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 Wednesday, 11 July 2012
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In a word: yes.

My post is spurred by discussions I’ve had around this recent article:

http://www.tomshardware.com/news/Bill-Gates-Charlie-Rose-Surface-Windows-8-Microsoft,16190.html#xtor=RSS-998

And my post is motivated by the fact that I’ve had an i5-based Windows 8 tablet for a few months now, and have direct experience with the idea of using a tablet as a desktop/laptop replacement.

First, understand that I have:

  • A tablet with an i5 CPU, a decent GPU, 4 gb RAM, and an SSD
  • A docking station for the tablet with USB and HDMI ports
  • A bluetooth keyboard
  • A bluetooth mouse

On this tablet I have installed:

  • A variety of WinRT/Metro style apps
  • Office 2010
  • Visual Studio 2012
  • Expression Blend
  • Microsoft Lync
  • DropBox and the Win7 SkyDrive client

Second, understand that I also have a high-end desktop (for dev work and gaming), and an i7-based laptop for dev work. The laptop is also running Win8, and the desktop is still Win7.

Third, I’m a big guy. I’m 6’5” tall, with broad shoulders, and big hands. Netbook keyboards are a joke, nearly useless. Normal laptop keyboards cause me great wrist, arm, and shoulder pain. Only Microsoft Natural keyboards allow me to type for any length without discomfort.

Given that background, here’s my normal usage profiles.

My Home Office

I use my desktop for most things, because it is all set up with a Microsoft Natural keyboard and multiple monitors. It is just comfortable, and all my games are installed on this machine, as is VS10 for work on .NET 3.5 stuff.

Also I’m a gamer, and I have a friend who custom-builds my desktop computers. So I always have a top-end dev/gaming rig for a fraction of the cost to get a comparable laptop. And I have yet to see anyone talking about a “gaming capable” tablet – not at the level of gaming oriented tablets or desktops. Were there to be a tablet that could run Battlefield 3 at high res and no lag, AND without me needing a second mortgage on my house, I’d consider getting rid of my desktop.

My Magenic Office

I use my laptop (Win8) for most things, because I have a nice docking station connected to multiple monitors and a Natural keyboard. My laptop also has Office, VS10, and VS12, so I can do whatever work I need, plus it has a variety of WinRT apps that I use on a regular basis (mostly the same apps as on the tablet).

I could use my tablet instead, but the Dell docking station for my laptop is somewhat more convenient than the docking station for the tablet. This is because I carry the tablet’s docking station with me everywhere. If I bought a second docking station to leave in my office then I’d probably just use the tablet instead of the laptop.

On the road

When I’m on the road there’s no access to a Natural keyboard, so I have wrist, arm, and shoulder pain. This is true with my laptop keyboard and the bluetooth tablet keyboard. They are both too small for me, but it isn’t realistic to carry a “real” keyboard around everywhere. So I put up with the pain and minimize the amount of typing work I do while traveling. Tai Chi helps too.

Over the past few months, I have taken to only carrying my tablet while on the road. Because I avoid doing extensive typing on the road, I also avoid doing extensive dev work. As a result, the difference between the i5 tablet and i7 laptop is pretty immaterial, and the tablet is a LOT lighter and easier to carry. It is also a lot more useful on the airplane (remember, I’m a big guy – even first class seats often have too little room to open my big laptop).

In short, while on the road, my tablet has become a complete laptop replacement.

At conferences

The one exception to the tablet replacing my laptop while on the road is when I go to conferences. The problem here isn’t probably what you’d expect: it is a video projection issue.

The tablet has HDMI out, and its docking station has HDMI out. No VGA out at all. I do have an HDMI to VGA converter (from HP) that usually works, but not always. If the sole purpose of my travel is to speak at a conference, you can imagine that it is bad if my computer can’t project onto the screen.

So I lug my laptop around specifically because it has a VGA output jack. Sad but true…

So in summary, once companies and conferences have a reliable way to project HDMI video content onto overhead screens, I’ll have no reason to carry my laptop at all anymore when on the road. And if I bought a second docking station to leave at my Magenic office I wouldn’t need my laptop there either – so I wouldn’t need the laptop at all.

The desktop is harder to give up because I’m a gamer, and there’s nothing on the horizon that would allow me to play my games on an affordable laptop, much less tablet.

Yes, laptops are doomed – tablets will replace them over the next few years – of that I have little doubt.

Desktops aren’t entirely doomed – at least for gamers, CAD users, people doing graphics work, and other scenarios where cost-effective high-end hardware is required. But even today few people have only a desktop. Most people have a desktop and laptop – and in the near future I expect they’ll have a desktop and tablet instead.

For me, I’m happy that my tablet is now my primary work machine. It works great, and meets my needs for everything except high end gaming.

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