When a Valleywag blogger picked an e-mail fight with Steve Jobs this past weekend, Steve weighed in with arms swinging. The dialogue is worth reading because it says a lot about where Steve is trying to drive the computer industry. I think he is saying the Mac is dead. Don't get me wrong, he is also clearly saying that all PCs are dead, but the Mac is a PC. If the future is iPads, iPhones, etc., I'm on that same page. But the cost will be, as Ryan Tate, the Valleywag blogger, points out, "freedom." I'm willing to bet that, to most of you, the cost is worth the benefit.
(Valleywag is an interesting, and recommended, publication that covers a lot of what is going on behind the scenes in Silicon Valley. Right now, there is a lot of sensitivity surrounding what may have been an illegal search and seizure at a Gizmodo blogger's home. Regardless of whether it was legal, it was incredibly stupid. The blogger, Ryan Tate, and Valleywag are both connected to Gawker Media, which is also Gizmodo's parent company.)
Is Freedom the Problem with PCs?
I've had the same argument with desktop Linux folks for awhile. From their perspective, platforms like the MacOS and Windows are too constrained, and people want access to source code and the freedom to do whatever they want on their machines. After a decade, desktop Linux has, what, 1 percent market share. And the OEMs question that number privately and often state that much of that is pirated Windows.
If you look at any other personal technology area, from white goods (refrigerators, etc.) to cars, homes, or phones, the trend has been away from allowing the user to have a lot of control over what they get. Cars are harder to work on today and fewer shop manuals are purchased than when I was growing up. Most white goods require specialists and still have fixed settings. Home automation only seems to work if a pro comes in and sets it up and then most home owners don't really use it. Phone features haven't changed much in two decades, and folks still don't use most of them. I can't find a single consumer product trend that suggests people want more freedom, but people clearly want products to be more reliable, safer, and easier to use.
Freedom Is Just Another Word for Crap
In the '70s, GM wanted to give users freedom in terms of car appearance and went cladding crazy. You can still see cars from that era with the cladding peeling off and dragging on the ground. Yes, they could do a level of customization cheaply. What resulted was crap.
For PCs, Mac and Windows, the user has a great deal of freedom in picking what they run on the machine. Part of the dialogue between Ryan Tate and Steve Jobs was on porn and, coincidentally, that is where most of us may pick up our malware. This is because we don't just want porn, we want free porn and don't seem to have the sense our mothers gave us to understand the risks. In fact, the easiest way to get malware on either a Windows or an Apple PC is by tricking the user to install it. Our "freedom" is at the core of our problems because most of us don't act responsibly with it.
The end result is that Jobs may be right, we may be happier if we give it up. Actually, in talking to iPad users, I'm pretty sure we would be happier.
Wrapping Up: Steve Jobs Signals the End of the PC Era
Steve Jobs is a minimalist kind of guy but if you've ever watched someone play, or write about playing with, the iPad, there is a fascination you just don't see with Windows or Apple PCs. Much like the original Mac, it is still young but it has a magic in its simplicity that is closer to what I think people want in personal technology. I think Steve is going to try to kill the PC and drive in a replacement that, while less "free," may be more of what we all want in a device we are increasingly dependent on. I also think this exchange between Tate and Jobs may become one of the cornerstones of a big coming change. Finally, it takes guts to lead and Jobs clearly is indicating his leading days are far from over. Good for him, and come to think of it, good for us too.