A Future Without Windows Is a Dystopian Nightmare

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I had a nightmare last night. In it, my company hired a new head of IT, who decided to "lock down" all of our computers so that we couldn't install software or change any settings — or even the wallpaper, which was filled with company logos. Many companies operate with policies like this, because they don't trust their employees and thus treat them like children. As for actual children, schools have found the perfect locked-down computer for them: the Chromebook.

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This week, we found out that Chromebooks are outselling Macs (but still not Windows PCs) for the first time. Already, Chromebooks account for more than 50 percent of the K-12 market. My colleague, Mark Spoonauer, says these stats show that Chrome OS is the future and Windows is the past. I hope he's wrong, because he's envisioning a dystopian future where there are two kinds of people: those who consume and those who create.

Imagine a future where there are two very distinct classes of people: builders and users.

Although you can change their desktop wallpaper, today's Chromebooks are the very definition of locked boxes. You can install a few sandboxed apps, most of which are web pages, and you can surf the web. That's a good scenario for parents and school administrators, because they don't want children installing viruses, piling on pirated software or using age-inappropriate apps. School IT managers can add content filters to their networks so kids aren't able to visit the wrong websites.

MORE: Why We're Heading Toward a Windows-Less World

The problem with Chrome OS (and Android) machines is that they're not good for coding or creating content of any kind. The people who actually build the sites and software you use on a Chromebook or an Android tablet are using Windows, Linux or Mac OS computers to do their work. You can post to social media or do a webcast from Chrome OS, but if you want to do "real" media editing, you need a real computer. Even a $200 Windows 10 laptop can run basic development tools such as Visual Studio Express or simple video editors like Windows Movie Maker.

We learned this week that Google will soon provide a way to load Android apps on to Chromebooks, which will make them much more versatile. But that still won't turn them into content-creation systems. The major development and content-creation tools don't run on Android, and with their tiny storage drives and slow CPUs, Chromebooks aren't meant for coding, rendering 3D models or editing large videos. And if Google ever beefed up its laptops' hardware to appeal to content creators, they'd stop being simple and idiot-proof — the very reasons schools buy them today.

Do you want to live in a future where only a few people with "open PCs" have the ability to change the world

In his column, Mark says, "At some point, today's kids may 'graduate' to a Windows machine, but when you grow up with Chrome OS and it's easy and familiar, there might not be much incentive to switch."

MORE: Should You Buy a Chromebook?

Imagine a future where the world is divided between builders and users. Builders create the applications and content that users consume. Today, we live in a world where most people are users, even if they have Windows or Mac OS. But at least with those desktop platforms, there's the opportunity to take the reins and start coding an app, building your own website from scratch or installing software that's not been endlessly sandboxed and prescreened for you.

With Chrome OS, you're a passive player who cannot take full control of your device or your experience. Sure, having a stripped-down platform is always going to be easier than having choices. A simple toaster with a single plunger button will always be easier to use than a toaster oven with dials on it. But do you want to live in a future where only a few people with "open PCs" have the ability to change the world, while the rest of us just live in it?

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Vladimir Gjorgiev

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Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director on
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17 comments
  • Joe_HTH Says:

    "And above all, never accept money from Microsoft to write click bait opinion pieces trying to scare people into using Windows, like Avram Piltch."

    Never listen to fools like you who try to convince people to use the hideous Linux OS either.

  • Spam Guy From Neb Says:

    I've had 2 chromebooks - using 1 right now, to post here.
    The first ($199) had ChromeOS on it for 1 day before it was wiped for an Ubuntu Server install.
    The 2nd ($440) is slightly larger, more RAM, Core i3 CPU, and 1080p resolution still running ChromeOS 4 months after purchase. It is a $400 ultrabook. But I generally don't use ChromeOS - rather run a minimal Ubuntu Server + lite-old, window manager for the GUI by using crouton (set of scripts that makes having a chroot easy). Crouton isn't perfect and at some point I'll wipe ChromeOS, but if watching some media is necessary, ChromeOS handles that nicely.

    Should also point out that I've never used a gmail account with the chromebook - always use the guest account. I just wanted the hardware, not all the google spying.

    My point is that people aren't stuck running the OS that comes with the HW. While I don't know (or care) if Windows will ever run on this chromebook, there are 25 good Linux options.

    I've never seen Win8-Win10 myself, but I do still run Win7 for the Media Center recording capabilities only. MSFT has become so very desperate to force everyone to Win10 - which is criminal, IMHO. I never expect to give MSFT another penny and I have never given Apple any money, ever. What those other makers do just doesn't matter anymore to me, my family or my extended family.

  • joncr Says:

    "...,builders and users..." is a false dichotomy. Mostly, I imagine, to stroke the egos of people who think they're builders and consider themselves to be superior to users.

    Locked down devices are in billions of pockets. They make customers happy and they make sellers happy. Why wouldn't the same dynamic apply to any computing device targeting consumers?

    Acquiring the skills and knowledge to create useful and innovative software is a lengthy and complex process. It's a profession, not an amateur avocation. It's safe to say someone in that profession will acquire the tools needed to do the work.

  • theocf Says:

    I think it's too late, the gulf between these two groups is already too far to bridge. I sent this link to some non-tech people the other day, and they don't get what is being said here. When they hear about using computers to create things, they think about adding some text in 20pt Impact to a picture of a frog on a unicycle. Which they do with some online app, and they think I'm trying to suggest that doing it in gimp or ms paint would be superior. Computers are for clicking Like buttons, so far as they are concerned.

    Meanwhile, you can read the delusional comments from supposedly technical people here. An article about the effect that neutered computing will have on the next generation is met with deeply stupid comments suggesting that elementary schoolers will just have to root their chromebooks and roll their own distros of chromeOS... Yeah, I'm sure that will happen, once or twice, and that the kids who can figure it out will have bright futures in the valley. The other 99.9% can go hang, so far as these people care...

