The post-PC world is here (shhh, don't tell Ballmer)

In a memo, Microsoft's Ray Ozzie depicts a world without Windows -- maybe that's why he's looking for a new job?

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Per Ozzie:

As we've begun to embrace today's incredibly powerful app-capable phones and pads into our daily lives, and as we've embraced myriad innovative services & websites, the early adopters among us have decidedly begun to move away from mentally associating our computing activities with the hardware/software artifacts of our past such as PC's, CD-installed programs, desktops, folders & files.

Instead, to cope with the inherent complexity of a world of devices, a world of websites, and a world of apps & personal data that is spread across myriad devices & websites, a simple conceptual model is taking shape that brings it all together. We're moving toward a world of 1) cloud-based continuous services that connect us all and do our bidding, and 2) appliance-like connected devices enabling us to interact with those cloud-based services.

What's missing from that vision? Icons. Mouse clicks. Hierarchical menuing systems. Inscrutable error messages. Forced restarts. Screens of death in various displeasing colors, and endlessly circular conversations with support drones in Mumbai.

In short, in Ozzie's vision there may be windows that open automatically when the temperature hits 72 degrees, but there is no Windows. And maybe that's why he's not looking at carpet swatches and Herman Miller catalogs in anticipation of easing into the Big Chair.

True, Microsoft has done some real innovating on the fringes (see Xbox, Kinnect, Courier, and Surface). And with Windows Phone 7, the company seems to finally understand just how godawful the traditional Windows interface is on a 3- or 4-inch screen. Still, I have to imagine asking Ballmer to drop Windows as the basis for everything was probably a bit like asking the Pope to drop the silly hat and allow priests to marry, or McDonalds to go 100 percent vegan. Hence Ozzie's sudden departure.

What Ozzie's saying in his memo isn't really new. You can comb archives of stories about the future going back decades and find similar stuff. But he was off a bit on one thing: That post-PC era isn't coming. It's already here. You can date its arrival to Jan. 9, 2007 -- the day Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone. Everything follows from that.

PCs won't go away entirely, just like landline phones or '57 Chevys haven't entirely disappeared. They'll be more like toasters -- nice to have when you need a warm bagel, but not essential to our digital existence.

And if Microsoft is no longer a part of that world, that's OK by me. I think we've all suffered enough.

Is Ozzie right and Ballmer wrong? Weigh in below or email me:

This article, "The post-PC world is here (shhh, don't tell Ballmer)," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.

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