TABLETS. THE NON-SOLUTION TO FUTURE COMPUTING

I always wondered, when I wrote about tablets and computers, if lacking an iPad was the problem. I have Android tablets, windows tablets. A variety of Kindles. But maybe all these could not show me how tablets could rock my world, make me get rid of all my laptops and desktops. I figured that must be the key — because while I like my tablets, I would never use one for real work.

Well. I got an iPad. And just to round out my tablet experience, I unexpectedly fell into a Kindle Fire HD 8.9, the big dog of Kindles.

And now, with my bona fides in order, it’s time to say it again. Because now, more than ever, the truth is incontrovertible. A tablet can’t replace your laptop or desktop unless the only thing for which you use a computer is email and social media … and even then, it might be a bit tricky.

Getting an iPad

The lightweight laptop I used for simple tasks died. Again. A software super-glitch involving multiple areas of the system. The laptop isn’t old, hasn’t seen heavy use, but has required two reloads and now wants a third. I was unwilling to put more money into a machine which clearly has a problem. Computers should not eat operating systems. I just don’t know what the problem is, but it was a cheap laptop. Time to replace it.

Kindle and iPad

What to do? I needed something on which I can play audiobooks and which will access at least two, preferably three, Audible accounts — something Kindles cannot do. It needed to be light, highly portable, able to do basic Internet stuff, make minor corrections on my blog. Check email. Maybe play some music or a movie once in a while. I found a really good deal on an iPad 3. Between my credits with Amazon and the reduced cost of an older model, it came into my life for under $300, making it my least costly and (I assumed) most elegant computing solution.

I’ve had friends extolling the virtues of the iPad for years. So I figured I’d get this thing. It would leap from its box, embrace me. Configure itself (like the Kindle does), then clean the house, shovel the roof, and cook dinner.

Not exactly. Hours of configuring later (and the addition of Chrome as a browser), it began to behave like it should.

I still prefer the Kindle. It’s faster, requires much less configuring. Except for that pesky problem with Audible access, which you’d think Amazon would solve since they own Audible. But never mind. Many of the same people who had been telling me that an iPad was going to solve my problems (and those of the world) were now emailing me, reminding me it’s “just a tablet, not a computer.” Funny. That’s not what they said before I got one.

Tablet sales have slowed, not because tablets aren’t fun or don’t have a place in our lives, but because everyone has one, or two, or three. And because, as it turns out, tablets do what they do, which isn’t everything.

I remember reading articles how tablets would replace laptops and desktops. This was based on a surge in tablet sales and a simultaneous slowdown of computer sales. Apparently no one who wrote those articles considered that people buying tablets didn’t have them. When everyone had one, tablet sales would level off. Many folks had recently invested in desktop and laptop computers and didn’t need another one. And of course, there was Windows 8 which caused a lot of folks to not want to buy a computer, including me.

Today, I am set for tablets. Two Kindles (big and little) and an iPad. My fantastic Alienware laptop does the heavy lifting and I still have a big desktop in my office.

The writers of those articles were, quite simply, lying. None of them wrote their articles on tablets. I don’t know who paid them off, but everyone who’s ever used a tablet knows it cannot replace a full-size computer or laptop. To say otherwise is intentional misrepresentation.

All the friends who told me how great their iPads are failed to mention any of its limitations until I already owned one. Is this the official “dirty little secret” of the iPad fan club? I had to become a member of the club before I could have the rest of the story?

I’ve made peace with my iPad, but it will never be my favorite device or even my favorite tablet. I prefer my Kindles and the big, 8.9″ Kindle is the top dog. Not the most portable among its brethren, but for aging eyes, it’s a life-saver. I can read again!!

There’s room in our lives for many different devices. And operating systems.

One size does not fit all. You can’t replace everything with one thing. There’s no reason you should. It’s still a (sort of) free country.

MARILYN GETS AN IPAD

Between the old router going bad and installing the new one, something caused the troubled laptop in my bedroom to go bonkers. It decided every certificate for every application and website I have ever used, or will use, was fraudulent. Although I did my best to fix it and I sort of did, but editing certificates is delicate and tricky.

Google Chrome went berserk and refused to let me connect. To anything. Even after finally finding a way to uninstall Chrome, it took a lot of coaxing before I could get Internet Explorer to run. In this case, the problem turned out to be IE. Its awful design. A feature, not a bug.

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I tried to use my 7-inch Kindle Fire HD to do everything, but it’s too small. I can’t load my website. Since (I believe this fits into the “irony” category) WordPress has “improved” their software to make it “mobile friendly,” it has become actively hostile. WordPress sites used to automatically resize. Now they won’t load at all. I could buy a cheap PC, but they run Windows 8, which I hate. Microsoft says I should want it, but I don’t.

