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Back to the Future

I think of an operating system as the ground, or earth, that the computer relies on.  It is the base, the rock, the framework, and it must be a solid foundation to support all the components that will spring forth from it.

With that in mind, I ask, have we progressed in the 25 years that I’ve been using computers?


The first computer I ever used was the Apple IIe.  It had no hard drive, so we had to put a 5.25″ disk into the disk drive to run it.  It used a command line interface, and didn’t have much software.  But BASIC was all we needed to make magic happen.  At the time it didn’t seem very capable, but we were amazed by the possibilities.  I used to make schematic diagrams of my programs at home, and I couldn’t wait to enter them into the computer and watch the results pop up in color.  It truly thrilled me.  I couldn’t wait for the next best thing, surely it would be even better.

And it was.  In 1984 my girlfriend’s dad bought a Macintosh.  It sported a GUI in black and white.  It had a recycle bin, cool fonts, and could create incredible looking documents, like the resumes I used to make. 

apple macintosh

That was high tech.  Now computers had become useful for business.  I knew one day I would get my own computer.  And I couldn’t wait.  Actually, I did wait.  For quite awhile.


Then in 1992 I got an IBM XT.  It flew.  The 6 mHz proc had a turbo button that would kick it all the way up to 8 mHz.  I actually wore driving gloves and a seat belt to use it.  Surely I jest. 

I remember getting my first spreadsheet program and trying to use it with the XT.  I would enter all my data, and somewhere on the sheet I’d put a formula in and press enter.  It would take 20 seconds to calculate.  I also remember buying the Jeopardy Game.  Ok, the graphics weren’t too hot, but it was a fun game.  Unfortunately, this was not a usable computer.  This was my first warning sign that “progress” was not always progressive.

A couple years later Radio Shack had a sale on computers.  They offered 0% financing for 12 months.  I needed a computer for my business, so I plunked down my $1700, and took home a 486!  Woohoo!  That was a huge upgrade for me.  It had a 14.4 modem, and 4 MB of memory.  But I wanted to use Microsoft Office which had a minimum Ram requirement of 8 MB.  So I went to CDW and bought 4 MB more.  For $200.  Two hundred dollars.  By the way, Office came on 7 3″ floppy disks.  Imagine how lean it was that the whole thing could fit on 7 1.44MB disks, or about 10 MB.  Now you need a DVD to contain the monster.

My 486 served me well for several years.  Eventually I upgraded the modem to a blazing 28.8 model, signed up with AOL, and discovered the Internet – or at least AOL online. 

I’m fast forwarding now to 1998.  Windows 98.  Yup.  We make fun of it now, but computers running 98 didn’t need tons of memory or speed.  And they ran tons of software.  It really wasn’t a bad OS.  And my Pentium II computer had something that I only dreamed of.  A cd burner.  I couldn’t believe I could actually create my own frickin’ cds!  That surely rocked. 

Notice a trend?  With the exception of the XT, computers were progressing nicely. 


2002 was a great year.  I decided to build my own computer.  I picked out the best components I could find.  I had a blazing Athlon proc, an LCD screen, Windows 2000, a super fast cd burner, tons of ram (528 MB), and put it all into my high tech mobo.  It cost me $900 for everything.  Half the price of my Radio Shack computer and 100 times more potent.  This computer is still lightning fast.  It is also the end of the line for progress.


With an expanding family we needed more computers.  So I bought a Windows XP laptop in ‘03.  The lappy cost me a serious $1600, but Windows XP was supposed to be a tremendous improvement over 2000.   So why did they need SP2?  That laptop is now run by my kids, but they complain about the speed.  It’s a dog.  It’s so freakin’ slow that it’s painful to watch.  I just upgraded the Ram from 256 Mb to 1 GB, but I fear that XP is so bloated that it can’t get out of its own way.  Remember the analogy I made at the beginning of this post?  While 2000 is like a rock solid foundation upon which lie all my components, XP is molasses.  Have you ever jogged on the beach?  Jog a couple miles and that’s Win XP.  I have to restart it fairly often to clear out all the gunk.  Meanwhile, the last time I restarted my 2000 was, uhm, uh, I can’t remember.  It’s been several weeks, if not months, since I restarted it.  2000 rules.


So 6 months ago I bought another lappy.  Three kids and a wife on two computers doesn’t work.  This Inspiron 1505 has Windows Vista and a dual processor.  Two processors!  It also had 1 GB of Ram.  This, I thought, would fly.  And fly it did, like a penguin.  I upgraded the Ram to 2 GB, b u t   i t ‘ s  s t i l l  t o o  d a r n  s l o w .  Not only is it slow, it needs to be restarted every two hours of use, otherwise it begins to crawl.  Then, to add to the misery, stuff just stops working.  Like Internet Explorer will just shut down and then restart itself.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spent an hour or two writing a post only to lose it to a random shutdown.

This computer plays music, movies, surfs, creates movies and does tons of other stuff.  But it needs 2 GB of Ram, two processors, and many many Gigs of storage just for the bloated OS.  And with all this processing power you still get instability.  I ask, how can this be?  Since windows appeared 12 years ago with Windows 95, haven’t we gotten to the point where we are just adding cool new features?  Is it that hard to test these new features before they come out?  They’re incremental, not revolutionary for cripes sake.  It’s not like we are rewriting history.  The base code has been there all this time.  I am not complaining about hackers and trojans and stuff like that.  I just feel that the OS itself should be a rock, like 2000. 

So have we really progressed?  I’ll tell you one thing, my Apple IIe didn’t have random shutdowns.  And it was pretty quick, too.  If I try to play a UTube video on my Vista ultra super powerful lappy, it stops every 15 secs because it can’t download and process the video quickly enough.  But my Win2k eats ‘em up and begs for more. 

I think I’m going to put Win2k on both of my laptops.  And the lord may strike me down for what I’m about to say, but I might get me an Apple for my next computer.

I know it sounds crazy, but



December 7, 2007 - Posted by | Opinions, Windows

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