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November 02, 2007

Computer Dis-Improvements

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Enough with the ooh-ing and aah-ing about how quickly computer technology advances. Really: Do massive hard drives, processor speeds, and memories represent anything but technological stunts unless they serve our purposes?

So how well have computer makers done in terms of serving human needs? Hal Licino had the wit to go to the trouble of comparing a current Windows machine with a 1986 Mac Plus. A fair fight? Hardly. After all, the Windows machine is -- in technical terms, anyway -- 1000 times faster than the creaky ol' Mac. It was also equipped with 1Gig of RAM vs. the Mac's 4 MB.

Yet, yet ... So far as the non-websurfing tasks that one most often uses a computer for (Word and Excel, basically) go, the prehistoric Mac beat the Windows powerhouse more than half the time. The test that really clinched it in the Mac's favor, as far as I'm concerned, is the time it took the computers to boot up. The Mac delivered a usable desktop nearly a minute faster than the Windows machine did.

Can anyone say "too many bells and whistles"? How about "flash for the sake of flash"? Or maybe "marketing-department overreach"?



posted by Michael at November 2, 2007


My subjective experience has been that boot speeds have been getting much better over time. Maybe I'm just getting older and more patient.

That said, Word 5 was the last version of Word I ever willingly used.

Posted by: includedmiddle on November 2, 2007 12:44 PM

Years ago, I worked for law firms. They upgraded their computer systems every two or three years... all new PCs and servers and the latest software. This, despite the fact that their basic jobs did not change... spreadsheet, word processing and redlining. I never understood why firms spent all that money. They would have been well advised to upgrade once a decade.

The massive hard drive, processors and speeds keep the cycle going. I just downloaded Adobe Creative Suite CS3. The programs instantly rendered my older computer obsolete. Demand for processor speed and storage capacity doomed my five year old Dell.

Increase processor speed and capacity, and hard drive capacity and you are just inviting programmers to bloat up their software. So, programs that years ago featured a 1 Mb install now require hundreds of Mb to install and they require a commensurate increase in RAM. This is planned obsolescence at its finest.

Some of the video editing and effects programs in Creative Suite really demand 2Gb of RAM!

In the high end of multimedia programming, video editing and rendering, all this firepower really does have an advantage. Your video or 3D will render within your lifetime.

I'm all in favor of this computer arms race because it keeps me employed. I'm an advocate of unfriendly computers, because that's where I make money. I try to always be out on the frontier where computers are difficult to use and programming drives you nuts. The more impenetrable to job, the more money I make. Someday, these damned machines really will just talk to us, ask us what we want to do, and produce the desired result.

Hopefully, my 401(k) will be fully funded by that time. Or else, I'm hoping to win the lottery.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on November 2, 2007 12:50 PM

I'm a writer. I've used computers since the mid-eighties, before hard drives were on the market. We employed double floppies, one to store our writing, one to run the program. We saw green or amber letters on a black one-color screen.

Modern PC computers offer little of incremental consequence to people who do their daily toil generating manuscripts. In fact, the more computers are oriented to the Internet and visual media, the less value they have as writing tools, except as a reference desk. The old DOS version of WordPerfect wrought miracles, and now WordPerfect remains the preferred program of most of the authors I know, much easier to use than Word. Other authors praise Mac programs, but only a rare one enjoys Microsoft's Word.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on November 2, 2007 1:40 PM

The only way this isn't a fair fight is that it pitted Apple against Windows. The current Macs boot up in less than 30 seconds and are hugely pleasant to use, very stable and practically virus-free, and have so many cool features that non-techies love like iPhoto, iMovie, etc.

In conclusion, I detect the stench of old-fogey-ism in this post.

