The PC Zone

Things ARE a lot better ...

As people who use PCs we complain a lot - things are too slow, crash too much, too difficult to set up, too expensive, badly thought out and on and on.  But when you stop and think about it, things are pretty good really.  Very good as a matter of fact.  Compared to where we were 5 or 10 years ago, the PC and IT works are light years ahead and we have access to things that we couldn't even dream about.

Speed

Take speed - nowadays we want everything Fast! - Now! - Instantly!  To be honest, things are pretty fast as they are, and if you don't believe me take an old Pentium II 90 MHz out for a spin, with it's 32Mb of RAM, 400Mb hard drive, 2x CD-ROM drive, 256 colors on a 14 inch monitor.  

That's slow!  

Try loading software off of a floppy disk.  Remember the speed of those things!

That's slow!  

As for Internet, forget broadband, forget even 56Kbps modems and go back to using 14.4Kbps instead.  

That's slow!  

Try backing up onto 1.44Mb floppies, having to use compression tools to make things small enough to fit or break things up to fit.

That's slow!

Crashing

To be honest, I can't remember the last time that I crashed and lost any data.  Really.  It must have been pre-NT 4.0 (that was so robust that after installing the OS I didn't need the disks again for about three years).  OK, I get crashes but my system is loaded with a lot of odd software combinations (in my job I need Visual Studio.NET, command line compilers, CAD and drawing software, screen-capture software, mapping software, games and more) and a lot of beta stuff.  I get the odd crash or lockup but nothing serious.  

When I add new hardware I find things get a little unsteady for a few days but thing settle down.  I expect that and I work around it.  Also, I've not lost any data due to corrupted drives or lost clusters in years - NTFS sees to that.  Scandisks are more for my piece of mind now, rather than a necessity.

Difficult to set up

Are you kidding me!  USB, Plug-n-Play, no jumpers, no IRQ conflicts ... just plug in the hardware and off it does.  Half the time now you don't even need drivers.  Having to have multiple devices attached to the one serial port is gone and also gone is the slow speed of these legacy connections.  Remember when it was vitally important to have UART 16550 on board to get the best performance out of a modem?

The last time I installed Windows on a PC I needed two discs!  TWO!  Out of dozens of PCI cards and peripherals I had installed.  Not bad going I think.

Expensive

I remember when a "good computer" cost /$2000 (the currency didn't seen to matter).  Then this came down to /$1000.  Now /$500 will get you a darn good PC, OK, not top of the line but nonetheless a good, solid reliable PC.

Memory and hard disk prices are now so low that it's hard to see them getting much lower - what you get for a fixed sum seems to buy you more and more.  A few years back I bought a 800Mb drive, for the price I paid for that I could now get two 250Gb drives.  RAM prices are now also so incredibly ridiculous that it's hard to justify having a PC with less than 512Mb of RAM, and 1Gb and 1.5Gb of RAM is well within the reach of the home user.

We can now buy devices that 10 years ago we couldn't dream of  - DVD writers, USB flash memory up to and exceeding 1Gb, optical mice and trackballs, wireless devices.  The list goes on and on and on and prices just seem to come down and down and down.

Badly thought out

I dispute that too.  When you can get 1Gb of memory on something the size of the thumbnail, connect to a network wirelessly, get high-speed internet access down phone lines, take multi-megabyte images with digital cameras or effortlessly burn gigabytes of data onto a disc I think that things are, on the whole, pretty well thought out.

Conclusion

I think that looking back (and having old gear festooned about the place) I think that things are much, much better than they ever were in the IT arena.  Much of this is down to Microsoft and their drive to make Windows an all-encompassing operating system that, despite what some say, runs on a very broad range of PCs.  Partly it's also due to greater standards.  USB and FireWire have been especially important in unifying hardware connections (consider that you can get a card that will make pretty much any PC with a free PCI slot USB 2.0 capable - that's pretty impressive.).

What's on the horizon?  No ideas - but finding out should be exciting!



Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
Last updated: Jul 24th 2005
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