As tablets and smartphones elbow the PC out of the way, silicon.com’s chief reporter Nick Heath argues that the arrogant, unfriendly PC has been the architect of its own demise.

If the PC is dying, as one of its inventors recently asserted, it really only has itself to blame.

The Little Britain catchphrase “Computer says no” resonated with a nation of frustrated computer owners for a reason – it was recognition that too often it is the PC that calls the shots, not its user.

Its demise has been a long time coming – and it’s the result of the refusal of hardware and software designers to make a PC that caters to the needs of users.

Typically, using a Wintel PC demands users be versed in the ways of system drivers and video codecs – or run the risk of butting into an inscrutable error message that brings the machine to a crashing halt.

stressed man with laptop

Using the PC has remained a painful experience for too longPhoto: Shutterstock

That the PC remains stuck in a singularly user-unfriendly rut was bought home to me when my netbook conked out recently.

Having bought a shiny new Windows 7 laptop, I blithely assumed that the process of copying my old files over from my previous machine to my new one would be a straightforward task.

Wrong.

On starting the copying process I was greeted with a disconcerting message telling me that I didn’t own the files. I did, yet still the products of my digital labours had been snatched away from me and were now orphaned and inaccessible to all.

A protracted Google hunt identified plenty of solutions to this ownership problem, not one of which could be described as intuitive to the average PC user.

Workarounds ranged from installing Linux as a virtual machine and recovering the files outside of Windows to changing the object ownership of each file – worlds apart from the “Open a word document” level of expertise that I gleaned from my Clait certificate.

For me, the solution lay buried several layers deep within a Windows menu, and required multiple boxes to be ticked and unticked and labels to be changed.

I don’t consider myself a complete novice when it comes to tech, but I still found myself…

 

…wasting half a day doing something that I presumed could be completed in a matter of minutes.

The PC is a relic of the bygone age, like the stuffy waiter in a restaurant who treated the average customer with surly contempt and sneered at how they held the soup spoon.

The problem for the PC is that it’s no longer than only game in town – tablet and smartphone OSes have arrived, offering a computing experience delivered in easily digestible apps and one that, more importantly, does exactly what is asked of it by users.

This is why tablet sales continue to explode – people want a machine that doesn’t throw unintelligible curveballs into their path every time they want to watch a movie trailer.

The prospect of PC sales being smothered by the burgeoning smartphone and tablet market has prompted some commentators to decry the move from open, versatile platforms like Windows and Linux, where the user can tweak settings and install what software they want, to closed systems like the iOS where Apple tightly controls the user experience down to the very nature of the apps that can be installed.

Unfortunately, for most people, using a PC isn’t an empowering experience of tapping into an open and versatile machine: the PC is an open and versatile system if you know what you’re doing but, more than 30 years after its birth, the full potential of the PC remains inaccessible to all but the command line enthusiasts of the geek hardcore.

By swapping PCs for smartphones and tablets, the average computer user is not losing anything – only gaining control of computing for the first time in their life. For the average user the move from PC to smartphone or a tablet is a winning one.

The PC has remained aloof from the common man for too long and now it is paying the price.

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