In last month's Windows 2000 Magazine UPDATE Special Edition, I offered my 2 cents' worth about the two largest competing palmtop OSs, the Palm OS and the Windows CE Pocket PC. I received many insightful responses from all of you, but what I heard most often ran along these lines: "Well, Mark, don't forget—the standard PC's going away soon and an array of information/Internet appliances will replace it."
I must admit that I didn't mention it because I can't bring myself to believe it. I think we'll be using standard PCs for a good long while, for a lot of reasons. You don't believe me? Then let me offer two solid arguments for the standard PC.
Input. And output.
Mundane as it might sound, I'd really miss keyboards. As a high-tech forward-thinking e-lovin' kind of guy, I'm supposed to be one of the high priests (or at least high-volume cheerleaders) of voice recognition. But as I've said in the past, my carpal-tunnel-driven need for voice input has made me try—and keep trying—the major products. And the best of them still makes at least one mistake about every 30 to 50 words (about one or two mistakes per paragraph). In fact, I just dictated the first three paragraphs of this column into Dragon to verify whether that's still true, and it is. However, what constitutes an impressive performance for a computer is unimpressive otherwise. If I hired a dictation specialist and got that many errors, I'd fire him in a heartbeat. I suspect that the simpler task of recognizing not 40,000 English words but 50 specific OS navigation commands (e.g., "open file" and "close window") can be solved completely today, but all that accomplishes is reducing the need for the mouse. No, a keyboard's the input device of choice for me, at least for now.
In the display area, it'd be hard to imagine leaving the current technology behind. In my opinion, CRTs or large LCD panels are unbeaten in current technology as output devices. In fact, I've always wanted larger displays, not smaller ones. When the metaphor of a GUI "desktop" first appeared, I loved the idea but hated stuffing a desktop into 640 x 480 pixels, the standard resolution of an actual desktop that's about 6' by 3' (not enough room for e-clutter). I'm not a neat, organized person, and I'll be darned if my computing tools will make me change my work habits to suit the tools! (Ours is about the only industry that says, in effect, "Oh, the tool doesn't fit your hand? Have you considered surgery?") Now that we finally have those huge backlit flat-screen LCD displays, I look forward to someday soon being able to buy a "computer desk" whose tabletop is one of those LCD displays beneath a scratchproof surface.
But do all of my computing on a system with a display no larger than a palmtop's 320 x 240 pixels? Never. Or with some kind of virtual-reality goggles that put an imaginary desktop in front of me? Well, with the onset of presbyopia, I'm not sure they could make a display that wouldn't require me to get a prescription pair of virtual-reality goggles . . . and even then, I'd only want a virtual-reality monocle, so I could still see what was going on around me as I worked. The ultimate display device probably will be foldable, portable, lightweight, extremely readable "digital paper," and I think such a device will appear as a viable commercial product, although not for at least 5 to 10 years (if that soon).
But none of the above means that I don't want to see something better, soon. I'm tired of dragging around a cell phone, laptop, Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), digital camera, and the electronic adapters associated with them. Maybe the answer will be a PDA with decent expansion abilities, such as the Handspring or the iPAQ, and easy add-ons that will turn it into a digital camera or a cell phone—but not a Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) phone, thanks anyway, Handspring. (I live in the United States in a fairly rural area.) The PDA would run something Windows-like, perhaps the Pocket PC's OS after a generation or two more of improvements, such as a "safe mode" option to run computationally light (e.g., with the Palm OS). The PDA would have tons of memory and computing power and a "limited" onboard solid-state storage—say, about 20GB—that I'd use to keep my essential data. Then, back at the office, I'd have a docking station that would let me directly attach my keyboard, mouse, large display, 1-gigabit USB peripherals, rotating hard disk, and network.
For now, I'm sticking with my convenient desktop PC. But I must go— because Windows Explorer's been acting funny. Time to back up my data, format my hard disk, and reinstall Windows 2000 Professional—good thing it's SO much easier to reinstall than Windows NT.