Future Directions in Computer Science

There are many people in the computer industry today claiming that the PC is dead. Even Intel is bidding a fond adieu to the making of motherboards—certainly that sounds the death knell for the technology! Before we all succumb to PC is dead mania, it’s time to do a little thinking. The problems with this perspective are many:

  • The PC has a huge installed base and no one in their right mind is simply going to throw all those machines away.
  • The PC currently provides the best method for speedy data input and many other mundane tasks.
  • Many current applications don’t scale well to smaller footprint devices.
  • Using a desktop system provides management with ways of monitoring employee activity that management won’t want to give up anytime soon.
  • From a cost perspective, the PC is an extreme deal because it has turned into a commodity, so people will continue to buy them.

What has happened to the PC is that it’s a victim of its own success. New systems provide faster processors, more memory, and larger hard drives. The displays get ever more impressive and there are subtle, though small, changes that are attractive, but nothing to cause people to throw out their old machine. The fact is that the modern PC is so fast and well equipped that it has greatly outpaced the requirements of the software running on it. There is no reason to replace a PC anymore until the system simply dies from old age. In short, sales are down because people only buy a new PC when they need to replace their old one.

However, people will continue to use their desktop systems or a laptop equivalent because they need the functionality that the PC provides. It simply isn’t possible to run a business by typing everything on a smartphone screen (not unless you’re into repetitive stress injuries). From a computer scientist’s perspective, the PC still makes a great platform for writing applications. It is the basic machine that everyone uses, despite the fact that everyone seems to think it’s dead.

There are many assumed dead things in the world of computers. For example, everyone assumes that COBOL is dead, but it isn’t. We’ve been reading about the death of COBOL as a language for years and it isn’t even taught in colleges anymore, yet if you used an ATM anytime recently, you probably relied on a COBOL application to make the transaction. PCs are coming to the same transitional phase. Everyone will continue to use PCs in some fashion, but the growth phase of the PC is over, so the PC will appear less glamorous in the years to come—it will become yet another tool. In some respects, the PC will become like a car. They’re both complex devices that people take for granted because they’re commodities. In addition, both require specialized skills to work on and yet have devoted legions of non-professional adherents.

The direction computer science is taking today is the browser-based application. The reason is relatively simple. People now use multiple devices to perform tasks, but the common element for all of these devices is a browser that can host applications. Having the same application to perform common tasks on each device is a necessity if the person is to accomplish anything useful. In addition, tastes in devices vary between people. These devices have differing capabilities and flexibility. An application today must run equally well in every environment. Even in a controlled environment, people are working with more types of devices from a variety of vendors—the focus is less on compatibility and more on what appeals to the person in the way of features.

This change in focus in the reason I’ve started to focus my efforts more on technologies you can use to create applications that work anywhere on any device. It’s the reason I chose to write books such as HTML5 Programming with JavaScript For Dummies and Java eLearning Kit for Dummies (which is completed, but currently on hold). Yes, I’ll continue to write about Microsoft technologies because I truly believe the PC has a future, albeit a less exciting one than in the past. However, look for me to embrace this new future in upcoming posts and books with greater fervor. I’d love to hear your input on the future of computer science. Where do you think applications are headed? Let me know your ideas at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.