That left me with three choices: Chrome, Kindle, and Apple. I’ve got an Alienware super laptop which I love, so all I need is something basic. To download and listen to audiobooks, check my blog and email, maybe play a game, and take a peek at Facebook.

My first choice would have been the big brother of my Kindle Fire HD, the 9″ version — about the same size as the iPad. But it has limitations. I need to be able to run multiple Audible accounts, which Kindles can’t do. Something to do with the Kindle OS. After a little research, I knew a Chromebook was too limited. It’s not a computer, just a way to connect to the web. Fine, if that’s all you need, but I need more.

I always thought the iPad was overpriced. I still think so, but I found a brand new 64 GB  iPad 3 for the same price as a big Kindle. I’ve had friends extolling the virtues of the iPad for years. I figured I’d get this thing. It would leap from its box and embrace me. Configure itself (like the Kindle really does), then clean my house and cook dinner.

Not exactly.

The iPad comes nicely boxed without any instructions.

These are ALL the instructions that came with my Apple iPad.

These are ALL the instructions that came with my Apple iPad.

If this is the only piece of Internet capable hardware in your possession, you’re shit out of luck. Everything you need is online … where you can’t get until after you set up the iPad. Not as easy as the lack of instructions would suggest.

Our nearest Apple store is more than 60 miles away and you have to make an appointment. They also need an attitude adjustment. The last time I was there, I wanted to install my iPhone into one of their bodily orifices. The limited service combined with their attitude made me less than eager to invest in their equipment. But Microsoft and Windows 8 had me cornered. I ran out of choices.

ipad3-specs

My new iPad did not leap out to embrace me. It was harder to set up than my laptop and much more difficult than the Kindle which doesn’t need any set up. The iPad lost the first two passwords I set. Unlike my PC, you can’t not have a password. You need layers and layers of passwords for everything. When it decided the password with which I’d replaced the initial password also didn’t exist, it asked for my birth date to confirm that I’m me. It then told me my birthday isn’t my birthday.

I don’t know much, but I know my birthday. I’m not sure what to do about it. Lacking any instructions, I can’t get into the computer to correct the misinformation it locked onto. It’s lucky I’m clever with computers. In the end, all computers are more alike than different. Interfaces vary, but under the hood, they work do the same stuff. Including the iPad.

I worked around its refusal to acknowledge my birthday, though I know I’m going to bump into the problem again. If anyone knows how to deal with this, I’d sure like to know. Meanwhile, on my fourth password, it acknowledged it and I moved on. I don’t understand why everything on an iPad requires a password, but it does. Apparently not every time you use it, but when you activate or install anything, it requires one, two, or three passwords. I swear I entered passwords 100 times or more during setup. It fought me tooth and nail about connecting to this website, but when I was ready to fling it out into a snowdrift and leave it for the dogs, it must have heard me thinking.  It gave up the fight and connected. It took another long battle to convince it to accept multiple Audible account, but eventually, it let me download books from more all my accounts. If I could have done this on Kindle, I wouldn’t have gotten the damned iPad.

I installed the latest operating system (8 point something) and it’s working. It only took most of an afternoon, which these days is rather a lot of configuring for a modern computer.

I was so pissed off with it for giving me a hard time, I didn’t want to use it, but I had to give it a fair try. For the last three days, I’ve logged several hours a day scooting around the Internet, downloading books and audiobooks. Listening to books.  Installing stuff. I’m not thrilled with Safari. It’s a bit clunky, though far better than IE. It’s not hard to be better than IE.

It is a great size. Nice big screen. Amazing battery life. Audio is good, though not loud enough. Graphics are high quality. It resists fingerprints better than a Kindle.  It’s slower than my other devices. Surprisingly sluggish when opening applications, downloading, and connecting to the net. It gets there, but I’m not used to waiting.

My expectations may have been unreasonably high. It’s not entirely my fault. With Apple enthusiasts telling me how fantastic the iPad is, how perfect, I expected fantastic.

What I got is a nice, serviceable tablet. It’ll do the job, though I prefer a keyboard and a mouse. My hands are not what they were. Poking at it puts more stress on my arthritic hands than does a mouse. I don’t like virtual keyboards. My fingernails are always too long, fingers inaccurate, imprecise. And the iPad requires a solid poke to respond.

Do I love it? No, but it has a potential — and it isn’t Windows 8.  I’m sure I will make peace with it, but I wish I liked it more.

Would I recommend an iPad? It depends on what you need. I think I made the right choice, maybe the only choice. But if Microsoft would get their act together, I’d gladly return to the fold.

WHY TABLETS CAN’T REPLACE COMPUTERS. WHY THEY SHOULDN’T.

I originally wrote a version of this in November 2012. At that time, agreement among “experts” was nearly universal: tablets would replace desktop and laptop computers. Within a couple of years — in other words, now — everyone would be using a tablet for everything. I disagreed then. I was right. (Don’t you love when that happens?)

