Thursday, August 23, 2012

The New Home Computer

If the PC doesn’t make much sense for business anymore, it makes even less sense at home. One of the ironies of the home PC is that people would often intentionally select computers to be compatible with their computers at work, at the same time that their employers were, in the name of security, doing everything they could to make the work computers incompatible with everything else in the world.

In the last five years, the attempt to make the home PC compatible with the work PC has become a losing battle.

  • Work may use a decade-old operating system version that is no longer sold or officially supported.
  • Even if work uses a current operating system version, the “home” edition of the operating system may be utterly incompatible with the “pro” edition at work.
  • If you want to pay for the “pro” edition of the operating system anyway, it may cost more than the whole computer.
  • Besides, how do you get files past the firewall at work?

As long as the computer at home and the one at work are in two different worlds, the computer you use the most at home is likely to be a tablet computer, or something designed for a style of use more casual than a PC suggests. But you still need a first-class computer at home — to plug the printer into, if for nothing else.

Actually, you will probably want two first-class computers at home — one plugged into the television or other large video screen for entertainment purposes, and another one in a separate room for anyone who isn’t watching television to use. These home computers need to serve as a hub, to collect ebooks, songs, movies, software, and messages from the world outside and distribute them to the tablets, phones, and other personal devices people use. It may also retrieve important files from everywhere and store them in a fixed location, or archive them on optical disks. The primary home computer might as well have the home’s wireless router built in for ease of connecting and operating everything. It ideally should not have a built-in video display, since it might be plugged into a $2,000 television.

A central home computer is more like a server than a PC, though it must also function as a PC. As with the enterprise desktop, this is a product that computer manufacturers have not been quick to build. Yet I am convinced that it is a category whose time has come.