Computers five years from now 01Computers five years from now 02Computers five years from now 03

Typewriter: Smith-Corona Sterling.

So we conclude our series of predictions for International Typewriter Appreciation Month. This article is printed in quotable and searchable form below.

The computer you use five years from now will probably be much less capable than the one you’re using now.

Why does Dr. Boli make that prediction?

Because the trend in that direction is already obvious, and has been so for several years.

Now, Dr. Boli does not mean that technology itself will stop advancing. Five years from now, the computer you use daily will probably be very slick and fast and look like shiny hard candy.

But unless you are in a profession where it is necessary to generate many kinds of content, your computer will probably be deliberately crippled.

This is not cruelty on the part of the computer makers: they are simply responding when the market tells them what it wants.

Do you remember what a swell idea multitasking was back in 1990 or so? If you’re using a laptop or desktop computer, you can find some music you like on YouTube, set it going, and then switch over to your word processor to work while the music keeps playing.

If you try that on an Android tablet, the music will stop. Android devices do not multitask. (Android 5 will have a limited kind of multitasking called “concurrent activities,” but it will not be as straightforward or capable as the multitasking in your desktop operating system,)

This was a conscious design decision. It is not a question of the power of the device; the smartphones and tablets of today are far more powerful than the computers that ran Windows 95. Small screens and fat fingers work poorly together unless the touch interface is simplistic in the extreme. The iOS and Android interfaces are elegant and easy, but they are deliberately limited to what they can do well.

Speaking of word processing, have you tried doing it on an Android device? Even the most capable Android document programs give you a tiny subset of the capabilities of desktop word processing. It’s another conscious design decision. People who use smartphones and tablets are used to simplicity, not complexity; they prefer apps that give them few options and take care of everything for them.

And those people have become the majority, with the result that their preferences are driving the design of desktop interfaces as well. Since the release of the “Unity” interface for Ubuntu, desktop-computer interfaces have been trending toward touch-capable simplicity. Windows 8 (which was suspiciously similar to Unity in some ways) is the most notorious example: running in native mode, Windows 8 strips away all the capabilities that windowed operating systems have built up over the course of a quarter-century, returning us to the tiled Windows of 1985. The GNOME interface in Linux made similar simplifications, throwing out so many capabilities from its file manager that at least two forked projects sprang up to preserve the old code.

More and more software is being simplified that way, with options drastically reduced and capabilities taken out to make touch interfaces more practical, and to make touch-interface users feel more at home. Even if you continue to use a full-sized computer rather than a tablet or phone (and you will be in the minority), your software will look like tablet or phone apps. There will always be a small minority of “content producers” who need complex software to write, publish, make music, edit images, or whatever it is they do. But most computer users will be using radically simplified and much less capable operating systems and software five years from now. And most will be perfectly happy.


  1. Ben Ieghn says:

    I wonder how much of this trending is (also partly) a reflection of an aging, or perhaps emerging, market (retired/semi-retired baby-boomers); i.e. screens seem to be increasing in size, perhaps for older eyes; less sophisticated apps designed for less technologically savvy persons with less physical agility in their hands and fingers?

  2. Jason Gilbert says:

    Maybe. Windows 10 is actually bringing back some features hidden away by Windows 8. I think that Microsoft is giving up its goal to have a single operating system that services both desktops, laptops, and mobile devices. That said, the only reason that I have a desktop now is that my kids have interests and school-related tasks that cannot be handled capably on tablet. Otherwise, my ipod, ipad, kindle ereader, and smart TV pretty much handle all of my computing needs.

    • Captain DaFt says:

      ” I think that Microsoft is giving up its goal to have a single operating system that services both desktops, laptops, and mobile devices.”

      Actually, they’re pushing one OS for all systems even harder than ever. Win 10 will be the same base OS they use on phones, tablets, laptops and desktops.

      What they have backed off from is one user interface for all devices.
      They claim that for phones, there will be one interface, desktops and laptops will have their own interface, unless they have touch screens, then the user will , supposedly, be able to switch between the regular desktop screen and tablet screens.
      With tablets, it will be similar ,they claim, with the tablets, and some phones, switching between touch and desktop modes if they detect a keyboard and mouse present.

      it all seems like it will be needlessly complex and annoying, with your chosen system constantly reconfiguring itself into different interfaces, especially since some programs will prefer one or the other, and be clunky when not running in its chosen mode.

      Of course Microsoft claims it will seem easy and natural, but then, they said that for Win 8.

  3. My laptop screen gets dirty fast enough as it is, just from dust and the occasional sneeze, I don’t need my grubby oily fingerprints all over it as well.

  4. The upper letter truncation transforms some words, e.g. in the last line.

    I suspect that, whatever the hardware, someone will have found a way to run Linux on it.

  5. Caren says:

    I find myself using my iPad far more often than my more-capable laptop, although I suspect I’m more productive on the laptop.

  6. Arkadiy Belousov says:

    A small factual correction. Android phones (and tablets,I presume) can indeed play music and do other things at the same time. Could for at least 4 years. What they cannot do is play video and do other things with their screens. The new Lollipop multitasking is more windowing or screen sharing than real multitasking.

    • Dr. Boli says:

      Yes, the music player will keep going, but the YouTube app will stop. At least it would the last time we tried it on a tablet.

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