Writing in the Windows Secrets Newsletter at http://goo.gl/gRNeI, well-known PC expert Woody Leonhard describes the new "consumer preview" version of Windows 8. Woody is a dyed-in-the-wool Microsoft fan, so I was surprised when he wrote, "If you download and install Windows 8 Consumer Preview, released late last week, I can almost guarantee that you won’t like it." He goes on to say that Microsoft is slowly abandoning the individual Windows users and is focusing on corporate sales. As he writes, "Microsoft is not building Windows 8 for the garden-variety Windows expert. You and I aren’t being ignored, exactly, but we’re not at the top of the Win8 food chain. As perplexing as it might sound, aiming Windows 8 at a different demographic is probably a good decision. But it still might lead to Windows’ demise."
I haven't seen the Windows 8 preview version yet. However, I have Windows 7 and Macintosh OS X systems sitting on my desk, side-by-side, installed on two different laptop computers of similar specifications. From what I have seen, I think Woody is correct. Microsoft appears to be focusing less and less on the individual, in-home user and more and more on their corporate customers.
Apple has long ignored corporate sales and has focused on individuals. To be sure, a few Macs are installed in corporate offices, but I bet most of them were brought in by employees who are Mac die-hards, not sold by Apple salespeople. The Windows world is the opposite: Microsoft salespeople work hard to sell Windows systems to large corporations and are generally successful.
Windows outsells Macintosh by ten to one, according to most reports. I don't have access to detailed numbers, but I'd bet that corporate sales by Microsoft salespeople outnumber Apple's sales team's sales by ninety-nine to one. However, in-home sales of units purchased in local computer stores probably lean more in Apple's favor. Windows still outsells Macintosh, even in in-home sales, but obviously not by a ten-to-one ratio.
So, will Macintosh eventually take over the computer world? I don't think so. In fact, I will suggest that the total sales of both Windows AND Macintosh desktop and laptop systems will decline. In fact, desktop sales have already been declining for years. Laptop systems have sustained some growth, but according to most published reports, even that is now slowing.
In fact, the future of computing appears to be in handheld devices: smartphones, iPhones, Android phones, tablets, Blackberry devices, and similar tiny mobile computers. I am fascinated by the fact that more iPads were sold in the fourth quarter of 2011 than desktop computers. And that doesn't even count the Android tablets.
The iPads have been dominating the market, and the new iPad announced this week will only continue that trend. Everywhere I go, I see iPads outfitted with external keyboards; most of them are connected via Bluetooth. One popular external keyboard made by Apple, however, is hard-wired. I know several people (who are NOT genealogists) who no longer use desktop or laptop computers. Instead, they use only an iPad with an added external keyboard or perhaps an iPad supplemented with an iPhone.
With this week's announcement of an iPad with a better display screen than most laptops, a faster processor than most laptops, a faster 4G LTE wireless network system than most laptops, and less weight and bulk than most laptops, who needs a laptop? In fact, who needs a desktop system? After all, the newly-announced iPad is more powerful than the desktop computers of only five or six years ago. Today's tablets have either less or more storage capacity, depending upon your viewpoint. Today's tablets certainly have less internal hard disk space than that found in desktop computers for a decade or more. Yet, the tablets also have access to cloud storage. In effect, every laptop computer that is connected to the cloud has terabytes or even petabytes of storage space available, should you care to use it. Of course, the same is true for laptop and desktop computers as well.
The iPad's 4G LTE wireless system means that it can be connected online almost anywhere you are within cell phone range. After all, 4G LTE base stations are installed on cell towers. You are not limited to the short range of wi-fi networks. Some of the Android tablets also have 4G LTE wireless capabilities. Indeed, anyone now can be connected "online, all the time."