Tablet sales have slowed, not because tablets aren’t fun or don’t have a place in our lives, but because everyone has one, or two, or three of them. And because, as it turns out, tablets do what they do, which isn’t everything.

I remember reading all those articles announcing how tablets will replace laptops and desktops. This, based on the surge in tablet sales and the slowing of computer sales. Every time I read one of those articles, I wanted to reach through my monitor, grab the author by the throat and shake him or her.

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I don’t have anything against portable devices. I have quite a few of them, but there are a couple of differences between me and those authors:

1) The reviewers apparently don’t do any work. Not only do they not do any work, they don’t even have hobbies.

2) They think their favorite device is perfect and can do everything.

Have any of the people extolling mini devices as the total computer solution designed a book? Made a movie? Used Photoshop? Converted a document to PDF? Tried playing games on a tablet? It’s nearly impossible. All other issues aside, the screens are too small.

Virtual keyboards are good for virtual fingers …

I just read an article explaining how you can type perfectly fine on the iPad’s virtual keypad. Having tried typing on a variety of tablets, that’s an outright lie. Not true. You can’t type on a virtual keyboard because (trumpets) there are no keys.

You need memory and a hard drive to run applications.

You can’t run photo or video editing software on a tablet. Or a Chromebook. Or a Smartphone. It’s not that it won’t run well. It won’t run at all. It has to be installed. It uses a lot of memory. Without a hard drive, you can’t install it. Even online versions of these applications won’t run on small devices. If you use a real camera — anything more than a basic point and shoot, or a telephone — you can’t even download your photos, much less edit them. If you shoot RAW, you might not be able to load a single photograph on your device.

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You can’t edit a 16 X 20 photograph on a 10 inch tablet. Much less a cell phone.

This is not a matter of opinion. It’s a fact. Can’t do it. Can’t see enough of the pictures to know what you are doing. It does not matter whether we are talking about a Kindle, an android tablet, or an iPad. Operating system is irrelevant. The device is physically too small to do the job. Even if it had a hard drive and enough memory (none of them do), you still couldn’t do it.

Who needs footnotes? Engineering drawings? Spreadsheets? I do, that’s who.

And good luck editing video on a tablet. Let me know how that works for you.

About that thesis: footnotes and bibliographies, and cross references? Explain to your adviser how you can’t include references and attributions because your tablet can’t do it. Surely they will understand. After all, computers are obsolete. And who needs attribution anyhow?

If you’re an architect or engineer? Return to your drawing table and start doing them by hand. I hope you still have those old-fashioned tools and remember how to use them, because you won’t be doing them on your tablet.

Need a spreadsheet? Not going to happen. Even if all you are trying to do is track your own household budget, you can’t do it on your tablet or telephone.

alienware computer front full

It’s a big world with room for many operating systems and devices … you don’t need to dump one to have the other.

There’s room in our lives for many different devices. And operating systems.

I prefer stuff that’s dedicated to specific tasks or sets of tasks. I love reading books on my Kindle. I edit on my desktop with the big HD monitor. I use my laptop when I don’t what to be stuck in my office, which these days seem to all the time.

You love your iPad? Enjoy it, but respect its limits — because they’re also its advantages. If you make it big and powerful enough to handle the tasks it currently can’t manage — larger screen, real hard drive, RAM, keyboard — it’s not a fun, portable device any more. If you need that much functionality, you need a laptop or desktop.

You can’t replace everything with one thing. There’s no reason you should.

One size does not fit all.

It’s okay to be different. Whether it’s your political opinion or which computer or device or system you prefer, diversity and differences make our world interesting. Live your life as you prefer. Let others do the same.

END OF THE WINDOWS ROAD?

It appears to be the end of the road for me and Windows.

I’m just bought what I suspect will be my last Windows machine, the most powerful Alienware computer I could configure — or afford. It had better last a long time. I’ve tried using Windows 8.1 on Microsoft tablets (two of them) as well as my friend’s desktop. I hate it.

alienware side view computer

From everything I have read, the worst of the problems of Windows 8 will morph into “features” on Win 10, the classic “smoke and mirrors” approach to software.

“Oh, it isn’t a bug … IT’S A FEATURE!”

You got that right. It’s not that Microsoft has made it impossible to run non-Microsoft products on my computer .They are protecting me from the big, bad, world. Nor will they provide me with alternative software to perform those tasks. Microsoft wants me locked into their universe and I must use their applications to do whatever I want or need to do.

If by some chance I have a twisted urge to do other things and Microsoft doesn’t have appropriate applications or tools? Gee, that’s too bad. Microsoft has set the bar, made the rules. All you zombies will march in step and pay us for the privilege.

Not this zombie. Nor a whole lot of my fellow zombies.

Mind you I am no super fan of Mac, either. I have a heavy investment in Windows-based software, which is how come I have put up with this crap so far. But there is a line over which you cannot push me because I won’t let you.

