Computers as (Non-)Appliances

I’m in a rare category of computer user—a category that gets smaller with each day. I actually enjoy building my own systems, mixing and matching parts to obtain the results I want, and repairing my systems as needed. In fact, I started out as a hardware guy in the Navy 36 years ago. At that time, you really needed to know about the hardware in order to do anything practical with a computer. I still build and maintain my own PCs. However, the day of the home computer builder is ending. I don’t actually see myself enjoying a computer I can’t fiddle with, but I know that I eventually will end up with one.

The computer as a non-appliance is becoming a reality. In fact, I daresay that most people would never consider opening their computer to look inside, much less do anything with it. All that they want to do is start the computer, do some work on it, and then shut it down. As far as they’re concerned, the computer is like any other device they own—a television, refrigerator, or toaster. The problem is that a computer can’t be an appliance like any other appliance you own. One of the more useful opinions on the topic comes from John Dvorak in his “The Computer Appliance Myth” post. As small as they have become, computers are still complex multiuse devices that fulfill myriad tasks for the owner.

Even so, the days of repairing computers are coming to a close. For example, the most recent version of the iMac is pretty much unrepairable, even by a guy with my skills. This actually makes computers different from appliances. When my wife’s steam vacuum fails, I go to and buy the parts to repair it. Over the past 25 years, I’ve bought about $60 in parts and managed to keep the machine operating without problem. The fact that I can do the work myself means that it’s more economical for me to repair the unit, than it is to buy a new one. I’ve made repairs to most of the other appliances in our home at one time or another. Even the VCR has a belt I can replace and I recently swapped the VCR in one machine with the VCR in another machine to build one complete VCR/DVD unit.

In my mind, an appliance is a single purpose device that is easy to operate and repairable for someone with the required skills. Computers don’t fit this definition and with the loss of the ability to repair them, they won’t ever fit the definition of an appliance. No, computers are becoming something different. Perhaps we’ll have to coin a new word to define them because I’m sure we’ll have a host of other devices in the same category. Actually, when you think about it, we already have a few other devices in this category. A smartphone isn’t actually a computer, but it’s definitely not an appliance either.

I do have limits when it comes to appliance repair. When our water heater went out, we decided not to repair it because calculations showed that we’d pay for a new water heater with savings on propane in just three years and after that, we’d actually earn money (in reduced expenses) by having the new unit. I’m also not inclined to repair the furnace—failure could cost us our lives. However, these devices are still repairable by someone with the proper skills. When I have a problem with these devices, I make a call and an expert arrives to turn a non-working unit into something that’s useful again.

With the release of computers, smartphones, and other devices that aren’t repairable by a skilled home user under any circumstances, we need to come up with a new term to describe them. There isn’t any way you can convince me that computers have become appliances, especially not now that they’re unrepairable. Let me know your thoughts on computers as unrepairable multiuse devices at


Author: John

John Mueller is a freelance author and technical editor. He has writing in his blood, having produced 99 books and over 600 articles to date. The topics range from networking to artificial intelligence and from database management to heads-down programming. Some of his current books include a Web security book, discussions of how to manage big data using data science, a Windows command -line reference, and a book that shows how to build your own custom PC. His technical editing skills have helped over more than 67 authors refine the content of their manuscripts. John has provided technical editing services to both Data Based Advisor and Coast Compute magazines. He has also contributed articles to magazines such as Software Quality Connection, DevSource, InformIT, SQL Server Professional, Visual C++ Developer, Hard Core Visual Basic, asp.netPRO, Software Test and Performance, and Visual Basic Developer. Be sure to read John’s blog at When John isn’t working at the computer, you can find him outside in the garden, cutting wood, or generally enjoying nature. John also likes making wine and knitting. When not occupied with anything else, he makes glycerin soap and candles, which comes in handy for gift baskets. You can reach John on the Internet at John is also setting up a website at Feel free to take a look and make suggestions on how he can improve it.