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.
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.
Earlier today, my husband the movie maven wrote me and a few of his old TV pals. He had a question, perhaps one that has long needed answering. Given the cost and scarcity of panes of glass in Ye Olde West, how come instead of breaking all the glass before shooting, why didn’t they open the windows? Following is the actual dialogue of leading movie experts.
Here’s the dialogue:
Garry (Chief Movie Maven and Former TV Journalist): Surprise!! I’m watching an old “High Chaparral” episode: ( A) Why do they always break the windows before the shootouts? Couldn’t they open the window first? Glass was expensive! ( B) How come the guys stationed on rooftops always get shot first in those shoot outs? - Big John Cannon
Marilyn (Blogger Supreme and Former Writer of Books Nobody Ever Read): I never thought about the windows. Not only are they expensive, but they’d be pretty hard to get. I mean, did they make that stuff on the ranch? Or did they have to haul it from back east?
Texas Tom (Retired Famous TV Anchor): This reporter is nowhere near the movie expert that you are. However, my sense is they always break the windows for (first of all) the visceral sound effect of the breaking and shattering glass, which also is a much stronger macho gesture than simply opening a window. Besides, opening the window just might require one or two more seconds than smashing the glass, which can be interpreted as an act of absolute crazed panic and desperation, and also shows the blood curdling anger and hostility of the glass breaker’s killer instinct. As for always shooting the guys on the roof first, my sense again runs to the most bang for the moment answer. Having a stunt man tumble a story or two from a roof, balcony, overhang or whatever has a much more visceral (there’s that word again) impact on the viewer’s brain and gut than simply shooting a guy standing in front of you, or on the same level with you. It’s a much more dramatic way of saying “this is the real deal here”. - T. Texas Tom: Champion Cap Gun Fighter of the Entire West
Garry: Damn, you are so much more cerebral than me. You sound more like a Pilgrim than a Texican. Mebbe it’s because we’re on a fixed income that I wince when they just break the windows rather than opening them to spray lead. That’s another thing. You would think they would be more economical with their bullets. Let the bad guys use up their ammo and shoot when you have a clear target. I guess the Duke would be pissed if he heard this austerity rant.
Marilyn: You’d think the chairs would collapse if you sat in them. Balsa must be sturdier than I thought.
Garry: Yeah, I used to laugh my ass off at the six shooters that never ran out of bullets. Also, Roy, Gene and our other heroes being chased by hordes of bad guys could shoot over their shoulder with precision and nail three bad guys with one bullet.
Texas Tom: Remember (of course you do) in the old Westerns with Hoot, Gene and Roy and Tex and those old guys would chase the bad guys and shoot for a whole reel without ever reloading? We used to laugh about that never-ending stream of bullets … they never ever fired their last one.
Marilyn: No one ever went into town to buy bullets, either. They must have had an armoury somewhere. Even the Lone Ranger never told Tonto to go into town and buy some ammo. They only ran out of bullets if the script writer decided it was the time to heighten the tension.
I was just reminded of something. I go long periods and don’t think about it, but I shouldn’t, and neither should you. By “you” I mean absolutely everyone. Whatever you do — write, take pictures, or whatever — if you do it on a computer, back it up. I learned the hard way.
ILOVEYOU (aka Love Letter), was a computer worm that attacked tens of millions of PCs on and shortly after May 5, 2000. It showed up as an email message with the subject “ILOVEYOU” and an attachment: “LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.txt.vbs“. The ‘VBS‘ file extension was typically hidden by default on PCs back then. It wasn’t on my computer, but I worked on a development team on my own computer at home — an early telecommuter — so it wasn’t unusual for me to get files full of code as part of my job.
It took a mere few seconds to destroy every single jpeg file on my computer. That represented all of the photographs I had ever taken that I was storing on my hard drive, more than a decade of family and artistic pictures. It only took a few hours for a fix to be created and distributed, but it was too late for me.
I had been backing up to CDs, but I hadn’t backed up my photos, only financial records and my writing because that was work-related.
I lost hundreds, maybe thousands, of photographs.
External hard drives existed, but they were uncommon and expensive — very expensive. Now, there’s no excuse. You can get a huge external hard drive for short money. I back up intermittently to my two external drives, but a make sure to move files between my laptop and my big desktop everyday, and I save things online too
Eventually, I have 3 or 4 copies of everything, not counting whatever I store online. I don’t feel it’s too much. You can’t have too many backups of things that are important.
