Sustainable PC Progress Lacks Key Component

Yes, in some places there is progress towards a sustainable PC market, which would be great for SMBs. But the problem is that we are still talking about PCs.

Lamont Wood, Contributor

October 12, 2010

3 Min Read

Yes, in some places there is progress towards a sustainable PC market, which would be great for SMBs. But the problem is that we are still talking about PCs.There is some good news on the sustainable PC front. Energy efficiency, power management, and disposal services are becoming important factors for business buyers of PCs in the Asia-Pacific regional, although price, performance, and service still trump green concerns, reports Gartner.

Maybe Asia-Pacific can be a trend-setter, with the PC market there growing by almost 21 percent yearly. Gartner reports that Australia, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia are ahead of the curve in controlling waste and carbon emissions.

And it sounds like progress. But it isn't.

The basic problem is that we're still talking about PCs, which are the product of a culture of assumed obsolescence. Notice that I said assumed, not planned obsolescence. A PC bought ten years ago, loaded with software from the year 2000, would run that software just fine. And that software would do (in terms of end results) almost everything a current machine does. And we wouldn't want it because every now and then it would encounter something it could not run, and we would hit the wall.

So to be a smoothly fitting cog in the World Office, we assume obsolescence and rush to keep up, junking machines that still work. Admitted, the machine would start encountering reliability problems eventually, so we act preemptively to avoid owning it that on that day. But we don't treat any other appliances that way.

A recent interview with designer Gadi Amit in Fast Company makes an interesting point-if people love something, they don't rush to get rid of it. Emotional attachment trumps planned obsolescence. If people are buying things they end up loving they are not going to be looking for reasons to move on, and we have reached sustainability.

Judging by the way a certain neighbor lovingly waxes his car and keeps a tarp on it, we approaching that that point with cars. But the emotional attachment with a PC would be in the software. (Sorry, hardware designers.) And there I just don't see it, since currently the only potential for attachment stems from the fact that, after you finally learn how to get it to do what you want, you're not eager to start over with a new system.

It does not have to be that way. The hardware today is powerful enough that the software should be able to study your work habits and try to get ahead of you. The word processor should learn your misspelling and (tentatively) correct them as you go along. It should be able to advise you about the tax implications of any contemplated purchase, instantly, given your finances, which it knows intimately. It would know that e-mail about personal matters should be treated differently from business e-mail, and it can figure out the difference. Etc.

If it did these things, and more, you would feel like you had developed a relationship with the software and would be slow to replace your PC. We would be approaching sustainability.

As far as I can see, the biggest recent advance along these lines was the search enhancement in Windows 7.

We have a long way to go, in other words.

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