Want to check email? You can now do so anywhere, anytime. Want to look up an ancestor in Ancestry.com's database? You can now do so anywhere, anytime. Want to schedule a meeting with your boss? Make an airline reservation or a dinner reservation? Add a new record to your personal genealogy database? Yes, the answer remains the same: "anywhere, anytime." You can do so with a two-and-a-half-pound iPad or Android tablet or, if you can tolerate a smaller screen, from any smartphone.
I expect that many genealogists will use large-screen tablet computers for data entry but will frequently check databases and email with smaller, handheld cell phones.
Who needs that behemoth computer on your desk?
I have been living a mobile lifestyle since I moved into my motor home right after New Year’s Day. For more than two months I haven't connected once to the Internet via any form of hard-wired connections. I haven't used DSL or cable modems or even fiber optic connections. When available, I have used wi-fi. When wi-fi isn't available or is too expensive, I have used a 4G/3G "air card" that connects to a nearby cell tower. I even used the air card while in a hotel room in London for five nights as that was considerably cheaper than paying the hotel's daily fee for wi-fi connectivity. I even make most of my telephone calls over a 4G wi-fi connection, using either Skype or the new magicJack Pro.
Wireless connectivity has worked well MOST of the time. I can usually make a 3G connection, even in rural areas. Most of the higher-speed 4G connections only occur in metropolitan areas.
The one glaring exception was on the beach in St. Augustine, Florida, where the cell phone companies seem to have a dead spot and the only available wi-fi network had extremely short range. Of course, problems like this will slowly disappear as more and more wireless handheld devices are sold and the cell phone companies' customers demand better and better coverage. The 4G and 3G "dead spots" will eventually get covered. New technologies on the horizon promise still faster wireless connections over many miles. However, those promises won't be fulfilled for several more years. Until then, we are limited to 4G, 3G, and wi-fi.
For more than two months, I haven't touched a desktop computer or looked at a large screen. I admit I miss the 27-inch screen on my desk back home, but the limitations have only been psychological. In fact, I have managed to use the smaller screen of the laptop to accomplish everything I needed to do.
I have been using two laptops plus an iPad and an iPhone. In fact, most of what I have done could have been accomplished with an iPad or most any Android tablet that is connected to an external keyboard in some manner. Most of the time, I didn't really need a laptop computer. Almost all my applications are cloud-based, including writing articles for this newsletter. The amount of local hard drive space I have used has been trivial as I store most everything in the cloud where it is safer and more reliable.
Even my backups have been made to a cloud-based backup service located in a data center several thousand miles away, supplemented by short-term backups to flash drives that I typically carry in my pocket. Of course, I don't trust flash drives for long-term storage. In fact, I don't trust any hard drives either. I feel safe only when I have made multiple backups and have stored each of them in multiple locations.
Is the mobile lifestyle with mobile devices for everyone? Definitely not. It remains as an available option for those who prefer it. I suspect that Microsoft and Apple will continue to sell some number of desktop installations for many more years although the numbers may decline a bit every year. Laptop installations will hold steady for a while and then decline within a few years. The high growth in the next five years or so will be in handheld computers.
Who cares about storage space? Our handheld devices effectively can store terabytes and terabytes of data by using disk arrays in the cloud. We don't need to buy these huge arrays; it is now cheaper to rent space on someone else's disk array than it is to purchase your own disk drives. My little cell phone can access more information than what could be printed in ten million encyclopedias! And it can retrieve that information at high speeds, as well.
A tablet computer, supplemented by a Bluetooth keyboard, may suffice for all your needs. After all, it is a more powerful computer than the desktop computer sold only five or six years ago.
Obviously, not everything is perfect just yet. Our wireless networks still have some dead spots, as I discovered in St. Augustine. Tiny screens and tiny keyboards may no longer be an issue on tablet computers but still are difficult to see and use on a cell phone. We have not yet arrived at hardware Nirvana, and I suspect we never will. Nonetheless, the advantages of small, portable devices often outweigh even these disadvantages.
What operating system will your next "computer" use? Windows? Linux? Mac OS X? iOS? or Android?
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