operating system

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.

Staring at the radio

Last night when Garry came into the bedroom, I was staring at the radio. Garry takes his hearing aids off at night, so we have our bedtime conversations at high volume. Shouting, really. So please imagine the following dialogue with both participants talking very loudly.

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“Why are you staring at the radio?”

“I’m trying to figure out if it’s on. Oh, it just started to make noise. It’s on.”

“It’s all the same to me. But why are you staring at it?”

“I figured if I stared at it for a while, it would start to play. Or not. One way or the other, I would find out what the red light means.”

“But … why are you STARING at it. How will staring at it help?”

“That’s how I figure things out. It didn’t come with instructions.”

Pause. “Have you taken any drugs?”

Philco Clock Radio CD

“No. See, there’s a red light. I didn’t if know the red light meant the CD player was on or off. I had to wait and see if it started playing. I was pretty sure a blinking red light meant pause, but I wasn’t sure what a steady red light meant. So I was waiting. I tried waiting when there was no light. Nothing happened, so I tried it the other way. Since it’s making noise, the red light must mean on. It’s kind of slow getting started.”

I wasn’t trying to be funny, but Garry started to laugh and couldn’t stop. “That’s the sort of thing I would do,” he said,

“Well, how else would I know what the red light means?”

He laughed some more.

Garry thinks I know a lot of stuff I don’t really know, especially about technical stuff. I have a simple methodology. Push a button. If it doesn’t do anything or solve whatever problem I’m trying to solve, I push another button. Or push the same button again or hold the button down for a couple of seconds. While I’m waiting, I watch. Intently. Maybe I’ll get a message. Isn’t this how everyone fixes stuff?

My husband finds this hilarious.

I spend a lot of time staring at computers. I’m waiting for something. An idea. For the system to reboot. To see if a blue screen is going to recur. To figure out if the diagnostic will tell me there’s no problem even though I’m sure there is. For a message to appear.

I must be doing something right. Beethoven is playing on the CD player/radio. And most of the time, the computers work.

- – -

So I ordered another one: Dell Inspiron 14Z Ultrabook

Inspiron 14z Ultrabook™ Non-Touch

I was surprised at the large number of the bad reviews the 14Z has gotten. That has not been my experience with this computer. After reading all the bad reviews, I believe I have a better grasp of the issues. Perhaps it’s unwise to automatically believe every reviewer.

There was one review — really a complaint — that exemplified why you need to evaluate the reviewer as well as the review. He had given the 14Z a one star review because he had ordered the computer (he said) with Windows 7, but when he turned it on, “this thing comes up and says Windows 8.”

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“What,” he asked, “Does that mean?”

About 20 people had written to suggest he return the computer and buy an Etch-A-Sketch. I suggested if it said Windows 8, he could be reasonably sure it’s Windows 8. Either he was sent a computer with the wrong operating system or he ordered the wrong operating system. Given his cluelessness, I can’t see how it would make any difference which operating system he has.

The Etch A Sketch Animator

Next, there was a one star review by a woman who complained she couldn’t get the WiFi to work because “I have a wired system and don’t want to waste money getting wireless.” She felt the computer should run WiFi anyway. What can you say to that? Remember, these people are allowed to vote. Frightening.

I have read reviews that complain of the keyboards failing for no reason, of monitors or screens breaking — again for no reason. That the back “just fell off” the computer.

I’ve been using computers since the early 1980s. I’ve never had a screen or monitor break at all. When my keyboards stop working, it’s because I dropped my jelly sandwich on it.  And really, you’re telling me the back fell off the laptop? Just like that? You didn’t unscrew anything or maybe drop it on a cement floor?

In over 30 years of using computers, I’ve never had a monitor or screen break. Never had any computer, no matter how cheap, fall apart. It doesn’t happen.

The people who are most likely to write reviews are those who are having problems. Many have no idea how to use a computer but that doesn’t stop them — or even slow them down. People do dreadful things, then panic and blame the computer. Then there are the people who, rather than call customer service, write a bad review. It doesn’t solve the problem, but I suppose it makes them feel better. Maybe they’re afraid if they call customer service, someone might ask how the back really came off. Sometimes, the problem is the user, not the tool.