You cannot tell me to live in your universe to the exclusion of all others “for my own safety.” No matter what you believe, it’s my world too. My computer. My money. My investment, work, effort, creativity. You cannot, will not force me to do it your way. This is not happening. Thanks for warning me.

I’ll start saving now for the investment I will have to make in the future to change to a different system. And shame on you writers for not doping out the obvious end result of this shill game … the end of freedom of choice for anyone who buys into the Microsoft system.

And so, Mr. Bott, author of “Microsoft reveals audacious plans to tighten security with Windows 10” — the latest in a long line of ZDNet shill articles about the wonders of Windows 10: What happened to journalistic ethics? Did they pay you to lose them or just make it clear you have to tow the party line or else? I can’t believe you actually believe the drivel you’re writing.

When I started in the high-tech writing biz, we limited shilling for sponsored products to the “new products” columns. We didn’t feature them. We were encouraged to use our best judgment and commonsense when writing lead articles.

I’m embarrassed to have been a member of the same profession. Ashamed. You should be too.

side view alienware closeup computer

We all want cool toys. The latest (hugest) iPhone. The hot sports car. We want all of it. Now, please. For this, the credit card was invented. I believe after the world ends and only cockroaches remain, Visa will still be sending threatening letters to cardholders.  The price tag is part of my ambivalence even though I was wild to get my paws on a computer so incredibly hot that it would virtually sear my fingertips. Most of the mixed emotions are because setting up a new computer is a total immersion experience into tasks simultaneously critical and intensely boring.

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It arrived yesterday. Packed in a beautifully designed box so nice it feels wrong to throw it away. So I haven’t. Yet. It’s on my dining table. Every time I go into the room, I am amazed at how gorgeous it is. That’s just the box.

I was caught short when it arrived. Dell had told me to expect it on or near November 4th. Although I know Dell typically delivers early, this was very early, beating their “expected delivery date” by two weeks. Not that I’m complaining. Just explaining I wasn’t ready to immerse myself in the experience known as “setting up a new computer.” It’s immersive because once you begin, you can’t stop until you are done.

alienware side view computer

Perhaps if you use your computer just a little, swapping to a new computers is a plug-and-play event. Not me. According to my last backup from a couple of days ago, I have 40,000 photographs and 3,000 documents. A lot of stuff. And that’s just data.

Applications needing installation included Photoshop. Lightroom. OpenOffice. Audible. Kindle. Chrome. All the other stuff I’m forgetting. I can’t skip any of it. Setup isn’t only installing. You can’t plunk an application onto the hard drive and you’re done. You have to configure it too. And let’s not forget configuring the computer itself. I have specific preferences for how my computers works. I want it to shut off when I close the lid. Not sleep or hibernate. Turn completely off. I want the power optimized for performance — no dimmed monitors. I want updates to self-install when the computer is not in use and then, only important updates.

I want everything to open with a single mouse click. I need on-screen text bigger than standard. I want the mouse marker thick enough to spot easily amidst text.

I also wanted to make my keyboard glow like a rainbow and the alien head glow green — because on this computer, I can.


alienware computer front full

It was late morning when the carton arrived with DELL splashed across it. My stomach gave a flutter.

Unready though I was, a shiver of excitement with an undercurrent of fear goaded me to action. It unpacked easily. I plugged it in. Turned it on. It went through its self-setup. This is Windows 7 Professional — I’ve never used it before. I’m not clear what the difference is from plain vanilla Windows 7. I’m counting on the computer to know what it needs and where to put it.

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It asks me to give my new baby a name. I call him “Alien.” What else?

alien specs

Seven hours later, it’s all done but the fine-tuning. I’ve transferred my data from the new external hard drive, programmed my rainbow keyboard (totally cool).

I’ve never had a computer that felt this good under my hands. Beautifully designed and solid. I am surprised how much I miss the larger screen of my 15.6 inch XPS. Alien is 14 inches. Not tiny, but not large. A good portable size and the monitor is remarkably crisp, clear, and non-reflective. I have a 23″ monitor in the other room, so I can always plunk my butt in my office chair and use the big high def monitor. Maybe I will, maybe not.

I have yet to install the printer and I need to make a variety of small adjustments to the computer and various applications. Mostly, it’s done. Including today, it has taken about 10 hours.

Was it worth it?

Alienware keyboard computer side

I love the way Alien feels. I love the keyboard, the graphics. I don’t understand why the hard drive is only 5400 RPS. My XPS is 7200, but that option wasn’t offered on any of the Alienware machines. Why not? So everything is supersonic — except HD read/write. Yes, I can tell the difference. The speakers on this computer are okay, but the ones on the XPS were great. A lot better. If I want better sound, I’ll have to use headphones or a clip-on speaker.

Nothing is perfect. Not the car of your dreams or my new computer, but it’s close. It is definitely what the doctor ordered for what I most need. It handles even the heaviest graphics without a hiccup.

