Form follows function

Form follows function is a principle of architecture. The idea is that the shape of an object is based on its function. That there’s a “best” shape for an object used for a particular task. That’s probably why things like hammers, shovels, and screwdrivers haven’t changed much in the last 80 or so years.

There’s been quite a bit of guff about tablets replacing traditional PCs. It’s the same guff that came up when netbooks were released. Netbooks sell ergo “The PC is dead”. Tablets sell ergo “The PC is dead”. Netbooks and tablets after them are really good at doing some things that PCs could do. It’s certainly easier to sit on the couch watching TV and interacting with social media on a tablet than it is doing it with a laptop. So naturally that’s something that people are doing with tablets.

But imagine the following: A law firm, an accountancy firm, or a government department where, instead of a desktop workstation that includes keyboard, monitor, case, and mouse, everyone is using a tablet. Can you imagine such a thing? Or is it something you’ll only see in the faux reality world of an Apple or Samsung commercial? Heck have you noticed that in terms of sales, it’s the smaller tablets that are grabbing market share from the bigger ones? Who is going to run an accounting spreadsheet off an iPad Mini or a Nexus 7?

Tablets are really good for consuming media and interacting with social media. But in terms of being the sort of devices you would use for day to day productivity activities in an office they are less effective. You *can* work with a tablet or a hybrid like a surface, but you’ll be more productive if you’ve got a good keyboard, a decent sized monitor, and a straightforward pointing device. Laptops are great when you are mobile. But have you noticed that when you spend time in office environments, those laptops are often are plugged into keyboards, mice, and monitors?

Yes people are changing the way that they work. Yes some people have jobs that they used to do on desktop PCs that they can do better on a tablet. For the most part these people are the exception rather than the rule. There are certain tools and form factors that are more sympatico with common work tasks than others.  It’s why my son boots his computer when he needs to write an essay for school, even though he’ll watch YouTube and muck about the rest of the time with his iPad. He’s 11 and pretty much a digital native – but he still goes back to “the hammer, screwdriver, and shovel” because there’s only so much you can do with a touchscreen tablet form factor.

Desktop computers aren’t going away. They may evolve to be a big touch screen monitors with the processor, hard disk, network adapter, and other components connected to the back, but they’ll still have keyboards and mice.

So when you hear prophecies of the death of the PC – ask yourself if an office full of accountants, or a law practice, or a government department would run effectively if everyone was using the replacement.

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IT pro Orin Thomas provides true tales, snafus, news, and urban legends for Microsoft Windows system administrators.

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Orin Thomas

Orin Thomas is a contributing editor for Windows IT Pro and a Windows Security MVP. He has authored or coauthored more than thirty books for Microsoft Press, founded the Melbourne System Center,...
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