Wednesday Nov 08, 2006

Sustainable Computing: is the PC itself or its design the problem?


Remove the case from any desktop PC and you'll find inside virtually the same layout and component set that was contained in the original personal computer developed by IBM in 1981.  Among the components inside you'll find a microprocessor, a hard drive (the most common cause of PC problems), the motherboard, a disk drive (the DVD format being the latest version that extends back to floppy disks) and of course a electric fan to cool the heat generated by the chip.  Since the PC was first launched, according to a recent mailshot from Apple Computer more than 114,000 PC viruses have been identified.


In the past 25 years nothing much has changed other than each of the components have become faster, more powerful and cheaper.  At the same time, consumer expectations of what the PC can do have been stretched further and further.  Online gaming, instant messaging and video streaming have been added to word processing, spreadsheets and presentation packages.  Nowadays at the point of sale, most retailers differentiate between various PC models and manufacturers based on their multimedia functionality, which frequently is only used to its full capabilities for a very small amount of the time that the PC is switched on.

As Thomas Friedman observes in his bestselling book 'The World is Flat', the PC has become a truly commoditised product on a global scale combining components from many countries and increasingly being assembled in low wage economies.

Most of the world's leading corporations now use IT as a competitive advantage rather than view IT simply as a cost centre.  Interestingly, many have built their businesses around networked applications rather than putting a PC on the desktop at the point of service delivery.


Based on the reliability of the average desktop (at least the ones I have owned), if PCs had been deployed by Tescos at their checkouts, up until a few years ago the result would have been queues stretching back to the bakery counter (plus additional refrigeration units in the chiller section).  Similarly, without networked computing, the airlines would never check-in all their passengers for the flight to leave on time.  City dealing rooms would not function.  ATMs would routinely freeze and not dispense cash.

There are thousands of schools and educational institutions with a combined purchasing power far exceeding any individual corporation.  Why then do they continue to install desktop PCs their classrooms when there are alternative networking computing systems that would be both virtually silent and not generate heat?  As a citizen and taxpayer, I don't want schools to start spending money on air conditioning when there are alternatives.


Finally my thanks to Andy Grove for his comments yesterday that prompted me to write this response.  I would like to give equal prominence on screen to reader comments but template that I am using in Roller does not allow this. 

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