I have not had time to post much (read anything) to the blog in a while- this is not because I have stopped having ideas of things, though they have slowed down- but because I have not had time to sit down and put electronic pen to paper. Additionally, now that I have plunged into the Twitter micro-blog pool it feels as though I am still updating my on-line life, even if the longer articles associated with a blog are less frequent.
So, why have I not had sufficient time? Well, as I posted before, occasionally real work gets in the way of doing the fun stuff, but a new toy has led to the inspiration to post.
The history of the computer can be traced back over 200 years to Charles Babbage and his Analytical machine, 50 years to the Bombe that helped to crack the Enigma codes, 35 years to the debut of Intel’s 8008 microprocessor or 17 years (at the time of writing) to the invention of the internet. If we look back through time the path to the ubiquity of computers seems clear, but looking forward from today there are clear differences in the vision of what computers will do and how we will use them: Tom’s Hardware is trying to decide whether or not to buy a laptop or desktop whilst MacUser has made the decision and recommends that if you only need a single computer, then that computer should probably be a laptop- but I simply reject their premise that a single computer can meet my needs. I have identified 3 use profiles for the tech aware, connected geek of today (and the hardware that I currently use to meet the profile):
Permanent Presence: Nokia e51
Portable Solution: Toshiba R500
Base Station: Twin screen desktop with serious sound system, top notch keyboard and bucket loads of RAM
The key thing about these profiles is that they need to work seamlessly together- information needs to by synchronised between all machines as well as needing to meet the particular profile. The synchronisation issue is why I am so interested in web apps and how they can also work offline. I want to be able to use a single storage location for all my files, have that sync whenever I need it, work off-line and not get in the way. I have worked at some large companies that have implemented this, but I get the impression that it is just hard. Too hard for me anyway, as my trials with Omnidrive, Meebo etc have proved. Anyway, getting on with the profiles:
This is the term I use for the computer that you have with you the whole time- for most people today this is a cell/mobile phone (be it ‘smart’ or not), though in the past this may have been a Personal Digital Assisstant (PDA) or even simply a filofax. I resisted carrying a mobile for several years, feeling that they were for posers, gits and tossers who liked to announce to the world that they were “Yuh, I’m on the train. I’ll be home in 20 minutes” to anyone in earshot (which would normally be the whole carriage). However, sometime this century mobile phones stopped being looked down upon and became all pervasive. Being good little computers, the phones followed Moore’s Law and increased their computing power each year, as did our ‘need’ to be connected. However, the prime use of the permanent presence machine is to read e-mail, text, basic news services and stay in contact through voice, text, brief e-mail and possibly video calls. For many people today this is a Blackberry or similar. Personally, I got stuck into Nokia many years ago, hence my preference for the e51. The ability to create content will vary by user, but for me that is where the next step up comes in…
This is where the situation starts to get interesting, as for many people this is the size of machine where they start to think of owning a computer. Now if you truly are set on owning a single solution then this will be a mid sized laptop, or even a large multimedia desktop replacement. But if you actually follow my advice (and the justification for it appears in the Base Station section) then the portable solution should be as portable as possible. By introducing the ability to take your compute power with you, you are already compromising on screen size, keyboard capability, mouse comfort and sound system quality. Buying a bigger laptop is not going to give you speakers as good as a set of Harman Kardons, nor is the keyboard going to be as good as a Logitech di Novo. So if the compromise has to be made and the system is not your one and only, I believe that the system should be as light and portable as possible.
Currently there are 4 real players in this sphere: 3 have been battling out for almost a year and one has come along more recently. The three old hands are Sony TZ series, Apple’s MacBook Air and Toshiba’s R500 and there was, in my mind, no clear winner; the MacBook Air is the thinnest, the R500 is the lightest and the Sony had the most capability built in- you just chose your favourite vendor of particular pose requirement (I am an old Tosh hand, and I like that lack of weight in the R500). Lenovo obviously learned from these three pretenders and came out with the X300 which is now clearly the best portable solution. So why isn’t everyone using these machines? Well, most obviously they are hideously expensive; every 50g or 1cm reduction costs more. Further these machines are only really usable when you have a 2nd machine- the advantage of a single machine is that there is no need to synchronise separate machines. If you have a docking station and simply plug the machine in, then you are using the same hard drive- hence the lack of need to sync. So the only people likely to be driving a truly portable machine are not constrained (too much) by budget, are tech aware to keep things in sync and probably like to pose a little bit with their new toy. Yup, sounds like I fit that bill 😦
Now we get to the real justification for using multiple machines. I like twin (or more) screens. I know it is a little extravagant, but honestly once you get used to that much screen real estate, you will not be prepared to give it up. To paraphrase a quote “once you go black, you won’t go back”. I like to think that the quote was about coffee, but read into it what you will. I currently have two 21” screens giving me a desktop that is 3200*1200 pixels across; that equates to 1m * 36cm. Or as my brother put it: “That’s a piggin’ big screen!”. Now admittedly this requires a large desk, though not nearly as large as it used to be when the screens were CRTs! And there are arguments that can be made that a single 30” screen is a better solution, but not only were they not available when I bought my system, but they are even more expensive than the ultra-portable laptop. Somewhere budget has to come into it 🙂
So, if you can solve the synchronisation issues and can afford it, then using machines designed for each particular purpose is truly the best approach. And if you travel a lot and are able to justify not using the 7lb monster, your back will thank you too.