to functionality, though, small devices like smartphones and tablets will never be able to replace the desktop, because they cannot complete with the large, heavy metal box in price, computing capacity, heat capacity, availability, and long term stability. Just to help some of the less intelligent among you think, it goes as follows:
But Dedoimedo, some of you might clamor, you can hook your smartphone into a dock, connect it to a keyboard and mouse and use it with a big monitor! Right, you can, but then it's no longer a mobile phone, morons. It's a just a small computer.
Oh, there's one reason why a company like Microsoft would want to see more smartphone and tablet devices out there, or have you move to the subscription-based model like they supposedly plan with Windows Blue. Money.
A typical Windows user nowadays replaced their OS when they replace the hardware. Microsoft wants them to replace it more often, so they can make multiple software revenue cycles on the same hardware.
OMG, I'm so bloody smart. Awesome.
Here's a sensible one, from the comment section to Paul Thurrott's Windows Blue review, very slightly edited for clarity - oh, and we will be having a closer look at one of Paul's earlier articles, so stay tuned:
I don't think the desktop will be disappearing any time soon. It's always going to be there on the Server OS,
and frankly, businesses will rely on it for some time to come. There is no way that in the next two and a half
years (presumed time until Windows 9) they're going to have every Office app, their development environments,
and other sophisticated products (like 3rd party apps Photoshop and AutoCAD) redone in "Metro" with all the
same power, flexibility, and capability as current desktop versions.
It's not going to happen.
*IF* Metro/Modern ever takes off significantly, then MS will have a window to offer a "Modern-Only" version of Windows ... currently something along the lines of Windows RT, which can sell to the consumer space. But I can't imagine the Pro/Business version, let alone the Server versions, dropping the desktop any time in the next decade.
It's totally conceivable that they can make the Desktop redundant and unnecessary for a majority of consumers in the next three years - it'll take more aggressive updating and development than we've yet seen, but it's possible. But there will always be professionals and power-users that need the desktop ... just in the same way that the Windows GUI didn't mean the command line disappeared; in fact, it's been greatly enhanced of late with PowerShell.
Read that last line - it's the same thing like Firefox. Not only did it not die, it's marching on, bigger and stronger and more sophisticated, because there's HUMAN demand for functionality.
Windows Blue has nothing to do with the desktop. First and foremost, Windows Blue is all about Windows 8. Now, this is going to fail, because I said so, and I'm the smartest man on this planet. Do not let my cockiness detract you from the topic at hand. This will happen, because Microsoft is ignoring the human needs and focusing on technology, which is the expected kneejerk reaction from a company pressed into a corner by its own arrogant decisions.
We will have a proper Blue review once a beta gets officially released. As far as the desktop is concerned, whether we're talking a large computer in your living room or the rectangular interface where you click on things and whatnot, it might one day vanish in its current incarnation, but that will not happen until a technology that offers superior functionality comes and becomes dominant.
Hand typing and mousing is definitely not the future for large devices, but it is well suited for small handheld gadgets, where it's booming, because keyboard and mouse are NOT well suited there! If only the companies paid attention to these crucial little details and did not focus on outjerking one another in the public arena. So desktop lovers, fear not. Your toys might go away, but your need will be fulfilled. After all, it's about money, and there will always be someone there to take it away from you in return for something, anything. Problem solved. Sleep tight.
P.S. Astronaut's glove, king's portrait, Einstein's portrait, boom box, and baboon images are in public domain. Intro thumbnail on the homepage licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.