LOOKING TO THE FUTURE FROM MEMORY LANE

Unwilling to even think about today’s daily prompt, I offer this instead. Just food for thought. Or paranoia.

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.

computer gargoyle

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.

To get on the Internet , you turned on the computer and the modem. Went to the kitchen. Prepared dinner. Cooked dinner. Served dinner. Ate dinner. Cleaned up. By the time you got back, you might have managed to connect. Or not.

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

Then suddenly AOL popped up and I got a really fast modem, 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.

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

At age three, she could run basic applications. It’s like electricity to us: something you use that’s always there, always was. I’m sure she can’t imagine a world without it. It’s hard for me to remember so far back.

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, catalog 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 — desktop, laptop, and Kindle. Garry has the same arrangement . There’s an extra Kindle or two lying around, too.

Six computers and only 2 people. All it takes is a brief interruption of connectivity to leave us wandering like wraiths, without form or function.

Now, it’s about “the cloud.” Same old Internet, but “cloud” is the “new” 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 instant. You don’t have to maintain and upgrade expensive applications and volumes of data. You don’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.

72-alien_03

The idea of entrusting everything —  from my photographs to the manuscript of my book — to an unknown server somewhere in the world scares 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 out? What if you need a critical piece of data from a server while its offline?

My bank was hacked. BOA had to send me a new bank card. Lands End and Adobe were hacked too. I had to redo my accounts because they’d been compromised. Lots of other places too over the years, places that were “unhackable.” I know I’m not unhackable. I just figure I’m lucky and don’t have anything worth stealing.

If your ISP is down, you’re 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?

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 overloaded systems go down like dominoes. I’m all in favor working with my fellow human beings throughout the world, but at a certain point, when does inter-dependency make us too vulnerable?

If you put too many eggs in the basket and the basket falls — and it will — eggs break. In which case you don’t have an omelet, just a mess of busted eggs.



Categories: Computers, Software, Technology

Tags: , , , , , , ,

61 replies

  1. WordStar was brilliant! I only use the cloud for backups. I don’t want to be stuck with no computer if my ISP glitches. It looks like MS is staying with OS on the machine for the foreseeable future anyway.

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    • I remember WordStar especially well because I was just beginning to work in computers and I lived in Jerusalem at the time. One of our developers had produced a bi-lingual version of WordStar. It could be used in both Hebrew and English. Which is always quite a trick because not only do these languages use different alphabets, they also go in opposite directions. So the version of WordStar on which I worked was a bit buggy and had a tendency to randomly double letters, or drop a piece of Hebrew in the middle of an English sentence, or sudden start writing (or printing) in the wrong direction. Still, it was the first true word processor. After that, a typewriter never “did it” for me again. I was ruined by software.

      I don’t know what became of it, but it took MS Word years to catch up and get back to where WordStar had already been.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, after Word Star it took me years to get into MS Word. I guess MS just had more money, they certainly didn’t have a better product.

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        • I was just reading up on WordStar. Apparently it worked fine on DOS, but didn’t function on Windows … or at least not well enough. So Microsoft got the gift of a whole market with pretty much no competition once WordPerfect (of which I was never a fan) bit the dust. I hadn’t know any of that. There’s a lot of history in high tech, but we’ve been there and haven’t thought about being part of history. For me, it has just been my work. That’s what I did.

          I remember when Wang was a serious contender and when DEC owned the mainframe market.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved Word Star…Mourned its loss. I now don’t even remember why. but, I, too, want to back up my own info…And you were right. The prompt is to write a message to yourself 20 years from now..I have to ponder on the purpose of that one…

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  3. I was “lucky” enough to be a kid when personal computers were first becoming available… and more importantly, in schools for kids to learn about them when they were most impressionable. I learned a lot about the good old Apple IIe’s in grade school, junior high, high school…. hell, I swear the physics lab at my (very expensive) university still had the old relics in 1994! I was unlucky enough, however, to have not had a home computer until……. 2002! Yes, I arrived very late. I did have the old “internet through TV” thing the cable company offered for two years before that (think WebTV), but it was only good for browsing the internet, and at that, it still had some issues. I wasn’t even aware what “cloud” meant until you explained it… I’m glad both of my vintage 2009 computers have their own hard drives. And I have a couple memory sticks for stuff I really don’t want to lose…

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    • If it was a great computer in 2009, fine and dandy. Some of mine from that era are running fine, too. But you should invest in an external hard drive. They sell them at mecca and you can get a good one for cheap. I actually buy mine when they are on sale from the manufacturer, usually Seagate. Like $60 for 2 GB, which is enough for everything you’ve ever done and plenty of room left over. Just a suggestion. Because if you lose it to a hard drive crash, you will be kicking yourself forever. And it happens. Without warning. Suddenly, a message flashes. Before you get to read it, it goes to black and never, ever lights up again. Not one of the happy moments in life, when you lose all you documents, photos, art, etc. and can’t recover it. Just saying. It has happened to me. Twice. Once by virus, once by hard drive crash.