Even if it doesn’t seem very important. it can suddenly become very important if you have lost it forever and can never replace it. Back everything up. If it’s important enough to save it on your hard drive, it’s important enough to back up.
You can, for example, get a 3 TB external Seagate drive from Amazon for $139 including shipping. One and two terabyte drives are less expensive. If you don’t like that, there are ample choices for every budget. Don’t make excuses. One day, something bad will happen. A hard drive dies on you. It happens. It has happened to me twice. The first time, it was a secondary hard drive and I got enough warning to get my stuff off the drive. The second time, a message in a black message box — I’ve never seen one like that before or since — appeared on my screen saying that there was a problem with my hard drive, back up now. By the time I finished reading the message, everything was gone.
But that time, everything was backed up. It was an inconvenience, not a catastrophe. I had learned my lesson.
Skip learning the hard way. Back it up.
- House Update: Back Up, or Lose! (nitemice.wordpress.com)
- When Will Your Hard Drive Die? (geekgirlfriends.com)
- These Guys Didn’t Back Up Their Files, Now Look What Happened (makeuseof.com)
- The Tech-pert: Get a 2 Terabyte External Hard Drive for Under $80 (savings.com)
- Protect your data and your finances with an external hard drive (savingscorner.com)
I should probably start by mentioning that I’ve fought this battle for long years … and was utterly defeated. About 7 or 8 years ago, high-tech companies, in a money crunch and driven by that bottom line that seems to be the only thing that matters anymore, began to eliminate technical writers. Entire departments were dismantled and eliminated. Jobs disappeared and what remained paid so badly it was insulting.
A decision had been made at the corporate level: YOU don’t need documentation. No matter how complicated or expensive the equipment or software you purchase may be, don’t need documentation. Companies provide the minimum the law requires or they can get away with. Quality is no object nor usability. Information is limited to basic stuff like how to install a battery and if you are lucky, where the compartment is.
I was a technical writer for about 75% of my career, the rest being divided between journalism, editing, promotions and advertising. But mostly, I wrote documentation and I though my work mattered. Probably naive, but I believe that if I documented a system, it should be well written, clear, organized, and useful., When a user needed to find something, it would be in the book and in the online help. It would be easy to find. I carefully avoided using mysterious search parameters that could be deduced via a psychic link to my brain. If you knew what you wanted, I made it easy for you to find it.
I was proud of my work. I still believe the fundamental goal of documentation is to make complicated things simple. Not necessarily easy because sometimes, the product was not easy to use, but that didn’t mean that it had to be hard to understand. My documentation was good for another reason: I used the product and tested what I wrote to make sure it was true. This testing makes the difference between a pile useless gibberish and a manual.
Thus, when you get something that appears to be documentation, stop and read it. Appearances are deceiving. Most “manuals” are generated, not written, and never checked for accuracy or usability. Such “manuals” are as likely to increase your confusion as provide illumination.
I bought a PEN EP3 camera from Olympus. Seven months and hundreds of photographs later, it remains one of the mysteries of my world. It takes wonderful pictures, and it has hundreds of functions. I haven’t the slightest idea how to find most functions and have no idea what to do with them if I could find them.
I grew up in a pre-digital world. I know F-stop, depth-of-field, shutter speed, aperture and focus, film speed and composition. I have a good eye. I’m no genius, but my pictures are pretty and I enjoy taking them.
New digital cameras have a vast and overwhelming array of functions, most of which you or I will never use or need. I believe they are there entirely to impress us with the super high tech-ness of the equipment. I doubt that even the designers — especially the designers — expects us to actually use them. Which is good, because I don’t know what they are supposed to do anyhow or why I would need them. Ansel Adams didn’t need them. Neither did Edward Weston. Neither do I. But, the more you pay for a camera, the more of these obscure functions you get and I figure that the least they owe me is an explanation of what these setting do and how to find them.
I’m not sure whether to curse or say thank you. Maybe if Olympus provided a manual that explained these options, I’d be grateful, but that is not happening.
This is true of cameras, but the lack of documentation on your computer is actually worse … much worse because most of us depend on our computers. We need them to work and we need to have some control over the environment in which we work. Configuration of our computers to suit our needs is not a minor detail: it’s the difference between having a tool that does what you need and one which is a burden … an enemy with which you do daily battle.
I spent all last night — until dawn — trying to figure out how to turn off the touchscreen functions of my monitor. Before Mac users jump in and point out that it’s because Windows doesn’t work, that’s irrelevant and untrue. Windows works fine. It’s just that the company doesn’t provide any written documentation. There is embedded information in the operating system, but much of it isn’t logically arranged. It’s rather like looking for your car keys after you’ve dropped them someplace you don’t normally put them. You know they’re in the house, but where? It could be years before you find them..
