Last week's Advice Line explained why tablets won't replace PCs any time soon. It created quite a stir, with one camp in agreement, a second pointing out that early PCs lacked a lot, too, and a third complaining I was ignoring Windows 8, which will address just about every tablet limitation I listed.
I agree with all three camps.
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Regarding the first, "agrees with me" and "right" are synonyms. Those who agreed with me that tablets won't replace PCs are on the side of truth, justice, and the American way.
As for the other two camps, they're both right too, and they're compatible with each other, as well as with the first camp. Yes, early PCs were limited, and yes, Windows 8 addresses most tablet limitations I listed. Dig a bit deeper into the implications of each camp's position and you'll find a lot of guidance for how next-gen IT should be thinking about tablet technology.
Like today's tablets, early PCs were limited
I agree with those who pointed out that early PCs were limited. They didn't replace mainframe or midrange computers. They were, for the most part, used as adjunct devices that provided capabilities different from what anyone could do on a mainframe or midrange system -- for example, electronic spreadsheets, personal databases, presentations, and so on. The parallel with the current crop of tablets is obvious.
There's another, less obvious parallel: In the early days of client/server computing, software developers learned to layer their applications. The best of these ran the presentation layer on the PC, made business logic portable so that it could run on either the server or desktop to optimize performance, and kept the data and data management layers on the server side.
In a way, that's still how it's done. Pure display-with-HTML/execute-everything-on-the-server user interfaces never caught on because of a tricky technical challenge: They were awful.
We all forgot that we had sneeringly referred to desktop-based processing as "fat clients" and decided that "rich clients" (the exact same thing) were fine and dandy. I guess the difference is that programming a feature-loaded presentation layer that runs on the desktop OS is fat, while programming a feature-loaded presentation layer that runs in the browser is rich.
Now we have tablets, and just about everyone has figured out that the user experience of accessing functionality through a browser is inferior to accessing the same functionality through a custom app that runs on the tablet OS. We've reinvented client/server computing. I wonder what we'll decide to call it this time.
Windows 8 will address tablet limitations
Those who raised their hands in favor of Windows 8 are also right. Windows 8 provides just about every bit of the functionality -- other than the missing screen real estate -- I listed as tablet limitations last week, along with other shortcomings I've mentioned from time to time.