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  4. Ah, how timely! I used to be a DOS guy; now I have downloaded Windows 10. For some reason it makes me feel dumb. I have to figure it out, but I do not think I need all those apps. Apps? See? I do see some shortcuts, but I will not give all the information thy ask for at certain times. Somebody is always watching. What a neat overview you gave. Thanks.

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  5. A trip down memory lane. I had to learn to type on huge big typewriters. Manual ones that had high keys which were hard to handle. Schools don’t teach that anymore. But it is handy to be able to use the computers. Computer studies started to come in when I was in my final year at school. The large computer was at the library and all it was was the binary code I’s and O’s. I didn’t get into computers until the mid 90’s. I think I have upgraded every 2 – 3 years when the computers slowly grind to a halt. When the software becomes too advanced to manage with the older computers. My son is doing a degree in computer systems. For him computers are his life and he is now in demand helping out our neighbours. Very useful.

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    • Maybe 10 years ago, I started buying the best, highest end computers I could possibly afford. It has turned out to be more satisfying to use them and cheaper in the long run. Instead of needing an upgrade ever two to three years, I need one every five to six years. Many of my earlier computers are still in use. My granddaughter, my son, my husband are each using one of my older laptops. They weren’t useless, just inadequate to do the graphics work. This little laptop is the first computer I’ve ever had that has enough memory and almost enough video memory. With a little luck, it’ll be at least five years before it needs anything. Technology changes, but I have found when you buy the top of the line stuff, it changes a lot less. It’s the very cheap stuff that stops working, can’t be upgraded, becomes quickly obsolete. Weird, but true.

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  6. You have covered everything we want to know about modern technologies. Very informative post. At times I get nightmares of wordpress crashing down and I have lost all my data, posts, pics and WHAT NOT. Initially it happened with me when I lost my presentations just because it was crashed. I learnt my lesson hard way and since then hard disk remain updated.

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  7. When I was in college, we had to co to the library to research. I wonder what my students would do if they had to do that.

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  8. I don’t llike the cloud either for the same reasons. Using and external hard drive at the moment.
    Leslie

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  9. You have covered just about everything that is + and – in the computer world, so there is not very much to say. Personally I avoid clouds where I can, although my apple invites me to save in a cloud each time I have something. I save as a document. I now have a drop box. Why I don’t know and am thinking about letting it drop in another place. My son grew up with commodore, and I even wrote games in machine talk on it. He progressed to an Amiga and so did I when he wasn’t using it. Mr. Swiss sometimes brought his IBM home from work and I did a few things on it. The real turn round came for me when I one day said to Mr. Swiss “I want my own computer” and so it was born. Mrs. Angloswiss in the computer world. I am not an expert, but know what I want. I have become an Apple person, but also like to have a Windows machine on the side. when you get old you no longer have so many pleasures in life, but computer for me is one of them.

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    • The computer is my primary entertainment. It’s how I play my audiobooks, play little games, write, edit pictures. Email. Shop. Everything. It is like electricity. Essential to life continuing as I know it. We are hardly alone. I think most people these days depend on one kind of computer or another, whether it’s a tablet, telephone, desktop or laptop. Even our cars are hooked up to their own computer systems. I’m pretty sure my kitchen oven is computerized.

      I worked in the computer industry from pretty early on, so I’ve always had them, or at least that’s how it feels. I started on an Apple Macintosh, then ran Windows and Apple both. Eventually, it just got to complicated and expensive to keep two computers up-to-date and I dumped the Apple. Now, things are much LESS expensive. Ironic because I’m pretty sure technology is one of the few things that has come down in price in this world.

      I’m really interested to find out how you like Windows 10 when you get it. Let me know. I’m still sitting on the fence about it. I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got. I don’t trust Microsoft to not screw up my operating system. Again 🙂

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  10. I totally agree about storing data in the ‘Cloud’. I do not store anything in the ‘Cloud’ and instead store on my external drive. Once your data is out there, it will always be out there, even if you think you deleted it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • And if you lose a connection or a server dies, or your service changes or “they” decide to charge you an arm and a leg for what was previously “free,” you are SO screwed. I have three external drives (redundant). They’ve gotten cheap enough so this way, if one fails, I’m still alive!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Oh my Gosh the pictures of the old monster computers was a nice trip down on memory lane. I remember, 25 years ago I worried if I would ever be able to afford “one”.