On a new computer, you typically get an “introductory” video and that’s pretty much it. I watched it. It showed me in exquisite detail how to do what I already knew how to do.
Operating systems are designed to be used the way the system’s developers expect you to use it. If you prefer a different setup, trouble starts. The only way to figure out how to do something differently is to keep querying the system and hope you’ll stumble on the right key word — the word that will bring up the information you need. What is most frustrating is that you are sure it IS there, but whether or not you will ever find it is a different issue.
If you are sufficiently persistent and a bit lucky, you will eventually find a mystery menu after which you fix your problem in a few seconds.
Last night, I searched, searched again and again. It didn’t call Dell because I knew the support person wouldn’t know the answer either. They pretty much never do.
So I tried one word combination after another, recombining them in the hope that it would lead to a menu buried in the system. There had to be a way to deactivate touch input.
Around 5 in the morning, I found it. It took me less than 30 seconds to eliminate the problem that had been driving me nuts since I got the computer. Now, it’s a monitor. A great, high-definition, 23-inch monitor that’s a joy to work on and makes photo editing a pleasure. No more configuration by crawling insect. I am mistress of my virtual world at last!
A technical writers earns less than an entry-level developer. I understand the guys in India who provide telephone tech support work cheap, but I bet a tech writer would cost less than a network of telephone support no matter how cheaply they work.
Assuming you are under warranty and you can get through the voice mail maze … and further assuming you get someone who understands the problem and don’t get blown off because software is not part of your warranty (Note: If someone can tell me how, without using software, you can determine if you have a hardware problem, I’d like to hear it) … Round and around you go.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Would it blow the budget to hire a competent technical writer to embed online help that will live on even after the warranty period is over? Wouldn’t it be nice to help users avoid needless aggravation and not wind up with angry, frustrated, exhausted, and homicidal customers whose problems remain unsolved?
Granting that many home users have a limited understanding of how their computers work and for them, it wouldn’t much matter what documentation you supply. Most problems result from insufficient understanding of a product or process. If you are talking about a novice user, perhaps more information wouldn’t help. But …
I’m not inexperienced and I still can’t find essential information I need to configure my monitor. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect a menu on the control panel that I could use to configure the monitor’s capabilities, not merely its resolution but any other functions it may have. Functions not available on a particular model could be grayed out. How about that?
There is nothing wrong with my computer that better organized and easier to find information would not solve..
Every issue I’ve had or the last 5 or 6 years was ultimately fixed with a few clicks of the mouse. The problem was never something broken. It was always lack of documentation.
That pisses me off. Because tech writers — even highly experienced ones — work pretty cheap. Users do need documentation, and not just for software and computers. We need documents that let us use our cameras and telephones and DVD players and all those other pricey little devices that we own and often, don’t know how to use. Online FAQs are insufficient.
This is an old battle I’ve already lost. I know it’s hopeless. I find it infuriating that I can barely figure out my telephone without customer support, so rather than spend time on the phone with customer service, I don’t use anything I can’t easily configure.
I had to buy a separate book on how to use Photoshop and another for my first camera. I was able to get some help from a fellow user of my new camera, but that only goes so far. For my PEN P3 camera, there IS no customer support nor any after market book. I depend, as Blanche DuBois said, “… on the kindness of strangers.”.
My camera will remain a mystery until someone writes a “Dummies” book for it. Hopefully I’ll still own the it when the book finally gets published.
It’s not fair. The reason they get away with it is because we let them. Think about it.
So how did I finally figure it out? The “monitor” menu should have been a gateway, but was useless. The only thing you can the “Monitor” menu lets you do is lower your screen’s resolution. That’s useless.
Finally, I typed: Touchscreen.
Up came something that I hadn’t considered. Flicks. Now, for me? That means the movies. Having never used it, I had no idea it had anything to do with the monitor or its touchscreen technology. Once I got to “Flicks,”, I started opening menus and voilà, there were two check boxes allowing me to toggle an option:
- Enable finger as pointing device.
- Do not allow finger as pointing device.
I un-checked the first one by checking the second. I clicked “Apply.” As the sun rose in the east, my problem was solved and I went to bed, to sleep, perchance to dream … of murder, destruction and vengeance.
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.
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.
Then, everything changed again. Computers started to really do stuff. It was magic!
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.