I bought a Dell 14Z for my husband more than a year ago. It has Windows 7 as its OS with 4 GB of memory. It’s not a super computer; he doesn’t need one. It’s just a good, dependable machine that does what he needs to do and doesn’t break his back when he takes it with him.

The 14Z is the economy model among Dell’s lightweight computers. It’s classed — by them — as an ultrabook, but it’s a bit heavy to be a true ultrabook. Weighing in at 4 pounds, it is lightweight, but to be an ultrabook, it should be closer to 3 pounds. In compensation, the 14Z has a DVD read/write, a full-size keyboard and good sound — so it’s a more than acceptable compromise at a reasonable price.

My husband’s machine has operated for more than a year completely trouble-free. I took it out of the box. I installed Google Chrome, added his email accounts, installed and/or downloaded whatever applications he was likely to need. He’s been using it ever since. There hasn’t been any reason to call customer service because there haven’t been any issues to address. I don’t know how long the battery would last because he usually plugs it in. It must be easy to use because he is not especially computer savvy and if he were having problems, I would know about it.

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The 14Z is light. It has a bright high-definition screen. The speakers are good, loud for a laptop. They aren’t as good as those on my XPS laptop — those are very good — but significantly better than typical laptop speakers. Overall, I’ve found that Dell laptops have better than usual sound. Even my little 10″ Dell mini has decent sound.

The 14Z plays videos without complaint, runs applications, boots, sleeps, wakes, reboots with never a hiccup.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do about getting a more portable computer. My mini still works, but it can’t handle much beyond basic email or maybe an audiobook. It just doesn’t have enough juice.

I never go anywhere without a computer, a bunch of camera and accessories, my Kindle and of course, the ubiquitous cell phone and associated chargers, cords etc. I’m beginning to feel I need a fork lift to get from the car to wherever we are staying. I usually haul my hefty XPS with its anchor-like 9-cell battery when I think I’ll need Photoshop or some other installed application. But for short trips I would like something less weighty. No matter how I figure it, no tablet is going to do it for me. It’s either too expensive, has the wrong operating system, no real hard drive, too slow, too small and typically, no keyboard. I need a keyboard. And USB ports.

I love being able to play my own media. I prefer having a DVD player. I can’t work without a keyboard.

And then I realized the solution was obvious. Buy a 14Z. For me. Dell is still offering the 14Z with Windows 7, so I can have my cake and eat it too — so to speak.

I have a houseful of Dell computers. Literally. Why do I keep coming back? Dell has gone through a lot of changes. For a while, customer service was awful and I actually bought two Gateway laptops. They were okay but when I needed a new desktop for myself, I came back to Dell. However dubious their customer service has been sometimes, their computers are really well-built. They last. Moreover, Dell has addressed most of the customer service problems of the past and while they aren’t perfect, they offer the best standard warranty in the business. When I had a bad hard drive on my desktop, Dell sent a guy to fix it. He not only replaced it, he also re-installed all my applications and transferred the mountains of data from my dying hard drive to the new one. It was above and beyond any obligation he had under my warranty, but he was a really nice guy. I was incredibly grateful. He saved me long days of additional work.

Since then, I’ve bought two more Dell laptops, the 14Z for my husband and the loaded XPS 15 for me. Now, I’m getting a 14Z for me, also with Windows 7 and I’m pleased with my choice. It’s not a powerhouse like my XPS, but I don’t need another powerhouse. This will handle anything I usually need to do when I’m away from home — editing and writing this website, downloading photographs and light photo editing.

I’m sure that there will be more terrible reviews by customers who are disappointed that the 14Z isn’t an XPS.  But I already know that, so whoever is writing the review won’t be me.

Pros: light, fast, good speakers, great monitor, full-size keyboard, comfortable to type on.

Cons: None

- – -

 

Gadget saturation.

Pointy shoes hurt

When I was a young woman, I refused to wear pointy shoes. They hurt my feet. It took some hunting, but I found round-toed shoes. I wore comfortable sandals, even having them made for my feet — simple, flat and strappy. I owned boots with square toes made in England or Australia. I would not wear shoes that caused me pain.

