Daily Archives:April 10th, 2013

Alas, poor PC… I knew him, Bill…

An IDC press release, out today, reports that PC sales have fallen again. That’s expected now, but they’ve fallen noticeably faster than predicted: the last quarter was a surprising 14% down on the same time last year.

“At this point, unfortunately”, says an IDC staff member, “it seems clear that the Windows 8 launch not only failed to provide a positive boost to the PC market, but appears to have slowed the market…” And it’s not just Windows – Apple’s desktop/laptop sales are down, too.

A big contributor, I’m sure, is that we’ve finally reached the point where operating system manufacturers and other software developers can no longer convince users that it’s worth buying a new machine just to run their latest offerings. I’m currently a software developer, for heaven’s sake, and even I am feeling no particular desire to replace my four-year-old iMac in the near future.

But a lot of it also comes from the fact that fewer people need to do, on a regular basis, what PCs were designed to be good at doing.

Phones and tablets don’t replace a PC, but if you drew a Venn diagram of

  • What PCs do
  • What mobile devices do
  • What people do

over the last few years, it would resemble a lapsed-time animation of plate tectonics. And my point is that ‘What PCs do’ would be largely stationary, while the others moved around it in ever-more-overlapping zones…

I write quite a lot, but I use a word-processor about once a month. I manage my company accounts, but much more of that is done on a web service than on a spreadsheet. I give talks, but the days when PowerPoint was the only game in town are long gone. And I read emails… while I’m walking the dog.

So, if I’m at all typical, where does that leave Microsoft Office, the core of most PCs’ raison d’être? And remember, I’m an old guy. For most people under the age of 25, it probably never was that important. The office suite is dead, and has been for a long time. Long live the browser. On whatever device.

On which note, I should shut down the browser on this iPad and go to sleep…

Thanks to Charles Arthur for the IDC link

Further TextExpander thoughts

TextExpander is one of the most useful utilities on my Mac — I’ve used it since it was called Textpander, many years ago — and it’s becoming more and more important on my iOS devices too, since almost every app I use, with the notable exception of the Apple ones, now supports it. And the configuration synchronises across all my devices automatically, making things even easier.

It’s arguably more useful on iOS, where it can help overcome some of the limitations of the keyboard. Typing email addresses can be tedious, for example, so I have three-letter abbreviations for most of mine. (Simple expansions like this can also be done using the built-in keyboard shortcuts available in Settings, which will work anywhere, but they don’t have the power of the TextExpander ones.)

A current favourite example, since I’m writing more and more in Markdown, is my .mdl abbreviation. It inserts a Markdown link, taking the contents of the clipboard as the URL (which I’ve typically just copied using the little ‘share’ button in Safari), and positions the cursor at the right place to type the link text. A link in Markdown, for the uninitiated, looks like this:


If you work out how many key presses are needed on a standard IOS keyboard just to do the brackets, you’ll realise that, though this is already a lot better than writing HTML, to do the equivalent with just .mdl and have it position the cursor in the right place, is a great help if you do it regularly. Which I do!

All very clever, and a great timesaver. But today I added a very simple abbreviation, vvv, which also makes use of the ‘insert the clipboard here’ capability. In fact, that’s all it does: as soon as you type the third v, all three are replaced by the contents of the clipboard, a bit like typing Cmd-V on a regular keyboard. I find this rather easier, particularly in small text boxes on a phone screen: to have a keyboard-based paste function, instead of having to move from the keyboard and tap carefully in the right place, with the right precision and timing not to select anything.

It really is too bad the Apple apps don’t support it, but I hope it may be useful for others anyway.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser