The death knell of the Personal Computer

The death knell of the Personal Computer

22 May, 2024 7 min read
PC, computing, liberty, marketing, AI, Linux, FreeBSD, open source, infrastructure, privacy

Microsoft’s Copilot+ product line is the death-knell of the PC; a brazen insult added to a series of injuries that began a very long time ago.

Even if you have nothing to hide from anyone, you must be verifiably naive to ignore the risks to you, your interests and your livelihood, when you voluntarily give up information on everything that goes on on your “Personal” Computer, even anything that goes on in the “analog hole” that is your screen, in order to have something inscrutable provide you with the convenience of “recall”. Because, hey, it’s OK for Microsoft to collect data on your discussions with friends and family (even on side-channels, like Facebook or Whatsapp Web), on your bank account’s transactions, on your work for anyone who is not Microsoft, on anything that for whatever reason is nobody else’s business…

And yet, millions of individuals will rush to buy this. Thousands of CIOs and IT “experts” will continue their decades-long servitude to Microsoft and give the green light to buy this abomination for their organizations. Nay, they won’t “buy”. They will happily subscribe to the “disservice”. They will pay every month for the “privilege” of laying everything they do on “their” device bare for a dubious actor to analyze, evaluate, judge and classify–and to also potentially cut off access to services when a bunch of inscrutable LLMs deems that something the user did on their “own” “PC” goes against vague guidelines and ToS. Judged by a faceless entity for the offenses that one of its creations hallucinated. Splendid. And if you now say “hey, it’s edge computing, not cloud computing–the LLM works locally” then I have a bridge to sell you. I trust Microsoft to not gradually slide down the slippery slope and exfiltrate not your data, but the “insights” and metadata generated by “Recall” about as much as I trust… nothing; I don’t trust them at all.

The marketing behind this will be all about FOMO, of course, and will also target the vulnerably insecure, like the predatory instincts of an incumbent often dictate. This shift towards the computer finally becoming “personal” because it (actually, Microsoft) knows everything about you will be portrayed as the only rational choice in $CURRENT_YEAR. We will be labeled laggards for not voluntarily proclaiming our servitude to the dominant behemoth, its financial interests and the professional interests of the thousands that work for them for “getting ahead” that, I can assure you, most certainly do not match our own, whether these are financial or personal. What matters is that you pay for digital trinkets and beads; monthly, and timely, you hear? It’s for your convenience. It’s for everyone’s convenience and advancement. It’s for the greater good. It is $CURRENT_YEAR, after all–what are you, a luddite? Don’t you get it?

And, why not, after all? You already fell for Apple’s walled-garden nonsense of iMessage’s “blue bubble” vs. the “green bubble” of an SMS–you called receiving that one an “ick”. You then rationalized your made-up emotional reaction to something innocuous through a bunch of marketing arguments that Apple planted in its fanboys’ minds to cascade down to every one of its serfs, so that they will defend The Brand. After all, when you pay 2x or 3x what you used to pay for a mobile phone, you want to defend your choice, as irrational as it is for most people. One thousand Euro for a TikTok/Instagram/Facebook viewer thing is totally rational. You fell for all this because you were all too eager to tie some part of your identity to the brand of phone you use, like you do with a myriad of other things that you think “reveal part of who you really are”; because of your pubescent insecurity and primordial fear of being seen as an outsider. So, I ask: what hope do you have to not fall for this one too? Slim to none. And my bet is on “none”.

My bet is a safe one, and I have won similar ones again and again. You have repeatedly demonstrated your inability to resist the procession of guards casting shadows on the wall of the proverbial cave in which they have kept you prisoner since the heyday of the Office suite, when they used to charge you for new versions of the same-ish software every year, after predictably breaking compatibility of this year’s .DOC and .XLS format to last year’s formats, for no visible benefit to you–but also to a visible frustration and disruption of your work, which you felt, you abhored, but then just shut up and paid for the next version of Office, and the one after that, and the one after the other one, too… like a good, obedient serf. They forced you to switch away from Windows 7 by coaxing you with shiny beads of a new UI in Windows 8. With crocodile tears they said “oops, my bad!” and, sometimes forcibly through automatic updates, “upgraded” you to Windows 10, with all its telemetry, UI reshuffling, and Candy Crush Saga icon on the Start Menu. They kept these shenanigans up with Windows 11, of course, and you went along with it, like the intimidated serf you are. They put ads on the Start Menu. They tried to monetize a key UI interaction of something that’s allegedly an “Operating System”–and you simply shrugged.

What could you do, after all? Install Linux, like some kind of weirdo? Ewww. That’s for people who are nerds; for outsiders. That’s an “ick” commensurate to receiving a green-bubble text. Nah, you still stuck with the herd, like you always do. The herd is safe. Microsoft couldn’t possibly screw all of its users over, could it? That’s just paranoia. You know there’s safety in numbers. You told those things to yourself and convinced yourself that there’s nothing you could do. You continued to behave exactly like a cow headed to the slaughterhouse, only this time it’s your privacy and liberty that’s getting slaughtered–and we all pay for it. Yes, even those of us who love the concept of a Personal Computer, i.e. a piece of equipment that we own and can run any piece of software we want on, while remaining in control of everything we create or consume through this device–we, too, already pay for your servitude, through worse products caused by oligopolistic competition, and the invasion of privacy becoming a mere inconvenience.

This deviance will keep getting normalized until you wake up one day (nah, you won’t) and realize that all you’ve ever been is but a serf–all the while while “championing causes”, “raising awareness”, and posting about the latest happenings on social media owned by Meta, or Twitter, or other Microsoft-like incumbents. Why? Because you never dared to stray off the beaten path, because you always followed the herd; because you scarfed down that marketing and hype and promises of convenience uncritically, mindlessly, in your utter naivete that what is being sold comes with no strings attached, especially when it comes in a shiny package polished with corporate megabucks built upon your thousand-yard stare when it came to discussing alternatives; because you “had better things to do” than to realize that what’s being promoted as “the best way to do things, for everyone” is not “the” way, not “for everyone”, not “the best” for you and typically not the best “for the common good” either.

Who am I kidding? You’ll never wake up. Why would you? You haven’t woken up in decades of Microsoft, Apple, Google and every other such entity playing those games. And why should they not? In their emergent amorality and psychopathy that’s characteristic of an incumbent, they deem you a compellingly compliant victim. They would be stupid not to pull the string taut as far as you will allow them with your unthinking inaction and servitude–and, boy oh boy, is the string taut! Sometimes I wonder what their Product Managers and “Business Leaders” are thinking. They must be amazed by your compliance; I would be. They must indeed marvel at the sacrifices (not compromises, let along trade-offs) you’ll make, and at the crazy, counterproductive (for you) ideas you’ll accept, either without even being miffed at them, or with a defeated, helpless shrug of the shoulders, at best. They must be pinching themselves when they realize the type of marketing you’ll eagerly consume, and when they witness your sometimes-rabid willingness to give them money, month after month, to not only get into their pen, but to remain there, too–and to doom the Personal Computer for everyone else, too.

Sleep tight, serf. And don’t forget to buy the latest Impersonal Computer, since you seem to enjoy co-dependent relationships so much.

Original post on LinkedIn, with comments.