06 January 2014

Return Of The Desktop

Both HP and Lenovo have new releases this month. Desktops. Desktops running Android operating systems. They may be seen as some as just large tablets with leads to keyboards and a mouse (although they do have touch screens so the mouse may be an option) but could be a sign of something of an unexpected change of direction.

We have been getting used to Chromebooks - getting very popular as more and more people see that they can use them and that the devices are not merely for those of us who they used to think of as geeks. Android, however, is a far more familiar environment, being on the majority of their phones.

At prices the equivalent of under £300, however, and that can include a reasonably decent big monitor, and abundant apps already available for virtually any task, could this type of device become the living room controller? The central co-ordination point for (almost) all the other devices you wish to use. 

Phones are great - they'll do almost anything and are there, ready for your thumbs, wherever you are. But the screens are a bit small - you can't comfortably share views with anyone other than boy/girlfriends or little sisters. (The screens are getting bigger but they're also getting uglier and too big to slip into pockets so where that line of development is heading I do not know.)

Tablets are cool, provided you don't want to type a lot. Nice screens and something you can pass around on the sofa but you're not going to leave it plugged in to do anything long-term. They never stay in one place either. Someone has usually borrowed it and forgotten to return it where you want it when you want it. They're also OK for close-ish viewing but not really standing alone in the corner for more than a few to watch.

Smart TVs are good as TVs and just about manageable if the internet programme is already selected or immediately to the left or right. above or below whatever's currently selected but that's it. Try to use a keyboard and the remote gets thrown at the cat.

Chromebooks are fine but not much bigger, screen-wise, than a tablet. Nor are any of the laptops, notebooks etc on the scene. All super toys and even work devices but they're not something to be left on or shared much.

A Windows desktop. Remember them? Nice big screen and it sort of sits somewhere and seldom moves - reassuring computing. But Windows 8 has made devastating inroads to our confidence as users. Do we click here or there. Where is that menu that opens - was it this edge or that? Oh, there isn't a Windows App for that then. Pity. I was very happy helping the few that needed help navigate their way around XP and 7 and could make the screen display just about anything I wanted it to. I tend to leave 8 alone and gingerly tap on rectangles and the background may forever be that dark shade of mid blue. 8, 7 XP or Vista, the fans whirr and buzz and interrupt any quiet moment. A black screen is never really black and there'll be updates that take an age just when you want to turn the damn thing off.

A silent running device in the corner, troubling no-one unduly, simple to work and substantially maintenance-free, at a price that allows it to be chucked out after a couple of years (or taken to bits by an inquisitive teenager), may be just the thing for 2014.