I still won’t wear clothing I don’t like or is uncomfortable. I didn’t care about fashion when I was 20 and I care less today.

I am equally resistant to gadget fads. I’m geeky enough to understand the latest gizmos and old enough (and poor enough) to think long and hard if it would be useful enough to be worth the cost. What I buy, especially tech stuff, is driven by what I need rather than what’s new, trendy or sexy.  I don’t have an MP3 player because I don’t need one and I hate earphones. When I’m not near a computer, I use my Kindle.

Being unfashionable has advantages. It saves money. If you don’t need the latest thing, you need not replace your wardrobe when what was “In” goes “Out.” I have a pea coat  made for the U.S. Navy as warm and attractive as it was 35 years ago.

My computers were bought with an eye toward running everything I have now plus anything I might need in the near future. I bought computers with as much memory as I could get. I got the highest resolution monitors available. I bought fast hard drives and big external drives as back ups. I got the best video cards the machines would support, Blue-ray reader/writers, and sound cards to support any system I want to hook up.

If we aren’t hit by a tornado, tsunami, or earthquake, as far as computers go, I’m set for a while, a few years at least. And most everything is upgradeable.

“The sky is falling,” cried Chicken Little. “PC sales have flattened out!”

I’m surrounded by desktop and laptop computers that run smoothly and on which everyone depends. Meanwhile, ZDNet is predicting the end of the PC.  This deduction is worthy of Chicken Little or maybe, Turkey Lurky. Computer sales having flattened out while mobile device sales remain brisk from which the author concluded everyone will do everything on mobile devices. We no longer need hard drives or embedded applications. We can pick up apps from the app store and everything we need can be accomplished … on the telephone? iPad? Chromebook? Android tablet? Having made an earlier and even more baseless pronouncement that we don’t need dedicated GPS’s because you can use your telephone or iPad, I should not be surprised, but stupidity always surprises me. For some reason, I expect better of my peers.

Others have said we don’t need cameras. If you are a photographer, you’ve probably bumped into these people on forums. They don’t understand the difference between photography and snapshots. “We can take pictures just as good on our phones,” they shout. Shall I take their advice? I will just throw away my cameras, lenses, filters …everything. I mean, Hell, I have a telephone. What more do I need?

They have declared anything I use for work or art obsolete. However, before I start editing a 16 X 20 photograph on my telephone, there are a few issues to work out.

Who are these pundits?

In what world do these predictors live? Do they work? As in, for a living? Are any of them musicians, authors, or photographers? Book designers, engineers, developers? Accountants, financial advisors? Movie makers? Are they aware that most professionals rely heavily on powerful installed applications, like Photoshop, Acrobat, Framemaker and CAD?

Or are they kids who think playing games on their iPhone is the ultimate technological achievement?

People aren’t buying PCs because they have computers … and they don’t like Windows 8. I don’t like Windows 8. I want to like it. I just can’t.

Sooner or later, everyone has enough and they don’t need another, especially if buying a new one means having to relearn everything they already know.  Microsoft made a huge miscalculation when they banked on touchscreens as “the next big thing.” Hubris is dangerous, whether you’re a Greek demigod or a corporation. I think until they back off, Microsoft is in very troubled waters.

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You aren’t going to see a buying surge for microwave ovens or refrigerators either. People usually replace what they have when it no longer does the job. The market for expensive new toys is not limitless. One day, everyone will stop replacing their almost new cell phones with the next generation that has a new bell or whistle. Everyone who wants a tablet will have one, two or three of them.

Right now, almost everyone who wants a PC has one. Most have several. In this household, with 5 computer-using adults, we have 12 laptops, desktops and tablets. None is obsolete. Plus a couple that are in working condition but no one uses.

Like other families, we tight for money. Bad economy. We buy things, but only when something else breaks or becomes too old to do the job. We can’t afford mistakes.

A few years ago, we ran out of space for books. I bought Kindles for my husband, son, and me. Later, I got a Kindle HD Fire that plays audiobooks, music, videos, collects email and can be hooked up with Facebook and Twitter. It’s my compact media center and it didn’t break the bank. it’s not a full service computer, but I knew that before I bought it. I’m addicted to audiobooks. Since I no longer commute, listening has tied me to the computer in my office. The Kindle has freed me to roam.

