May 2011

Volume 26 Number 05

Editor's Note - Staying Put

By Keith Ward | May 2011

image: Keith Ward I was on a flight to Redmond recently for some meetings on The Campus. The man in the seat next to me was playing Solitaire on his iPad. Tucked away under the seat in front of him was a fat laptop bag. Because he looked like a standard-issue businessman, I struck up a conversation about how he uses his iPad versus his laptop. Specifically, I wanted to see if his tablet has replaced his laptop as his primary business computer.

The iPad hasn’t replaced his laptop, he said, although he enjoys using it immensely. Frankly, it was the answer I expected. It’s also the reason that—contrary to growing public perception—laptop and desktop computers are not on their way out. They don’t have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, soon to be replaced by iPads, Motorola Xoom tablets, Androids, iPhones and, yes, even Windows Phone 7 smartphones.

And that fact is why developers who toil away making applications for desktop OSes like Windows 7 and the Mac need not worry about job security. You’re not Sheriff Woody, knocked off the bed by “Shiny New Toy” Buzz Lightyear and about to be put in a yard sale box.

There’s no doubt that mobile OS development is all the rage right now. There’s nothing wrong with that. At one time, Java was all the rage. C++ was all the rage. ASP.NET was all the rage. You get the point. What I’m saying is not that those languages are dead now, so it’s time to panic if you’re not versed in the intricacies of mobile apps. On the contrary: All those languages are still going strong, and developers are still building great software with them. Thus shall it be with more traditional OS app development: Your niche isn’t going away. Heck, it’s not even a niche. There are a lot of PCs out there, and they’re not anywhere near extinct.

I say this with confidence for one big reason: I can’t get any real work done on a smartphone, or a tablet with a smartphone OS. Sure, just like you I check e-mail and use the calendar and such, but that’s about it. No one with any sense at all would try to write a document on an Android phone, for instance. That PowerPoint you need to set up for a meeting? Yeah, you could technically do it, to a limited degree, on an iPhone. In an emergency, it could work for you. But would you, would I, would anyone regularly do that? Come on.

The same issue afflicts tablets. Most owners that I know use them almost solely as gaming/social networking/Web browsing machines. The OSes that run on them are meant for that kind of light fiddling around, not serious work. Again, yes, you can add keyboards, stands and so on, and use them more like a laptop. But if you’re doing that, then you’re not really using a tablet anymore, are you?

I can’t see them working in a school setting, either. The lack of a physical keyboard means they’d be nearly impossible to take notes on. Forget about writing long papers on an iPhone or iPad; they’re just not made for it.

I have a Dell Studio XPS laptop as my main work machine, and an ASUS Eee PC netbook as my carry-around companion. I love my Eee PC, which I’ve outfitted with Windows 7 Home Premium, upgraded RAM (2GB) and ReadyBoost technology (way, way cool, by the way: to get even more performance. With this setup I can write, edit, use Adobe Acrobat Pro and more—in other words, almost all the work I need to get done, I can do on my three-pound, not-much-bigger-than-an-iPad netbook.

Those advantages apply to business as well. There’s simply no substitute for a full-featured OS when it comes to getting real work accomplished. This isn’t to imply that smartphones and tablets are useless—only that it’s critical to know what they can, and can’t, do. And what they can’t do will keep the trusty old PC around for many years.

Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with old dogs learning new tricks. But if you like what you’re doing now and don’t feel like squeezing into the fast lane, take heart: On March 24, a job search using the term “Fortran” returned 56 results. Good developers on any platform, even one older than most of you, will find work.