Just to give you an example, while it was importing and sorting 36,000 photographs into Lightroom, the computer also installed 64 Microsoft updates. I turned down its offer to reboot after installing the updates because it was still finishing sorting all my photographs into a continuous timeline, something I’ve wanted to do but never had the strength of character to attempt.

Wow. Really. Wow.

THE AMBIVALENCE OF A NEW COMPUTER

THE END OF THE ROAD FOR WINDOWS AND ME

Summary: Windows 10 will build in standards-based two-factor authentication to every device, effectively neutering most phishing attacks and password database breaches. The company also announced new features aimed at securing corporate machines from malware attacks and data leaks.

screenshot-www.zdnet.com 2014-10-23 12-39-55

The summary of Ed Bott’s column on the upcoming Windows 10 appalled me. Sickened me. Frightened me. The rest of the article confirmed my worst fears. I’m walking the final piece of road with Microsoft. The end of the road for me and Windows.

IN WITH THE NEW

The handwriting has been on my wall for a while.

Since April, my primary computer has been my Dell XPS 15 laptop. It has a fast motherboard, 8 GB RAM, 750 GB at 7500 HD, a backlit keyboard, high def monitor, a DVD that plays Blu-Ray, and a 9-cell battery. It weighs like a cannonball.

I use a lap desk with two fans to cool it. I treat it well, keep it clean. It’s never been dropped.

WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

Glad you asked. The graphics card is inadequate. It’s a card with both sound and graphics on it, so I can’t listen to anything while I work in Photoshop. And even so, it locks. It used to recover and knowing the source of the problem, (insufficient video RAM), I rebooted frequently. Mostly, it was okay. Lately, it has stopped recovering. It goes down, stays down. Hard crashes and blue screens of death.

Last week, it gave me a black screen — fatal error — which told me it did not recognize its power source. It was plugged into an AC outlet, so I suspect the battery is starting to go.

For months now, it has refused to install Microsoft updates, except antivirus. I figured I didn’t really need the updates, but I’d have to be stupid to not see the warnings. My faithful laptop is getting tired. Some day soon, it’s going to quit.

SO WHAT DID YOU ORDER? TELL ALL, PLEASE!

Possibly for the first time, I got enough computer to do what I need to do. It’s a gaming laptop, Alienware 14. It has 16 gigs of RAM, a dedicated 2 gig video card. DVD reader/writer. High definition graphics. Heavier than I’d like at 6 pounds, but nothing lighter had all the features I want.

Alienware14-laptops

It looks like my new computer will be my last Windows machine. It’s the most powerful Alienware computer I could configure — based on Windows 7. It had better last a long time because I’ve tried using Windows 8 on Microsoft’s tablets (1 running RT and the other running Windows 8.1). I’ve also put in some time using my friend’s Windows 8.1 desktop.

I hated it. From Mr. Bott’s description, the worst of the problems of Windows 8 will become “the features” of Windows 10 or whatever they decide to call it. This is not a new approach in the high-tech world, mind you. It’s a classic, the “smoke and mirrors” approach.

“OH NO, that isn’t a bug … IT’S A FEATURE!”

You heard me right. It isn’t that Microsoft has made it impossible to run non-Microsoft products on that computer you bought. They are protecting you from the big, bad, world. Nor are they are providing you with a viable alternative to the way you used to work. They are requiring you play in their ballpark. A tiny world that has limited tools and applications to do whatever it is you do. If you want to do other things and they don’t have what you need? Gee … I guess that’s too bad. Microsoft figures it can set the rules. They own you. All you zombies will march in step and pay them money for the privilege.

Not this zombie. And not a whole lot of my fellow zombies. Mind you I am no great fan of Mac, either. I have a heavy investment in windows-based software, which is how come I have put up with all this crap so far … but there is a line over which you cannot push me. You cannot tell me I have to live in your universe to the exclusion of all others “for my own safety.” If my mother couldn’t do it, Microsoft definitely cannot.

No matter what you believe, it’s MY world. MY computer. MY money. MY investment, work, effort, and creativity. You will not force me to do it your way. This is not happening. Thanks for warning me, though. I’ll start saving now for the huge investment I will have to make in the future to change to a different system. And shame on all you tech authors for trying to sell this as a good thing. For not saying that the obvious end result of this shill game is the end of freedom of choice for anyone who buys into Microsoft’s new operating systems.

And so, Mr. Bott, you who wrote this article for ZDnet — Whatever happened to your journalistic ethics? Did they pay you to dump them or merely make it clear you have to tow the party line or else? I can’t believe you actually believe the drivel you’re writing. When I started in the high-tech biz as a writer, we limited the shilling for sponsored products to the “new products” columns and didn’t feature the lies. We were encouraged to use judgment and commonsense when writing lead articles because we still thought our subscribers were the people to whom we answered.