Posted by: the patriarch on November 2, 2007 2:35 PM

Without the latest developments in things like Memory and Hard Dirves, we would not have:
- Google, or Google Earth, or Google Maps
- Google Books and similar services. I can now search the contents of millions of books and journals. Amazing.
- Wikipedia
- Cheap Editing Software for Young Filmakers (I know that is a subject close the MvB's heart)
- Digital Cameras
- Digital Video (I wonder what effect those two things have on things like Police Brutality. Honestly, I don't know)
- Blogging (All these posts need to be saved some place)
- Cellular Phones - Steve Sailer just posted on what effect he thinks this will have for places like Africa (He thinks it's good).

The list goes on and on.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on November 2, 2007 3:02 PM

Also, you can get a machine with good free software that boots up in a heart-beat (like certian favors of Linux). Yet, time and again, we choose the big ones with lots of bells and whistles.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on November 2, 2007 3:03 PM

Writing has been a drag ever since the South Sea Bubbleworks program, Quill Pen, was withdrawn from the market. That was dream software, let me tell you! Fastest bootup your eyes ever saw. You just moved a device called a "pen" — clever name, eh?, like enclosing your thoughts inside a pigpen — and applied it to an interface called "parchment."

Chap I used to know in the French government — Robbe-Grillet, Robespeare, I never was too good remembering those froggy names — got so good at it that, even without an IT Department to help him over the bumps, he could turn out five-and-twenty execution orders in a day and still have time to hike down to the Conciergerie and sass prisoners with lines like, "Hey, I wonder how you'd look if you were a head shorter?"

Lost track of the old boy after that. But he taught me the importance of using the right software for the job.

Posted by: Rick Darby on November 2, 2007 3:05 PM

A typical business office's productivity would be improved more by having every employee memorize and use the hotkey shortcuts for Microsoft Word, than it would be by upgrading every machine, including software and servers.

Upgrade cost? Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of dollars or more.

Using hotkey commands? Priceless. As in No Charge.

Posted by: PatrickH on November 2, 2007 3:10 PM

I often think that once a decade we call a time-out for a year. Then during that year everyone should forget about making progress and just focus on making what we have already work better and be more solid and swift and elegant. We take cars in for tuneups. Why not take life in for the occasional tuneup?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 2, 2007 3:30 PM

I don't know, my new iMac is giving me the most positive experience I've ever had with a computer, and I've been using them since I bought an Apple IIe in 1984. And just try viewing porn on that Mac classic...surely this is an angle you can appreciate Michael.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on November 2, 2007 7:44 PM

So far as the non-websurfing tasks that one most often uses a computer for (Word and Excel, basically) go

Who is this "one" he's talking about? Just try surfing the web with that Mac II.

Posted by: JewishAtheist on November 4, 2007 1:59 PM

I have to agree with the comment by JewishAtheist. Word and Excel may be used most often in the business world (or may not. I'm in the business world and while I use word and excel most of my job involves server hosted web applications) but in everyday life that's just not true. That was the thinking of the last non-computer generation (of which my parents proudly belong). The idea was that a computer was basically a very expensive typewriter. The idea of your post is in sync with this idea. "Why in twenty years," you impotently rage, "they've not made my electro-turbo typewriter any better!" No they haven't because that's not what it is. What they did do in the last twenty years was realize that computers could do a lot more than type letters and calculate budgets. So it's really no surprise that typing and calculating systems haven't changed much, they haven't needed to. And to agree with patriarch, there's a stench of old fogey-ism coming from this post ("Future progressive thingamabobs scare me!") that is unbecoming for such an otherwise thoughtful and progressive site. And it is a great site. Truly. Thanks for listening to my rant.

Posted by: Jonathan Lapper on November 5, 2007 1:22 PM

Lordy, some of you are being uncharacteristically literal. Where on earth are you seeing anti-progress arguments in either my posting or the piece I link to? I like my iMac too, and I'm not about to back to a Mac Plus.

The argument here, such as it is, is that as capabilities (RAM, hard drives, speeds, etc) have increased superfast, it doesn't seem like design and software elegance have kept pace. It seems instead like a lot of crud and flash have piled up, especially on Windows machines.

Y'all have a problem with this impression? Or find it "old-fogey"ish? Why?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 6, 2007 4:06 AM

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