But I still wanted a lightweight compact computer. My netbook was supposed to fill this niche, and it tried. Like “The Little Engine That Could” it mumbled “I know I can, I know I can.” The Kindle will do many of the things I did on my Netbook — which moved down the line to my daughter-in-law — but the Kindle isn’t a computer. It is what it is, so I got an Ultrabook. I also have an iPhone but don’t use it even for phone calls. I hate it, actually. I have yet to figure out what people find so great about it.

I took a long, hard look at Chromebooks, but lacking a hard drive, its limitations exceed its value.

Lies and suppositions

Not long ago, an equally ill-informed ZDNet author announced the death of dedicated devices, in particular, the GPS. The author (I use that word advisedly) surmised that since we all own tablets and smartphones and will use them for navigation. The idea of using iPads, iPods, or smartphones for navigation attaching a 10-inch or 7-inch iPad to my windshield is hilarious. Having tried my phone as a GPS, no thanks. I can barely understand what someone is saying on a phone call. As a GPS, it’s useless. I wouldn’t be able to read the map or hear directions. Just because a device has a technical capability doesn’t mean it really does the job.

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These same pundits have repeatedly announced the death of personal computers and the replacement of standard application with mobile apps. They y think free apps will replace everything. Really? Or do they believe that we are all going to sign up for expensive monthly subscriptions? I’m not. Are you? I can barely afford my current overhead: I’m not going to up the ante.

We don’t need no stinkin’ facts! 

Instead of professionals producing thoughtful articles about technology, we have a bunch of stooges for big corporations. They are not working for their readers. They are trying to sell us on whatever their sponsors want them to push. The articles are nothing more than slightly reworded corporate PR releases. I would say they are badly researched, but I no research is more accurate. How do I know? Because I used to be a tech editor. I got those releases too.

They got a PR packet, picked some information out of it, did a little tweaking, and voilà, that’s the article. If I’m going to just take the manufacturer’s word for it, I don’t need them.

I assume whoever wrote the last article saying we are all going to do everything on mobile devices has never tried to do anything working people need to do. He certainly never tried to do it on one of the devices he was touting. He probably thinks his telephone is a fine precision camera and he is welcome to his opinion so as long as he doesn’t ask me look at his pictures.

Anything that can do everything doesn’t do anything well.

In the realm of small dedicated devices, from cameras and MP3 players, to telephones, DVD players and book readers, dedicated devices perform far better than equivalent “add ons” to general purpose devices. A modern computers is not a dedicated device: it’s a platform with power to drive a lot of different things, rather like a big empty room. It does many things, but it won’t do everything well. You can use it as a TV, but sitting in your living room, feet up on the recliner and watching a movie on your big-screen TV is a more satisfying experience.

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You can use a computer as a GPS, but a small dashboard or window-mounted unit works much better. Nothing takes pictures like a good camera. Nothing reproduces music better than a sound system with quality speakers. Book readers are great for reading books and if you want to make music, learn to play an instrument.

I don’t want to read on my computer or take pictures on my phone. I am a photographer and I use a camera. If you are positive your iPad is just as good as a camera, if you believe your cell phone or android tablet is good enough to fill your picture-taking needs, you’re probably right. Don’t show me your pictures. Please.

I own cameras. I edit in Photoshop. I write books. I design books and I use Framemaker, the world’s most anti-intuitive software, but also the only software that does the job. In the ZDNet fantasy world, we are going to do everything on our telephones or tablets. Where do I fit into this portable society?

The answer is simple: I don’t. Maybe you won’t, either. Many of us have been declared obsolete.

“There’s an app for that!”

No, there isn’t. There is no app by anyone anywhere that can come anywhere near any version of Photoshop. There is no application other than Framemaker that will create indexes across chapters. For creating PDF books for reading online, you need Acrobat. What? You don’t need to do any of that?

I do. So do others. Spread sheets and other office applications need screen real estate. Before you declare the PC obsolete, you might want to try really working on a tiny devices you want to sell me. You’ll be shocked to discover a spread sheet is invisible on a telephone. You might be able to create a small one on a tablet, but if you are a serious number cruncher, you aren’t going to do it on an iPad or any other tablet. You may use a tablet to display the final result, but you won’t use it to do the work. If you are editing pictures, you’re not going to use a little screen on a pod, tablet, or telephone. You want a big high-def monitor.

