Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Monday June 21 2010

I recently read a piece saying that the age of the big box computer is drawing to a close, and that such dynosaurs are being driven slowly but surely to extinction by laptops.  Fair enough.  If that’s how other punters feel, I’m not going to tell them otherwise.  But speaking for myself, I think my next computer, which I am pondering now, is probably going to be a ... another big box computer.

imageIt’s not just that you can still surely (comments?) get more power into such a thing than you can squeeze into a laptop.  There are other considerations in play.

I also have a laptop, and the most important feature of this laptop, apart from it being small and having a sane operating system identical to the one on my real computer, is that it is extremely cheap and contains only what I am doing during that particular bit of mobility.  Which means that if I lose it, or drop it, or have it stolen, it’s not even the temporarily the end of my world.  My big box computer could also get kicked, or even stolen, but this is far more unlikely, I think.

There’s a line in a Brit gangster movie that I like, which goes: “You can’t steal a warehouse.  It’s big.  It’s heavy.  It’s stuck to the ground.” Okay, my big box computer isn’t quite that heavy, or quite that stuck to the ground, but you get my point.

There is also the matter of something being temporarily lost to take into account.  This is why I still have a phone that is attached by a piece of wire to the wall.  You don’t need wire any more for phones to communicate with the rest of the world, but wiring them to the wall sure makes them stay put.  I have never yet temporarily lost my laptop, by leaving it in a strange place, the way people temporarily lose car keys, but it could well happen.  I have lent it to people, in fact it is being lent out now, which is a very useful feature.  Which obviously wouldn’t be happening if that was my only computer, with everything important of mine on it.

Last night, and I’m not changing the subject I promise, I attended a talk about art, and how people “ought” to buy more of it.  I know.  Why “ought” they to?

The matter of people having the sheer wall space was raised.  What if there is nowhere to put all your art?  People with an art habit need space, which is seriously expensive stuff.  And it really helps if you are not constantly moving from place to place.  Art is for people with big and settled abodes.  Does not the same, on a smaller scale, apply to computers?  I am one of that lucky demographic that has somewhere big and unchanging to put my big box computer, where I also do all my serious work.  I have a big box computer, which is more desirable than a laptop for the reasons stated above (can’t be lost, dropped, stolen etc.), because I can.  Many don’t, not because a laptop is automatically superior, but because they can’t have a big box computer.  They have no one place to put it.  They live in constantly changing accommodation or work in offices where they likewise have no fixed abode.  Or, they just have to have their whole computing story with them both at home and at work.

What I’m saying is: if you don’t need your computer to be portable, you need it not to be portable.

Of course, the day may come when computers get so cheap that most can afford to lose them, damage them, have them stolen, like cheap mobile phones.

Also if our important computer stuff is not stored on our own computers, but is instead stored somewhere out there in virtual-land, and our computers are merely cheap tools to access our stuff - which (notice) remains on big box computers, in big information warehouses which are big, heavy, and stuck to the ground – that changes things.  Suppose the computers we own cost next to nothing.  Then, they become something we could afford to lose, break, have nicked, etc.  People have been saying that would happen for years, but it keeps not happening.  Is it now happening?  Is that another reason why laptops are conquering the big boxes?

The person I am currently lending my laptop to is, come to think of it, probably using it a lot like that.  Is this the future?  And is one of the reasons why this is the future is that people have now to use laptops, so are obliged also to find a big box somewhere else to store their vital stuff, owned and controlled by someone else?  It’s not that they want to live like this; it’s that they have to.