The Demise of the Desktop

The Heyday of the Desktop Computer

When based in Louisville, Kentucky, my wife and I each had big, bulky, homemade tower desktop computers. These ran versions of Linux and Windows. I also had an Apple Mac Mini to use for developing iOS apps, as it isn’t possible to develop for Apple without an Apple machine. Occasionally I used a laptop (a Lenovo X220) primarily to run EPIC electronic health record software for when I was rounding in the hospital. I found it easier to carry around my own computer rather than to log on and off of the desktop computers at each nursing station. Nevertheless for the majority of work I preferred my desktop setup, with its large screen, clickety-clackety Unicomp keyboard, and mouse.

On January 1, 2014 this all changed. I retired and moved to Paris, France. I purchased a 15″ Macbook Pro (MBP) for myself and a 13″ Macbook Air for my wife. The desktops were left behind in Lousiville. Any and all work I needed to do on the computer had to be done on the MBP. At first I wondered how I would get by with the smaller screen and without using a mouse. Needless to say I soon adjusted and found that the advantages of a well-build portable machine outweighed the disadvantages.

We returned to America in July, and are now primarily based in Parker, Colorado, a small town that became a large town over the years as the Denver metro area expanded. A couple weeks ago we moved all our stuff from our condo in Louisville back to Colorado. This stuff included the several desktop computers mentioned above. In our house in Parker I have a “Man Cave” (or perhaps it should be “Mann Cave”) that is a converted storage room. My plan was to set up my desktop computers in the Man Cave, network them together, and use them for all my computer activities (programming, writing, gaming, etc.).

I hooked up my wife’s old desktop box to my keyboard, mouse, and screen. I switched it on. Immediately I was greeted with the sound of several large fans moaning away in the box. Wow! How did I ever put up with that noise? My laptop makes no noise.

After a excruciatingly long boot process, I was greeted with the login screen to — Windows Vista!?! I had forgotten that was the operating system on the machine. How quaint. How sad. Well, it probably didn’t matter. I justed wanted to run Steam on this machine so I could play some games. I don’t use Microsoft for programming. I would set up my Mac Mini for that.

I double-clicked Steam, but, of course, there was no Internet connection. In Louisville I had everything connected by Ethernet, but in Parker everything was connected by wifi. It took me a few moments to realize that this home-made desktop had no builtin wifi. Well, surely I had a USB wifi dongle somewhere. I rustled through my old computer equipment, found a Netgear wifi adapter and plugged it in.

Windows Vista had no driver for the wifi adapter. And, in a classic chicken versus egg dilemma, there was no way to download the driver over the Internet. Well, the next step was to use my MBP to download the driver, copy it to a USB stick, and then copy it to the desktop. After these steps, Vista was able to install the driver. But it still didn’t work. The error message read “the capability of your network adapter does not match the requirements of this network.” After some troubleshooting (installing and uninstalling the driver), it still didn’t work. Suddenly, playing “Deadly Premonition” on this old desktop no longer seemed to be as desirable as it had been an hour or so ago. Maybe if I wanted to play games I should get a Playstation or Xbox.

So I gave up on setting up the Windows box and decided to set up my Mac Mini. At least I could use that for my programming. Of course the Mac Mini had had no software updates for almost a year. I would have to download Android Studio, which I was now using instead of Eclipse for Android development. I would have to update Xcode, a multi-gigabyte download. I would have to update my local repositories from GitHub. And all this over my pathetic 1.5 Mbps Internet connection. I was facing days of downloading.

I looked at my nice widescreen monitor, my cool keyboard, my fairly plain vanilla mouse, and my over-the-top sound system. My Macbook Pro was sitting there, with its USB ports and HDMI port. I plugged all the peripherals into the MBP and started it up.  Everything worked. I could use a keyboard and mouse and have a widescreen display just by hooking everything to my MBP. I didn’t have to duplicate my data and programming environment on another computer. I didn’t have to waste energy powering up more devices or waste precious bandwidth between multiple machines.

As I worked with this setup, I noticed the screen, though large, had lower resolution than my MBP’s retina display screen. I was stymied on how to do a 3 finger swipe with a mouse. After a while I unplugged all the peripherals and went back to just using my MBP as is.

I had resisted the prevailing notion that the desktop was dead. Having gone through the denial phase, I am now ready for acceptance. The desktop is dead, long live the desktop.

By mannd

I am a retired cardiac electrophysiologist who has worked both in private practice in Louisville, Kentucky and as a Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver. I am interested not only in medicine, but also in computer programming, music, science fiction, fantasy, 30s pulp literature, and a whole lot more.

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