I decided to write this article after reading about Ubuntu’s recent demonstration showing the use of a smart phone running Ubuntu as a desktop computer.
I currently work in Edinburgh which is hundreds of miles away from my home in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. During the week I stay in a hotel but on a Friday night I catch a train back up north.
Whilst on the train I do many of the tasks that need to be done each week. Recently though I have been using my phone rather than my laptop to perform these tasks and there are few tasks that really require me using a computer at home (or on the train).
Last Friday I managed to fill in a timesheet, raise an invoice, pay monthly salaries, add money to my son’s school lunch card, book the following week’s train tickets and book a hotel. I achieved all these tasks in the space of about 25 minutes.
Had I tried doing this on a laptop running Windows 10 it would still have been installing the updates.
On the journey home I had a good think about what I really need a computer for and what other people really need computers for and I wonder whether we spend too much time going wow about things we don’t really need to focus on.
There are of course certain tasks that either can’t be done on a phone due to it’s size or it would be too fiddly and not a good experience.
Here are a list of things I still use my laptop for at home and to be honest there aren’t many of them.
- Writing letters
- Writing articles for this site and linux.about.com
- Writing scripts and small programs for the Raspberry PI
So this gets me thinking about other people. What sort of tasks do you really need a laptop or desktop computer for?
Writers will need at the very least a word processor and there are other tools writers use for the creation of eBooks. These tools are specific to the niche of writing eBooks.
Some people like to create videos or it may be part of their job. Specialist video recording and editing software is therefore required. Again these tools are specific to a niche.
Graphic designers need image editing packages, software developers need compilers, IDEs and other tools.
When it comes down to it though all the tools people really need to use on their computer are specific to a particular niche.
At the end of the day as computer users we need to be able to run our specific niche applications, be able to navigate around the file system and be able to organise the files on our computers. We also need our hardware to work.
Does it matter whether we have a simple interface similar to the one provided by LXDE or a whizzy desktop environment like KDE Plasma or GNOME.
Surely if you are clever enough to use whatever niche application it is you really need to run on a computer you are clever enough to click on a menu and navigate to the application required.
What we really don’t need on a desktop computer are tools like Cortana. That isn’t to say that Cortana and OK Google don’t have a purpose but surely that purpose is more useful on a tablet or mobile phone than on a computer with a perfectly serviceable keyboard and mouse.
Have any of you really used Cortana or OK Google when sat in the comfort of your living room or home office? Don’t you feel a bit silly saying “OK Google Run Chrome” when you could just as easily click an icon on a panel?
On a phone Cortana and OK Google are very good. For instance when you are looking for directions it is much easier to say “OK Google give me directions from Edinburgh to Haymarket” than it is to launch the maps application and try and type it into a tiny window using oversized thumbs.
Moving on then lets look at the other applications we appear to be obsessed with when describing how good our operating systems are.
For instance far too much effort is spent talking about audio players, video players and mail clients.
Do people really switch on their computer to listen to music? If I happen to be working on my computer I might on the oddest of occasions choose to play a track from my library but to be honest I am far more likely to stream music from my phone or portable MP3 player to bluetooth speakers.
I’m not suggesting we omit audio players from our operating system. I’m suggesting we are focusing lots of time on something that already seems to work well enough. Does Rhythmbox really need many more features?
The same can be said for video players. VLC works. It doesn’t need any more features. To be honest I am more likely to watch online videos via Youtube and other sources than a dedicated media player. I don’t even really use a computer to watch videos. I either use my phone, cast the video from phone to Google Chromecast or on the odd occasion I use a tablet.
Email clients are a waste of time now. I never use them. My email is on my phone and if I need to type something long then I will use the web interface.
When you hear people complaining about Linux they are usually complaining about lack of good image editing software and lack of decent video editing software and lack of good IDEs etc.
Some of this is down to a learning curve because I’m sure some of you will point out GIMP and Eclipse.
More and more of our life is going to be spent on smaller devices such as phones and so developers would be far better spending their time creating decent web applications and mobile phone applications.
If you are going to develop for the desktop operating system then you are better focusing on applications that people really need for the desktop.
Kudos to the Ubuntu developers. The convergence looks really good.