Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The black rectangle won't last as long as the beige box

It looks like putting #Linux on #Microsoft's new #Surface  is going to be an up hill struggle. I was actually expecting that...

The era of the commodity beige box is coming to an end, and the days of the general purpose computer are almost over. Most people never needed or wanted a general purpose computer, and they're going to be happy with more limited devices optimised for a single, or a few, purposes. So long as those devices just work.

As a scientist I've benefited from being able to take mass produced PCs and be able to put them on desks very cheaply. The amount of compute power we've had access to as a result meant that money that would otherwise have been spent on expensive high end workstations could be spent elsewhere.

Those of us that need general purpose computing; designers, developers, scientists, are going to have to go out and buy increasingly expensive niche machines, effectively old-fashioned workstations. High end computing platforms that the general population just don't need on their desk or in their pocket.

The fact you can't install #Linux  on the new #Surface  is just the start of what is going to be an increasingly obvious trend. It's just a symptom. The things that are open and the things that are closed are changing. Time to wake up and realise that. Being able to install #Linux  on your PC isn't important any more.

I think a lot of the web and mobile people are making the same mistake today that Nokia made five years ago, Nokia was all about the hardware and wasn't watching the software hard enough...

Today people are all about the software and aren't watching the hardware hard enough. Today's mobile phone, the black rectangle with, at most, a single button is a transition device. Don't get too comfortable with it, and don't stop thinking about innovation. Because the black rectangle won't last as long as the beige box.


  1. Al, I'm not sure what you're really trying to say here. I've never understood the fascination on installing Linux on weird devices like PS3's, nor why you'd want it on a Surface, unless you really really like the ergonomics of that platform (and I don't).

    Many fewer of us will have PCs in the sense that we know them today, but that's because most people don't want or need a PC. They just want to listen to music, watch videos, chat with their friends or surf the web at the touch of a button. And that's why those black rectangles sell so well at the moment, as people are ditching their desktops and even their laptops in favour of something simpler and sexier.

    On the other hand there are those of use who will always want a PC of some form so they can write code. Let's face it, where are all those mobile apps going to get developed - not on iPhones or Galaxies!

    So a Surface is not a PC, and installing Linux on it doesn't make sense. Buy a Raspberry Pi, buy a Macbook (I love mine to bits, what with the SSD and retina display and 16G ram; and yes it's not running Linux but will compile every Linux/Unix app I've thrown at it so far). What we have now is more choice than we ever had before, and that seems to be a Good Thing to me.


    Keith S.


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