I’m embarrassed to be a member of the same profession. Ashamed. You should be too.


In conjunction with today’s Daily Prompt – Ready, Set, Done – free writing exercise. I think this may have taken more than 10 minutes (but not much more) and it is I have to say.

IN WITH THE NEW

The handwriting has been on my wall for a while.

Since April, my primary computer has been my Dell XPS 15 laptop. It has a fast motherboard, 8 GB RAM, 750 GB at 7500 HD, a backlit keyboard, high def monitor, a DVD that plays Blu-Ray, and a 9-cell battery. It weighs like a cannonball.

I use a lap desk with two fans to cool it. I treat it well, keep it clean. It’s never been dropped.

WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

Glad you asked. The graphics card is inadequate. It’s a card with both sound and graphics on it, so I can’t listen to anything while I work in Photoshop. And even so, it locks. It used to recover and knowing the source of the problem, (insufficient video RAM), I rebooted frequently. Mostly, it was okay. Lately, it has stopped recovering. It goes down, stays down. Hard crashes and blue screens of death.

Alienware14-laptops

Last week, it gave me a black screen — fatal error — which told me it did not recognize its power source. It was plugged into an AC outlet, so I suspect the battery is starting to go.

For months now, it has refused to install Microsoft updates, except antivirus. I figured I didn’t really need the updates, but I’d have to be stupid to not see the warnings. My faithful laptop is getting tired. Some day soon, it’s going to quit.

I bought this computer in March 2012. It was refurbished, a year old when I got it. Buying refurbished let me buy more computer. I had gotten serious about blogging. Also, recently out of the hospital. I had (have) a desktop, but I needed a laptop. This was top of the line then, and if you look at the specs, it is still better than 90% of the new computers on the market … except it has grown old. For two and a half years, this laptop has taken whatever I threw at it without (much) complaint. What it did in the year before I got it, I have no way of knowing except that it had some mileage on it.

I could wait until it dies. Probably in the middle of writing a post. Not a smart move, especially considering the issues swirling around Microsoft. Namely, Windows 8. I hate Windows 8.

BUT WHY DON’T YOU BUY A MAC?

Alienware14-keyboard

With all of its quirks, Microsoft never screwed me over the way Apple did. Every expensive Apple computer I bought was obsolete mere weeks after buying it. Apple always assured me the new machine would be upgradeable. They lied. In 1999, they did it again. I had barely had time to set up the new system before Apple made it obsolete.

“This is,” I said aloud, “the last time Apple is going to screw me.”

I donated the Apple to my alma mater. I bought the most powerful Windows 98 PC I could afford, which — with upgrades — ran flawlessly for 6 years. I never bought another Macintosh product until an iPhone snuck into my world a year ago.

I want nothing to do with Macs. I don’t like the inaccessibility of the operating system or the hardware. I don’t find it intuitive. I find it confusing and annoying. I want a PC, thank you. But not Windows 8. From what I’m hearing, I don’t want the upcoming Windows 10, either.

BUY NOW OR DIE LATER

Which put me into a bind. Windows 7 machines are disappearing. Even a few weeks ago, there were more choices. Despite the other issues we have, I need a new laptop. This is what credit is for … and that’s why I buy from Dell. Because when no one else would give me credit, they did.

alienware-back

SO WHAT DID YOU ORDER? TELL ALL, PLEASE!

Possibly for the first time, I got enough computer to do what I need to do. It’s a gaming laptop, Alienware 14. It has 16 gigs of RAM, a dedicated 2 gig video card. DVD reader/writer. High definition graphics. Heavier than I’d like at 6 pounds, but nothing lighter had all the features I want.

Here are the specs for my fellow geeks:

  • 4th Gen Intel Core i7-4710MQ processor (6MB Cache, up to 3.5GHz w/ Turbo Boost)
  • 14.0 inch WLED FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS Anti-Glare Display
  • 16GB Dual Channel DDR3L 1600MHz (2x8GB)
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 765M with 2GB GDDR5
  • Intel 802.11n/ac Wireless and Bluetooth 4.0 driver
  • 1TB 5400RPM SATA 6Gb/s
  • Windows 7 Professional 64 bit Service Pack 1, English, w/Media
  • Optical Drive : Slot-Loading 8x SuperMulti Drive (DVD/R/RW)
  • Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 @ 5GHz + Bluetooth 4.0
  • Backlit English Keyboard
  • US 110V Power Cord
  • Battery : Primary 6-cell 69W/HR
  • Power Supply : Alienware 150W AC Adapter
  • Alienware 14 Silver Anodized Aluminum

It won’t be here till the beginning of November, but I think I’m good until then. I sure hope so!

Oh, they threw in a free 7″ Android tablet. I don’t know what I’ll do with it, but I guess I’ll figure it out. And a $150 gift card. For accessories.