    You bring up a good point. It’s a scary thought about how much information is out there. I don’t think we, the older generations have too much to worry about it, but I wish the younger ones would.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Every technology has to have a beginning. I got into personal computers when IBM marketed their first home computer, the IBM PC with its two 5 1/4″ floppy drives. The 3 1/2″ floppies cames a few years later. I had no hard disk drive as my PC was the first followed by the IBM XT with it’s 10 MEG HD.

    My original system with just the floppy drives, an RGB color monitor and an Epson FX100 dot matrix printer was $4800. Think what you could buy with that today! It was payroll deducted from my wages at McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis.

    After that first system I started building my own computers from parts you could by through mail order such as Tiger Direct and PC Connection. Local computer store warehouses sprang up in St. Louis to buy parts off the shelf. I was a computer geek by then and pieced together killer systems. It’s all good!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Technology is vastly better than it was! I have no nostalgia for old computers, though I do find the old advertisements amusing. I have some serious concerns about where we are heading. Wherever it goes, I don’t have a say in it. Not anymore. So hopefully, whatever it is, I’ll find a way to use it. I just want stuff to work. And keep working.

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      • I’m so grateful that Photoshop plug-in vendors are keeping up with Photoshop CC. As you know I love my software filters and they’re an important part of my workflow and “look”.

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        • I briefly tried the CC service before the filters worked with it. Maybe if they were working, I would have stayed longer, but as it was, the lack of filters was a deal breaker. Also, I didn’t like the online version as much as I like PS6.

          And I like being able to work OFFLINE entirely. I don’t like being totally dependent on an internet connection. It isn’t just superstition. ISPs are what they are. We’ve got Charter (no choice about that, they are the ONLY game in town). Although they aren’t as bad as they were, they aren’t as good as they should be. You’ll see for yourself soon enough. And then there’s the router and the modem and the weather. Good to be able to use my computer even if connections aren’t available. Just saying.

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          • I’ll be curious to see why you needed an internet connection to use Photoshop CC as I don’t. I;ve been automatically upgraded for free to the latest 2015 rendition that works smashingly. I have the latest Lightroom package at that same $9.95 a month price but never use it. I know too much about Photoshop to downgrade to lesser software. All my plug-ins work with Photoshop CC 2015, Lightroom 5 and Elements 13.

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            • This was very early. I suspect they have made a lot of changes since the beginning. I was just so pissed at them, I was unwilling to try again. I may eventually have no choice, but I like not having to rent my software. I like OWNING it.

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              • I understand completely. I fought the change since its inception. I own Photoshop CS6 for Mac and keep the CDs in my software collection should I ever need to change back.

                The Plug-in Software writers are behind the eightball with Adobe doing what they did. They must be flexible or go out of business. OnOne, NIK & Topaz have bent with the wind to hold onto their customers. I own all three although I have just 3-4 of the Topz products that include Clarity, DeNoise & Simplify. These are exceptional. I’m sure I’d love to show you what all of these can do. If we weren’t using different computer operating systems I could simply give you my passwords and you’d be set. 🙂

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                • Time enough for that in the fall when we will have THOUSANDS OF FOLIAGE PICTURES TO PROCESS. There’s a two week peak during which I try to be out and about with a camera ALL the time, unless it’s raining. After which I have so much stuff … well … it’s photographic harvest time. I don’t have the Topaz filters because they are just too expensive. I have a very small amount of disposable income, and so far, hardware usually wins over software. But I think I’ve got all the hardware I’m going to need for the foreseeable future. At least all the lenses. I suppose, eventually, I’ll buy the latest-greatest camera, but they will have to give me some reason why it’s worth it. For a lot of people, it’s the built in viewfinder, but I can’t use the viewfinder anyway, so that’s not going to do it for me. The weather-proofing might eventually grab me, though.

                  I will enjoy seeing what the filters do. As I said, they have just been too expensive thus far. Maybe they’ll have a sale.

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                  • I love my Fujis and Fuji keeps coming out with new models like the X-E2, X-T1, XT10 but until they change the sensor I’m not tempted to change anything. Their lens line for the X system has grown greatly since I got in the mirrorless game. The 5 lenses I own cover the gambit of focal ranges. They just came out with a 1.4 teleconverter that interests me simply because I’d like more reach with the 55-200mm but I don’t think it has been released just yet.

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                    • It’s why I keep the cameras I’ve got. They’ve changed many things, but the sensors haven’t changed since the PM-2. I do have newer ones, but they were gotten for very short money on sale. Before I go for a new premium body, I need to have a better reason.

                      Like

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