Some people take their jobs and art seriously. They want real tools. If you think games are the height of technological achievement, get a job.

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How come people are still buying small mobile devices but not computers? Aw, c’mon. You know why. They don’t need another computer. If they do, they are hoping Microsoft will come to its senses and give us a real operating system before they have to decide what to buy.

Meanwhile, technology for telephones is changing fast too. Telephones are subject to more abuse than other devices. They get rained on, dropped, and sat on. Crumbs and coffee make the keys sticky. Touchscreens become unresponsive. But, people will not always buy a new phone twice a year. They’ll demand sturdier phones that are waterproof, dust-proof and shock-proof.

Eventually, everyone will have enough telephones, tablets, and other gadgets. No doubt there will be new gadgets, but if they want us to buy, they’ll have to come up with new needs. Otherwise, they will create sexy, cute and trendy gadgets and manufacturers will expect a rush to buy them but no one will care. They will be gadgeted out.

Computer sales will stay modest until the expensive high-powered laptops and desktops we recently bought break down or are obsolete. Are personal computers going the way of dinosaurs? Mine aren’t.

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No amount of salesmanship will convince me to buy stuff I don’t need or like.

I like gadgets. I like cool devices. If someone gives me a toy, I will play with it but I’m not going to spend a lot of money to get it. Free is my price on anything I don’t need.

It would also be great if magazines and journals that supposedly provide information to the trades would really do it. I resent them trying to sell me stuff. The only reason I read trades is for impartial information on technology. I can no longer trust what they say so, so other than finding out what’s new on the market, they are useless. They might at least test the products before they tell me how great they are.

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Geeks Speak, Consumers Say No

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So I’m sitting here reading a ZDNet article: Microsoft’s Windows 8 approach: Bold, arrogant, or both?

The argument is irrelevant.

Is Microsoft’s approach, which involves trying to force feed Windows 8 to unwilling users, bold? Arrogant? Stupid? Who cares? How about all three? What is over-the-top stupid — not to mention self-destructive — is trying to stuff an operating system down users’ throats when they obviously do not want it.

I bought a PC for my husband last night to replace his 6-year-old desktop. I ended up buying almost exactly the same computer, but with much more memory, hard drive space, graphics support … more of everything and blazingly fast, too. Ironically, it also cost less than the old desktop. Prices have come down a good deal in the past 6 years, at least for desktop computers.

Did I order a Windows 8 machine? No, I bought a Windows 7 machine because he would be lost in Windows 8 and so would I. He is not computer savvy and does not give a hoot about what’s under the hood of the OS nor does he care to learn. But he does need a computer with an up-to-date version of Word, PowerPoint and Outlook. He needs to be able to get on and off the Internet, receive and send mail, create documents, keep a calendar, and exchange files. He hates finger painting and will never use a tablet, prefers the comfort of his desk, the big flat screen monitor and full size keyboard.

If I’m going to be honest about it, so do I.  Laptops are fine, but some of us spend a lot of hours at the computer and we type faster and more accurately on a standard keyboard. I love my big bright HD monitor and for editing photographs, the laptop is never going to be first choice, even though it has the same software as my desktop. It simply means that my husband and I are probably always going to have both a desktop and a laptop and they will serve different purposes in our lives. That ought to be a plus for business since we end up keeping 4 computers for two of us (not counting Kindles and other small devices).

It ought to be easy to get an operating system with which we feel comfortable and familiar. We should not be forced to use something a corporation deems better. What in the world is wrong with supporting both Windows 7 and 8? It would hardly be the first time Microsoft has supported multiple operating systems. They supported NT and Windows for years and still support various versions of every operating system including Windows 8.

