What Does A Computer Do

I ended a previous post - pretty abruptly - by saying that using Linux and FOSS made me reconsider what I want a computer to do. I want to expand on that a little because I didn’t answer the implied question there, and I’m not sure I know what the answer IS.

Before we had even heard of COVID-19 I had been planning on obtaining a new computer somehow, simply because working on my eight year old laptop on the rare occasions I needed to do something I couldn’t do on my phone was becoming more and more difficult. Thinking about the different options available to me I found I really had no idea what I was going to use the computer *for* - the primary thing I was concerned about was finally having a place to offload a decade or so of photographs and MP3s, something that I realized would be better served by a NAS. Any video or graphics editing I would probably do at my try work. So then - why not just get a NAS and load it up and get a tablet for, say, sitting on the couch and ordering shorts online?

In my previous post I used the phrase “desktop computing” without really defining it, and I think I should probably try to figure out what I mean by that because it immediately calls to mind, like, Microsoft Bob. I think when I say “desktop” I mean interacting with files inside of an open system where files can be accessed individually and outside of any specific program, rather than a silo’d experience where each program maintains files and provides a limited selection of options for accessing or using them. This is just a working definition while I try to figure out, more or less, what I am looking for and what I’ve been missing - why using Macs has made me more and more dissatisfied over the last few years as it has become harder and harder to regard my files and projects as my own.

I didn’t have the computer nerd childhood that a lot of people on here did - not in the sense of like, having a parent who programmed or something but simply in that I never got very far in my early computer explorations! I did tech support for my aunts and uncles but that was pretty much the level at which I stopped - I am, by the standard of people who have Gemini blogs, a babe in the woods. But when I was in 5th grade I got a book from somewhere that talked about basic HTML coding and I sat in the computer lab during recess and made a little file that said HELLO, WORLD and changed the background colors and everything. And there was something about the moment where I took a .txt file and renamed it .htm - where it went from being weird little words and numbers to a WEB PAGE - that just felt like a magic trick to me.

Maybe that’s what I mean about desktop computing. I want to see the magic trick - the moment where something that is confusing (to my eyes at least) coalesces into something beautiful or functional. And it feels like a lot of the stuff I can do on an iPad or my phone, they feel like watching the prestige of a magic trick without watching the pledge first. I want to see the deck of cards before the bird flies out of them.