Towards Defining the Post-PC World

PC; before it became politically correct it stood for Personal Computer.  At first it only applied to IBM compatible systems, but anon it became synonymous with a class of computing devices regardless of provenance.  Historically, PC refers to a general purpose computing device designed to be used by one person at a time.  But more broadly it has also come to refer to a multi-user device that runs arbitrary code.

With the advent of smartphones, tablets, and other computing appliances; there has been debate about whether or not these devices are in fact PCs.  In some ways these devices are much more personal than traditional PCs.  Generally designed for a single user, these devices sometimes forgo the ability to run arbitrary code.  So, are they PCs?

I would argue that they are in fact PCs, but PCs of a special type.  I propose adding “Appliance Computer” (AC) and “ultra-Personal Computer” (uPC) to the lexicon of computing definitions.

An Appliance Computer can be defined as a PC meant for a specific purpose or without the ability to run arbitrary code.  ACs would include devices designed to only run a web browser (ie ChromeOS) and devices designed to only run a manufacturer’s defined code set.

An ultra-Personal Computer would be a device which meets the standards of a PC, yet whose size, purpose, and/or usage scenarios make it predominantly a single user device.  By this definition, AT&T Android devices (which lack the ability to run arbitrary code) would be ACs, whereas Verizon Android devices (which retains the ability to run arbitrary code) would be uPCs.

Windows RT (the upcoming ARM version of Windows) lacks the ability to run arbitrary code and, at best, can only be considered an appliance.  The same applies to Apple’s iDevices.  However; root, jailbreak, or otherwise hack these devices to run arbitrary code and they  become uPCs.

These ideas are simply formed and may not hold up under rigorous (or even cursory) debate.  Just getting out some things that have been percolating in my brain recently.


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