But Microsoft is bound and determined to do it their way, no matter what it costs. We are going to march to their drum beat. Or else. Or else we give up and buy a Mac? Switch to Linux? Wait a while until something else that will support our familiar applications comes onto the market? Are the marketing wonks at Microsoft so out of touch they believe they can force me to buy something I don’t want? What in the world makes them think that? As a side note, I should point out that what people do not like about Windows 8 is not how it works or anything complicated. They don’t like the user interface. I think it’s ugly, in addition to taking away familiar functionality with which I am comfortable. If they just made Windows 8 look and feel like Windows 7, it would sell. And yes, they could do it. They just don’t want to.

I don’t want to buy what they are marketing. Who will win? I think I will, or maybe, we will all lose. Because in this fragile economy, losing a few big players like Microsoft, Dell and other Microsoft dependent corporations would probably be that final nail in our economic coffin.

Meanwhile, collectively and individually, we aren’t marching to Microsoft’s drummer. We aren’t buying their act or their operating system. PC sales are falling through the floor. Microsoft stubbornly insists everyone will do it their way while we dig in our heels and say “Hell no!” They obviously don’t get it. They think it’s about technology, but it’s really about choice. It’s about comfort. It’s about freedom.

I’d have bought a different computer for Garry, but I refused to buy Win8. I don’t want it. Neither do most of the people I know. We are called consumers and it doesn’t matter how great Microsoft thinks their new OS is. They may even be right and it still doesn’t matter. If we don’t buy it, they are screwed. And so, in the long run, are we. They are being incredibly short-sighted, which I think is a special kind of stupid. How many computer companies have disappeared because they wouldn’t bow to the market?

Remember Digital Equipment Corporation? DEC was Massachusetts’ biggest employer and it is gone, baby, gone. By the time they finally realized that being better wasn’t selling their products, it was too late. Down in flames they went.

When I was a child and my mother tried to make me eat food she believed was good for me and which I did not want to eat, I clamped my jaws shut and refused. It didn’t matter how long I was forced to sit at the table. I would not eat it if I didn’t want it. No amount of coercion, coaxing, or arguments changed anything. I said no, I meant no. If my mommy couldn’t force me to eat the mashed potatoes, why does Microsoft think it can make me buy Windows 8? And what in the world makes them think they have the right to try?

It’s not about technology, oh ye geeks.

IT’S ABOUT CUSTOMERS AND WHAT THEY WANT!

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Why tablets can’t replace computers. And why they shouldn’t.

I keep reading articles telling me that tablets will replace laptops and desktops. Every time I read one of these articles, I want to reach through my 24-inch super high-definition monitor, grab the author by the throat and shake him or her until his/her eyes roll back in his/her head.

I don’t have anything against portable devices. I have a smart phone. I have a tablet. I have a netbook. I have a medium-size (but very powerful) laptop and a big desktop with a super monitor. Each of these devices has its own place in my world.

The difference between me and the people who write articles suggesting small portable devices — Smartphones, iPads, android tablets, or Chromebooks — are going to replace desktops and laptops is twofold. The reviewers don’t seem to do any real work and they think whatever is their favorite device should be what all of us use for everything.

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

My life includes work.

Have any of these the people extolling mini devices as the total computer experience ever designed a book? Made a movie? Edited RAW? Converted a book to a PDF? Or for that matter, have they tried playing Castleville on a tablet? It’s close to impossible. If it doesn’t crash or refuse to run, you still can’t do it because the screen is too small.

Do you take pictures? If you are a snapshooter and your idea of serious photography are  pictures in which you can’t see who is who because they too dark and blurry, a tablet or smartphone may do the job. But even if you do nothing with your photos … not even cropping … I can’t figure out how you can even download pictures without a computer. How can you decide which ones you like? Even if I accept blurry, poorly framed snapshots as photographs … how can you see anything at all on a little tiny screen?

Virtual keyboards are good for virtual typing …

I just read an article explaining how you can type perfectly fine on the iPad’s virtual keypad. Having tried it on other peoples’ iPads, not to mention my own android-based table, no, you can’t. With two fingers, sort of …  but not if you are a touch typist and believe it or not, some of us are.

There are so many issues involved that I can’t even begin to list them all, so I’ll start with the most obvious ones.

You need memory and a hard drive to run embedded applications.

