Friday, June 15, 2007

Bloat or Stagnation?

The basic story is that this guy ran a head-to-head test of a mid-80s Mac and a brand-new AMD super tower of some description. Selecting tests that could be even possibly equal (OS and Office tasks, really) the 20 year old Mac won.
Is this to say that the Mac Plus is a better computer than the AMD? Of course not. The technological advancements of 21 years have placed modern PCs in a completely different league of varied capacities. But the "User Experience" has not changed much in two decades. Due to bloated code that has to incorporate hundreds of functions that average users don't even know exist, let alone ever utilize, the software companies have weighed down our PCs to effectively neutralize their vast speed advantages. When we compare strictly common, everyday, basic user tasks between the Mac Plus and the AMD we find remarkable similarities in overall speed, thus it can be stated that for the majority of simple office uses, the massive advances in technology in the past two decades have brought zero advance in productivity.
Read the whole article Most people are arguing its not fair because it doesn't check large files, it doesn't do graphics or music, . A few think its a Mac vs. PC thing. Its supposed to be pointing out that software is bloated, and really serves as proof of Henry Petroski's quote:
"The most amazing achievement of the computer software industry is its continuing cancellation of the steady and staggering gains made by the computer hardware industry..."
But I saw something else. What happened to my Information Superhighway? What about internet appliances everywhere? Where is my fridge that orders food for me? Overall, why the hell am I doing the same damned stuff with my computer I did back in Mac SE days? Back in 1989 I had an XT, and I used some 9" all-in-one Macs periodically. Oh, and I had this weird AA powered portable thing with a 2 line LCD text screen. Between the devices I: - Typed papers for school - Organized my schedule - Looked up books to get from libraries on the school network - Laid out pages in Pagemaker (in color, on a B&W screen!) - Formatted document - Had an address book, with CTI thru the modem when I wanted to call someone - Took notes in class, and synched them with the desktop - Mailed (physically) files on floppy disks to people (and hoped the mailman didn't fold them in half) Here at work I am typing on a Powerbook G4. So far I have: - Used VNC to tie into the PC behind me to: - Read and send email, sent files - Viewed and organized my schedule, set an OOO response - Read cartoons over the internet - Posted this blog entry - Edited an xls file - Typed versioning information on a specification - Drawn some changes in a different specification - Listened to music, hosted on my computer at home Not a huge difference, and not really conceptually that far off. The blogging, for example, is still manual, sitting at a computer and doing things. Keyboard, monitor, pointing device. About the only change is entertainment. Media files are available. And the internet is more pervasive, so there's no need to physically mail media around. Though even with that, I get Netflix as there is no good over-the-wire (much less OTA) solution for renting media that large. So, I wonder not why we aren't more productive, but why we haven't changed more than this? Easy availability of computers seems to have done nothing to speak of for office work; I still have to go in and sit at a desk all day. There are lots of meetings. Things are typed, and organized and filed. Even design is just not that different from the earliest CAD and page layout and raster drawing programs. Why no revolution since then? Where are the killer apps since VisiCalc? There are lots of products I could relate this to, but I think it meshes really nicely with an email everyone I work with got earlier today asking how we would use Surface in our stores. I object to the premise. Not that I am against MS, or the product, but because I automatically react against letting technology drive needs. There are plenty of needs that could be met with this, but why are we not pursuing them with paper, with duratrans, with training, with PINpads, with the kiosks already in the stores, with less advanced touchscreens with a simpler tabletop touchscreen, with any of a zillion interactive concepts or with something we dream up to meet the core need. Again, no real conclusion on my part, just a general sadness. Where did innovation in meeting user needs go to?

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