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Dispatch from the post-PC revolution

Computerworld - While introducing the new iPad, Apple CEO Tim Cook this week said on stage that we’re entering a “post-PC world.”

Former Microsoft executive Ray Ozzie agreed, telling Reuters: “Of course we are in a post-PC world.”

Most people hearing that might wonder what in the hell they’re talking about. Yes, we’ve all got cell phones and tablets. But our main computers are still PCs, aren’t they?

The answer is: Yes, but not for long.

What does “post PC” mean, anyway?

When Cook says iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad are “post PC” devices, what does he mean?

A post-PC device has the following four characteristics:

1. It’s an appliance.

The PC architecture at its core is a hobbyist kit. To buy one, you shop for components that will be bolted inside a giant metal-and-plastic box. You choose the operating system, the amount, type and brand of memory and storage, the size, type and brand of monitor, the specific video card and a dozen other choices. Later, you may choose to add or swap out things, add a second dual-booted operating system or partition the hard drive. A PC is designed to be tinkered with, optimized and upgraded.

A post-PC device is a theoretical “black box.” It’s not for people who like to tinker with tech but for people who want to use it without worrying about how it works, or whether it can be customized or improved by user effort.

2. It’s got a multi-touch UI

Pre-PC devices had the first-generation user interface — the command line.

PC devices have the second-generation user interface — windows, icons, menus and pointing devices (the WIMP user interface).

Post-PC devices have the third-generation user interface — multi-touch, physics and gestures (MPG).

(Just as there was an awkward overlap between first- and second-generation with first Windows-on-DOS, then DOS-in-Windows, there is a similar transition with multi-touch elements on Macs and Windows 8 PCs.)

3. It doesn’t have file management

PCs force users to engage in file management. User data files have to be backed up, organized and kept track of. System files like drivers and DLLs are often troublesome and have to be replaced or upgraded.

Post-PC devices need updates, of course, but the user doesn’t track down the location of files and manage them. When a new app is installed, the user sees the icon, and that’s it. There’s no drilling down to see all the files installed. There’s no file management.

4. Apps function on the app-store model

The post-PC approach to dealing with software is that it’s discovered on an app store, downloaded with a single touch and deleted with another touch. Updates all come at once from the app store, and it all happens behind the scenes with minimal user involvement.

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