You must remember this … Techno Memories

I wonder if operating systems will be relevant a few years from now. Change has been a synonym for technology for the past 30 years or more. Change has driven the computer industry. Change is why we need to buy new software, hardware and operating systems.

Change can make things work better, but it’s not unusual to discover that your “upgrade” is a downgrade because what used to work no longer does. You pays your money, you takes your chances.

I grew to adulthood in a pre-computer society. I started working before cable TV, when encyclopedias were huge heavy sets of books and a computer was gigantic and needed a whole building for itself. It ran on punch cards and used machine languages — COBOL and FORTRAN. Decades later, personal computers were still just one step removed from a doorstop, floppy disks were 5-1/2 inches across and really flopped.

Those early machines (personal units, not mainframes) — I hesitate to call them computers — didn’t do much. They didn’t have hard drives. There was no software and no user-friendly interface. I don’t think the concept existed. No WYSIWYG. What you saw was a black screen with lurid green letters that made you feel like you were going blind after an hour or two.

Then everything changed. First there was Apple and then Windows. Windows didn’t work very well at first, but it got better. And even better.

In the beginning, there were different players in the marketplace and many more choices of operating system. Wang and DEC plus a crazy quilt of dedicated word processors and computers made by Commodore, Atari and many others. For a while, I had an Amstrad, a European machine that was almost a computer, kind an intelligent typewriter with a screen. It spit out paper.

Soon everything changed again. Computers started to really do stuff. Magic!

The speed of change accelerated. Technology was in hyperdrive. Then came a thing called the Internet. I had to buy and install Netscape to use it. After I got connected, there wasn’t much going on, but it was cool to just roam around. Mostly, you bumped into other people looking for something interesting. And then came AOL.

You could send electronic mail — email — if you had a friends with computers. You sent them messages over old copper telephone wires and everything happened in slow motion.

Just getting on to the Internet could take … well, let me put it this way. Turn on the computer. Turn on the modem. Go to the kitchen. Prepare dinner. Cook dinner. Serve dinner. Eat dinner. Clean up everything. By the time you got back to your computer, you might have actually managed to connect to something. Or not.

Then suddenly there were ISPs popping up all over the place. I got a super fast modem that ran at a whopping 2400 BPS! Imagine that. I worked in California from my home office in Boston. Cool! Telecommuting was the cat’s pajamas.

By the time my granddaughter was born in 1996, everybody had a computer or two. In her world, computers have always been fast, the Internet has always been the world’s shopping mall. Ebay and Amazon are no big deal.

At age three, she could run basic applications. For her, it’s like electricity was to us: something you use that is always there and always was. I’m sure she can’t imagine a world without it. It’s hard for me to remember that world and I certainly would not want to go back there.

For a brief interval, the rate of change slowed. We drew a collective breath and didn’t have to buy new computers for a couple of years. High speed connections arrived, though most home users didn’t have it right away. Everything kept getting faster and soon, with cable modems, no one could even remember what it was like to try to get onto the Internet using an old telephone line.

Every time you looked around, there was a  new generation of processors, bigger and faster hard drives, amazing super high-definition monitors and speaker systems to knock your socks off.

The Internet became a world-sized shopping mall and overnight, catalogue shopping became website cruising. The Internet was a world unto itself; I played bridge in real-time with a partner who lived on an island off the Pacific coast.

We have computers all over the house and what isn’t a computer is run by a computer or contains a mini computer … microwave ovens, smartphones, digital cameras and GPS units. I have three computers — in my office, living room and bedroom. My husband has two. My granddaughter has 3, but I think a couple of them don’t work any more. My son has two, my daughter in law has one but if she wants another, we have a spares and she can just grab one.

Eight computers are in daily use and only 5 people live here. I feel that we will soon need to get computers for each of the dogs. For all I know, whenever we are out, they go on-line and order stuff. I’m sure Bonnie the Scottie has at least a thousand Facebook friends.

A brief interruption of cable service leaves us wandering around like wraiths, without form or function. Five of the seven primary computers are less than 2 years old  so I figured we were set for a few years at least … but then everything started changing. Again.

Today, it’s all about “the cloud.” It’s still the same old Internet, but “cloud” is the “in” word for stuff stored on external servers. We’re going back to where we began, to using stripped down computers with no hard drives. Instead, everything is stored on someone else’s computer — out there. In the “cloud.” Our data might be anywhere. We have no way of knowing where it lives.

Am I the only one who finds this unnerving?

I can see advantages. When you eliminate memory sucking operating systems and cumbersome installed applications, your computer will run faster. Start-up is instantaneous because your computer doesn’t have to load services and applications. You don’t have to maintain and upgrade big expensive applications and volumes of data. You won’t need ever bigger hard drives, more memory and video RAM. You wind up with faster computers that are less expensive and easier to maintain. It’s a win-win, right?

Or is it?

