I never thought I’d find myself saying it but my next computer is going to be a classic desktop machine; a “tower” as some of the gray bearded veterans of the “Build Your Own PC” era used to say. Although some people have preferred this type of machine my last 15 years (20 if you want to throw in college) have been spent on laptops. It’s been a practical decision: as a student I needed mobility to work in the library or in a class room, as a newly minted professional I had jobs that involved a lot of travel. And I liked working in coffee shops.

Moving to a desktop feels in many ways like moving backward. As everyone and everything seems to get more “mobile first,” as there is more and more competition to build a smaller laptop with more battery life, it would seem like the action of a misty eyed classicist; the kind of guy who restores cars or listens to music from the 60s for the look and feel of a bygone era.

But it’s the future that has moved me backward. Last year after much agonizing I bought myself a Nexus 7 and the effect was that it became more and more of a rare need to move my laptop. The things I did – checking email, reading internets, watching screencasts – all not only were available on my tablet, but they were in many ways better[1].

As I come up on my 3 or so year upgrade cycle I’ve realized that in terms of bang for your buck, building a desktop machine is not only more economical, it comes with more power. Power is something I’ve always wanted but as I find myself more and more drawn to a “virtualize everything” approach to operating systems, it’s something I find myself needing. In a perfect world I run a virtualized OS for a work machine, another one for personal use, and several experimental VMs for running prerelease software and Linux[2]. These are all things I do with my laptop but there are better, cheaper options for optimizing CPU and memory on a desktop machine.

The one element of my life that is perhaps a tipping point is that I no longer travel for work. This is the one element that might have continued the appeal for the powerful laptop I could move around with but as a remote worker who needs his home office for better bandwidth and privacy than could be achieved at a coffee house or library, it’s a chapter closed. Even with the most robust tablets out there, it seems like any serious undertaking involves a more traditional laptop or desktop computer. When my out of the ordinary travel or mobile scenarios show up I’ll still have one of my old laptops to fall back upon.

I have to wonder how many people like me still buy laptops by force of habit but wind up doing most “mobile” tasks on a tablet or a phone. I also wonder if, once chained to a desktop, I’ll start to discover all sorts of scenarios when it would have been convenient to have a laptop instead.


[1] Fewer distractions on a single purpose screen, apps like Instapaper, being able to multitask with real life (watching my toddler).

[2] Ubuntu for the most part although I realized a big reason I wasn’t doing any Windows 8 development was because I didn’t have the time or inclination to try to merge my heavily Windows 7 life with something new. It would have been easier to learn WinRT in parallel on a VM.