I have never been a big proponent of laptops – historically, their performance has been dwarfed by that of lower priced desktops, and the advantage of portability was often offset by poor performance and short battery life. Recent processor generations, and advances in mobile computing have, however, made laptops a viable competitor for today’s applications.
While the laptop still does not compare to the desktop in terms of performance or cost, processing power currently outstrips the demands of the typical user, making the average laptop an adequate platform for most users.
Given the above points, I recently felt that it was the right time to purchase a laptop, and have so far been quite pleased with my purchase. As I have been asked, quite a few times, what considerations there are in purchasing a computer, I thought I might go through a few points below.
Firstly, I feel it is important to define the ‘typical’ user. Most people do not truly push a computer to its limits – they do not do complex calculations, do not render 3D models, and do not edit videos. Most people do not even do picture editing. The most intensive applications run by ‘normal’ people are games (the 3D, graphics intensive kind, not Minesweeper or Solitaire), but even these individuals are becoming rarer as console based games increase in prevalence (then again, I am not a gamer, so I can’t provide an authoritative perspective on the matter).
So, what does the typical user use a computer for?
- The Internet is definitely number one – just think about how much time you would be spending on the computer without it, probably not that much (school and work excepted). (Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, Internet Explorer)
- Email (Web based probably)
- Social networking (Facebook, Twitter, etc)
- Multimedia (e.g. YouTube)
- Chat (MSN/Windows Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk)
- Surfing (Research, etc)
- Multimedia – most people listen to some music or watch the occasional video on their computer
- Music (WinAmp, iTunes)
- Video (VLC)
- Productivity – at some point most people type up a document, make a spreadsheet, or create a presentation
- Word Processing (MS Word, OOo/LibreOffice Writer)
- Spreadsheets (MS Excel, OOo/LibreOffice Calc)
- Presentations (MS PowerPoint, OOo/LibreOffice Impress)
- Picture editing – most people organize pictures and perhaps touch-up (typically crop/combine) the occasional image
- Picture organization (Picasa)
- Picture editing (Photoshop, Paint.NET, the GiMP)
- Operating system – whatever you do, you need one, the typical user uses Windows
- Current computers (Windows 7)
- Older computers (Windows XP – still the most common)
- Hopefully a few people run an antivirus and firewall (and no, the things built into Windows, as improved as they are, do not count), but too many of these are the ‘all in one commercial suites’ that just don’t quite make the grade (but something is better than nothing).
In other words, for most people, the computer is simply a typewriter, with multimedia and communications capabilities (and, perhaps, there is nothing wrong with that – given that phones aren’t typically used to make calls, computers need not be used for calculations).
Of course, no one is ‘exactly’ the typical user – each person differs slightly, and some stray quite significantly from the norm, but on the whole, I would suggest that more than 90% of the time spent on the computer falls into one of the above categories for the average person. Gamers, while not uncommon, fall into a category of their own, slightly different than the typical user.