How much do you trust your Internet service provider?

If your cable company has a bad day or the servers on which you store your critical data go down — even for a short while — you have nothing. As long as everything works like it’s supposed to, it’s hunky dory, but Murphy hasn’t left the building yet.

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, and will do so at the worst possible time.

Maybe it’s my age showing, but I would prefer to have data on hard drives that I control. That I own.

The idea of entrusting everything —  from my photographs to the manuscript of my book — to an unknown server somewhere in the world scares the Hell out of me. What if the building in which the server storing my stuff burns down? Gets hit by a terrorist attack? Taken down by hackers? You have no way of knowing what country your data is in, how stable its government is, or how good an infrastructure it maintains. You financial data could be in Pakistan, Indonesia, or Kuala Lampur. Or next door.

Is there a compromise possible? Because when I think about entrusting everything to a cloud, I begin to twitch.

How many times have you been unable to access a web page because servers are busy or crashed? The times when their — or your — servers are inaccessible because of maintenance, repair or upgrade. Or those ubiquitous hackers. What if you need a critical piece of data from a server while its offline? It does happen.

My bank was hacked and they had to send me a new card. Several places I shop — Land’s End, for one — were hacked and I had to redo my accounts because they’d been compromised.

If your ISP is down, you are out of business. If you think your cable company has you by the throat now, how much worse will it be if everything you need to run your life and business is dependent on their services? Facebook and Google already have trouble keeping up with the demands on their resources. How will they manage when they have thousands of times more data and tens of millions of users depending on them for everything from email and applications to data retrieval?

Those of you who are old enough to remember the great Northeast power blackout in the mid 1960s know what I mean when I say that overloaded systems can go down like dominoes. I am all in favor working together with my fellow human beings throughout the world, but at a certain point, when does inter-dependency make us excessively vulnerable?

If you put the world’s eggs in one basket, if the basket falls, that’s a hell of a lot of broken eggs. That’s not an omelet — just a mess.

I worked for more than 35 years in development. That was my world and although I’m not an engineer or developer, I know what’s behind a user interface. For example, modern word processors embed commands in text, but behind the interface, it’s entering the same commands I entered directly on the huge IBM mainframe by hand. It’s faster and prettier now. You get to see how your document will look when it’s printed, but it’s nothing but an elegant wrapping on an old familiar box.

My concern is not the graphical user interface (GUI) that overlays our computer (regardless of operating system), but that these new operating systems are designed to work with “The Cloud” … a meaningless term that represents servers located anywhere and everywhere. We don’t have to know where they are; they’re in the Cloud … kind of like Angels and God. We are being herded toward using external storage and we aren’t supposed to be alarmed that we have no control over it.

We use services consisting of server farms located somewhere on the planet. There is where we store our bank records, personal correspondence, photographs … everything. We use these servers directly when we use “the cloud,” but we also use it indirectly because that’s where our bank, our vendors, the places from which we buy goods and services store their data … or more to the point, our data as it pertains to them.

We assume the people from whom server space is leased are dependable, not criminals looking to steal identities and data … and their infrastructure is secure and won’t collapse from a power outage or hacker attack. And finally, we trust our ISPs to deliver the goods, keep us online so we can access the stuff we need.

Charter Communications is my cable company and controls my high-speed internet access, as well as my TV and telephone. I have difficulty controlling the wave of rage I feel when I think about them. How do you feel about your cable company, eh?

Even if the servers that store your stuff are safe, you can’t get there without a high-speed connection and that, my friends, means your local ISP … cable, telephone, satellite, whatever you use. They already have you by the short hairs. You are not independent and you rely on their services. Does that sound like a great idea? It makes me sweaty and itchy.

Anybody anywhere can build a server farm. It’s a great business that requires a bunch of servers, a climate controlled place to put them, and a few IT people to tend the equipment.

Where are these places? Most are in countries whose government is, by any standards, unstable — possibly dangerously so. How good is the infrastructure? Are they in the middle of a war? Are their electrical generating facilities dependable or sufficient? What protection against hackers do they provide? Are they trustworthy? They could as easily be a bunch of criminals and the data they collect is the mother lode.

I’m not comfy with the idea of entrusting a lifetime of my work to unknown, nameless entities. Google uses servers everywhere, as does Amazon. So does every other “cloud” provider. Your data and mine is unlikely to be in one place, either. It is broken into many pieces that are stored wherever it went when you saved it. You will not know and cannot discover where your data is, was, or will be.

I won’t get into how links and pointers let us retrieve data, but the potential for error, loss, and piracy is huge. So, I’m not buying into the Cloud, at least not for anything that really matters to me. Call me cynical, even paranoid … but I think that the computer-using public is buying snake oil. I want my stuff on my own drives. Use the “Cloud,” whatever it really is. But have good, dependable external drives too.

Or, as the Arabs say, trust in God, but tie your camel.