You can’t run Photoshop on a tablet. Any tablet. Or a Chromebook. Or even a Netbook. Or Smartphone. It’s not that it won’t run well; it won’t run at all. It has to be installed and without a hard drive, you can’t install it. Without memory, you can’t run it. If you use a real camera … something beyond a very basic point and shoot or, oh Lord spare me, a telephone … you can’t even download photographs, much less edit them. If you shoot RAW, you might not be able to fit as much as a single photograph on your device.

You can’t edit a 16 X 20 photograph on a 10 inch tablet, much less a telephone.

This is not a matter of opinion. It’s a hard and fast truth. 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 Chromebook, an android tablet or an iPad. The operating system is irrelevant. The device is physically too small to do the job. Assuming it had a hard drive and sufficient memory (none of them do), you still could not do it. Physical limitations would prevent it. But, if you don’t care what your pictures look like and think anything showing, however fuzzy,  a member of your household is so adorable that blurriness, bad color and creepy backgrounds don’t matter, everything I say here will mean nothing to you. Enjoy your pictures. I beg of you, do not show them to me or worse yet, request my opinion.

Typing with 10 fingers requires a keyboard.

Virtual keyboards are perfect for tapping out a couple of lines in an email. After that, if you know how to type, you will become increasingly frustrated until you are ready to toss your high-priced device through the nearest window. “But wait!” you cry. “I’m in college and need to write papers. I’m a master’s student and I have to turn in a thesis. With footnotes and all that jazz.”

Sorry,  bud. You’ve got a big problem. You can’t do that on your tablet or telephone. I guess you’re just going to have to give up on higher education because you don’t have a computer. No? But didn’t you tell me that you don’t need a real computer, that they are obsolete?

Who needs footnotes? Engineering drawings? Spreadsheets? We don’t need no stinkin’ spreadsheets!

If you’re a budding young filmmaker, good luck trying to edit video on your tablet. Let me know how that works for you.

And about that thesis: footnotes and bibliographies, much less cross references? Really, no problem. Just explain to your advisor that you can’t include references and attributions because your tablet doesn’t support those functions. Surely they will understand. After all, computers are obsolete. 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 aren’t going to 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.

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

My point is simple enough. There is room in our world for many kinds of devices, many types of operating systems. Many of us like having various devices dedicated to particular tasks. I love reading books on my Kindle. I edit on my desktop with the big HD monitor. I use my laptop to play games, write, and work when I don’t what to be stuck in my office.

You love your iPad? Enjoy. Recognize that it is great for what it is. It has limitations, but if you remove the limitations, you also eliminate its advantages. If you make it big enough to edit film or photos, add a hard drive and a keyboard, it stops being small, and portable. By the time you finish adding all that functionality, it’s a laptop. We have them already. Add a bigger monitor? You’ve got a desktop.

You can’t replace everything with one thing  and there’s no reason on earth you should. There appears to be a widespread assumption by manufacturers and marketers that we all do the same stuff and therefore one size fits all, technologically speaking.

It’s not true. What is wrong with supporting more than one operating system? Is Microsoft unable to deal with two operating systems? It had both NT and Windows for decades … you mean now it’s whatever Microsoft wants to sell or nothing? Why?

Why can’t we have both Windows 7 and Windows 8? And Linux? And Macs? Androids and iPads? Smartphones and iPods, iPhones and Blackberries? Why can’t we own a variety of computing devices that run on various operating systems? Who says one device needs to do everything? Is this etched in stone somewhere? Or is it just some marketing guy’s idea and we do whatever we are told like mindless sheep.

For years I owned Macs and PCs until it became too expensive. Then I had to decide what would serve me best … and for a variety of reasons, the answer was PC. It wasn’t a decision made without considerable thought or because I have something against Macs. I just prefer the working environment of a PC for my task-driven world. If I did different kinds of work and the other people with whom I worked used Macs rather than PCs, my decision might well have gone the other way. I am not one of those people who have a cult-like attachment to one operating system versus the other. There are pros and cons for each and we all should make decisions based on what’s important to us. The nearly religious devotion a lot of Mac users have for their computers is scary. It isn’t a religion. It’s a computer.

One size does not fit all, not in technology and not in clothing.

English: A woman cuddling a pile of digital de...

One size fits all in clothing usually means that it will be too big for 40% of the population, too small for another 40%, and it will look crappy on the remaining 20%.