  • scizyr Says:

    Chromebooks are simple to unlock and install your favorite distribution of linux. Every device can be unlocked. This dystopian nightmare you describe simply cannot happen when we have physical access to our own hardware.
    Hack all of your devices. Don't pay for software unless you want to support the developer.

    And above all, never accept money from Microsoft to write click bait opinion pieces trying to scare people into using Windows, like Avram Piltch.

  • Ordeith Says:

    I think your analysis is spot on.

    Google offers a world free of privacy and enslaved to advertising. If this is a world you can support and encourage, by all means use Google's products with eyes open. The rest of us should probably look for solutions elsewhere.

  • CajunMoses Says:

    An application running on a Web server can do anything that an application running on a Windows PC can do and much, much more, only much, much faster. And, a Chromebook user can run any application that runs on a Web server. Given a shift of application development from Windows PCs to Web servers, Windows becomes superfluous and obsolete. Let's all hope and pray for that shift to transpire ASAP. Then, good riddance to Windows.

  • Technical John Says:

    ROFL... Windows is becoming the exact thing you are saying that chrome and, for some reason, Linux is.

    I started loosing control of my windows system with Windows Vista. It was small stuff really, the licensing and certain updates. Then with Windows 7 it became a little bit more with UAC turned on by default, but now I've lost control of when I'm able to upgrade. And now with Windows 10 the updates are controlled...

    Compare that to my Linux laptop, running Ubuntu 14.04, where I pick and choose what updates I want applied. This selection screen is in the FRONT of the UI, and I can leave them all checked and click Update, OR I can pick and choose. With each version of Ubuntu, I started with 12.04, I'm able to have as little or as much control as I want, the OS just stays out of my way!

    Oh, and content creation? Really? You can now have a full development platform IN THE CLOUD at C9.io!!! They even have an option for you to download the development stack and run it locally instead...

    About 20 years ago Windows was about CHOICE and FREEDOM... BUT NOT ANYMORE! However Chrome, Linux, and "the cloud OS" certainly is, which is why your vision of the future is myopic and uninformed.

  • rzuber Says:

    Looks like its actually the opposite as written in the article.

  • Forced Update Says:

    There's something hilarious about putting Windows 10 screenshot in article like this when Microsoft is trying to change PC into locked down console with their newest OS and UWP software

  • Dr Kevin McIsaac Says:

    I work as a data scientist and create a. Lot of content. I've stopped using my windows laptop in favor of a chrome OS desktop. Just love the simplicity and productivity.

    I use AWS to run my Python tools, scaling from just 2.cpus and 1GB memory to 40 cups and 1/4TB when needed. I have effectively unlimited storage in S3 or gdrive and do all my word processing and spreadsheets in gdocs. I use a cloud base editor for hacking PHP in my web site etc...

    Avram, onec you let go of the 90's model of personal computing and fully embrace cloud in all it's forms chrome OS and android are just brilliant and liberating.

  • Fuyuri Seiji Says:

    I laughed into tears actually when I hear someone who use Windows moaning about "open" computing experience. Did ypu have full control with your OS wthout the source code? Do you know if you don't like prebuilt Chroee OS, you can build your own version from its source code to disable the tracking under the hood? Go feed yourself some peorper knowledge instead of being paranoia.

  • Steven Matthews Says:

    This trend started at phones and is now (sadly) carrying over to desktop PC's.

    The consumer only version where you got no rights, no privacy and you're being treated like the sheep you're supposed to be.

    I hope this will not be the case.

  • wewah Says:

    You do realize, that you are making the same argument, as in the early days of Mac, and Linux, when there was little productivity and creativity software.

    Today, unlike back then, there is Adobe, MS Office, Quickbooks, and more are now SaaS, so what are you complaining about?
    Its never been better.

    For the first time, in decades, I don't have OS X or Win in daily use. I have Linux Mint, and Chromebook.

    Meanwhile, Windows is now malware:
    http://www.infoworld.com/article/3043526/microsoft-windows/microsoft-upgraded-users-to-windows-10-without-their-ok.html

  • Jack Smith Says:

    Have you ever used a Chromebook? They are fantastic machines for developers.

    Give it a try you will be impressed. You just use Crouton and you have a fantastic platform for development.

    A Chromebook with a i5 or i7 simply blows away similar PC or Mac.

  • Bobman Says:

    How many business users have "open" computers now? I work in high tech, and even the business analysts have machines so locked down they cannot add a printer, but they get alone fine.

    And how many home users have "open" computers? We have more computers in my house than people, and only a couple are used for 3d rendering, etc. The rest are used for simple games, surfing, and word processing; ideal candidates for a chrome-book.

    And while I agree that Google sells advertising to you, much of those ads come in through the sites you browse, no matter what platform you are one.

    "Oh, but I run adblock," you say. An increasing number of sites are blocking *you* if you use adblock, which I see as an increasing trend.

    "Then I'll just not go to those sites!" you say. Why is that? Because you believe the world should entertain you for free? That all websites should be run by altruistic businesses preparing news and videos for your free consumption? How long is that business plan going to last?

    Point is: nothing is free. You want the "open" machine because you need the powerful features, I agree it would be a nightmare if it were not available. But I have to believe the vast majority of users are *not* power users, and I won't be surprised if the trend is toward locked-down operating systems that automatically force updates on you and have high barriers to entry for developers of new software.

    Operating systems like Windows.

  • GoodThings2Life Says:

    100% reality here! Glad to know there are people who "get" the bigger picture of the world today.

    You could have equally drawn comparison to Idiocracy, where everyone is incapable of thinking or creating because those who create have died off too.

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