Desktop Computers

Desktop computers fail to support many key aspects of knowledge work. Describe these aspects and give scenarios that make your point.

Some of the intrinsic characteristics of desktop computers impose limitations on the usefulness a computer system may provide to a knowledge worker. For instance, desktop computers typically are configured and physically installed as a work place. While this configuration presents the knowledge worker some advantages, it also limits the portability of the system. Several people in the past have noticed the need for a small and portable tool for knowledge workers. As a result, there had been designed systems based on the notebook [Kay and Goldberg 1977; Mel et al. 1988; Shipman et al. 1989]. Knowledge workers need portable systems, because there are situations when they need to move to different places. Some of these situations are data acquisition, meetings and field experiments. Lets take one example. A sociologist may need to go and live among a tribe in the middle of some jungle in order to study the tribe's social interactions. A desktop computer may be very difficult to transport, to install and to operate in such an environment. Also the mere presence of such a notorious piece of equipment may disturb the social interaction within the tribe. For this case, some equipment less conspicuous, easy to transport and operate may prove much more useful. Knowledge workers can benefit from a tool that would enable them to capture information on the spot using the appropriate media.

Also, knowledge workers can benefit from a tool that allows them to acquire new information, manipulate the new information, correlate and compare the new and the previously stored information in an interactive fashion. Desktop computers can collect data from other devices such as video cameras and printed images using appropriate peripherals. Nevertheless desktop computers also fail to meet this requirement in the sense that the knowledge worker can not manipulate the data immediately and therefore the data acquisition and data analysis becomes a batch operation instead of an interactive operation. An interactive style of acquiring data and analyzing that data may result in a faster and more accurate process, since the on-line analysis may be indicate possible adjustments and corrections to the data acquisition process. For instance a biologist collecting data about the propagation of a new plant disease detected a remote field would benefit from analyzing the data interactively and therefore being able to detect possible errors in the measures and being able to correct them before the disease propagates and kills the whole field. In the case of a batch style operation, the biologist may not detect the errors until the whole field is dead losing the opportunity to analyze the disease.

Another issue raised with desktop computers is the eye fatigue they impose on knowledge workers. Especially since knowledge workers tend to read large amount of data and desktop computers screen are light emitters. Real world examples are abundant and anybody who had spent more than two hours in front of a computer screen have noticed the fatigue. This is even more obvious in the cases when a person needs to read a large document stored on a computer system. Usually the person opts for printing the document on paper instead of reading it directly from the screen.

Go to next section: Reading Practices

Back to CPSC 610 Homework 2 page    Back to CPSC 610 page