Technologically, one device, one type of device, one operating system will never do the many jobs computers perform for us. We are not alike and thank God for that. Do we want to be all the same? Do we want to enforce a total lack of diversity? Is our goal to eliminate choice? If not, then it’s time to rethink the concept that whatever works for you will automatically work for me or the guy down the street. Enjoy your choices, but recognize that choice is what it is. That you are devoted to your Mac means that your Mac works for you. If you find that your iPad or other tablet is more than sufficient for your computing needs?  Fine. If you feel that doing everything on your telephone suits your lifestyle, you are probably a teenager and you’ll grow out of it.

It’s okay to be different than your neighbor. You do not have to like the same things, do the same things, or need the same things. It’s diversity and our differences that make the world an interesting place. We don’t have to go to the same church, read the same books, believe the same stuff. We don’t have to live in the same environment or own the same appliances. Nor do we need to enjoy the same restaurants or cook the same food. We don’t need to celebrate the same holidays or be the same color.

If everybody would stop trying to force their beliefs and opinions on everyone else, this world would be a better place. Whether it’s the computer operating system you prefer or the political party you vote for, that is your right and privilege and it’s about time everyone stops trying to make other people adhere to their beliefs. It will never happen and all that you will accomplish by trying to coerce others is that they will resent you. The harder you push, the more resistance you will encounter.

Live your life as you prefer. Let others do the same.

Everything Is Changing: A Look at the Future While Tripping Down Memory Lane

After contemplating operating systems at length, I started rethinking the whole thing and I began to wonder if operating systems will be relevant a couple of years from now. Because everything is changing.

My current primary computer.

Change is hardly new to the world of computers and technology. Change is what drives the industry. Change is how come you need to buy new software, new hardware, new 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 weird languages like COBOL and FORTRAN. Even decades later, personal computers were 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 soon enough, it got better. And then better again.

There were different players and more operating systems in the beginning. 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 that spit out paper.

This was the Amstrad!

Then, everything changed again. Computers started to really do stuff. It was magic!

I worked on this machine in Israel using the first word processing tool, WordStar.

For a while, it seemed like everything changed every day. One day, there was a thing called the Internet. I had to buy and install Netscape to access it. Once connected, there wasn’t much going on, but it was cool to just roam around and see what there was do see.

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.

My first personal computer.

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.

My first PC. I think everyone had one of these at some point!

Then suddenly AOL popped into existence. I got a really fast modem. It 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.

My old 486 ran for 10 years. It wasn’t fast, but it sure was durable.

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.

Memories of days of yore … but not halcyon I fear,

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.

Commodore 64 – the most popular computer ever produced.  More than 30 million of them sold.  I had one of these, too.

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 personally 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 much 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 bank card. Several places I shop were hacked and I had to redo my accounts because they’d been compromised.

My laptop. Today’s super little machine.

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 too many eggs in the basket, when the basket falls — as it inevitably will — the eggs break.

You don’t have an omelet; you just have a mess of busted eggs.

Addendum: A Personal Note

I worked for more than 35 years in a development environment. 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. It’s faster and prettier to use a word processor and you get the bonus of being able to see how your document will look when printed, but it’s just 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 we are being herded toward using external storage over which we have no direct control for everything from our bank records to personal correspondence.

For businesses and individuals, data is a very big deal. The biggest deal. Our national economy is information and service-based. We no longer make “things” here. Our product is information. Data.

If that’s too abstract for you, personally, I have twenty years of photography and a lifetime of writing stored on CDs, DVDs, and external hard drives. I won’t entrust this stuff to an unknown server somewhere “out there.” It’s too important to me and too unimportant to anyone else. 

Anybody anywhere can build a server farm. It’s a great business requiring little more than a lot of big servers, a place to put them, climate control, and a few capable IT people to tend the equipment.

Where are these places? Most are in countries whose government is, by my 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 am not going to entrust what took me a lifetime to create to an unknown, nameless entity. Google, for examples, uses servers anywhere and everywhere. Your data and mine is unlikely to be in one place. It is wherever it went when you saved it.

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. Call me an old cynic, but I want my own stuff on my own equipment.