Thursday, February 16, 2006

Changes on the Horizon? Part 1

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Being in the business of computers as I am, wide varieties of publications are produced on a weekly basis that contains useful information. Information that relates to the computing industry for both services providers and users. Since I receive a few of these publications, I see developing trends and the direction the industry is going.

I find new hardware such as keyboards and hard drives and read about the new software being developed for the consumer market. Some of the news is exciting and I almost wish I could get my hands on some of the stuff coming soon.

But, there has been some rather disturbing news along with all the ‘hype’! News and views about Microsoft and Windows. Many of the things I am reading about I can see from my own personal experience. And it bothers me, to say the very least.

A bit of history for you (don’t worry, I’ll keep it brief). Back in the early ‘80s, Bill Gates bought a small company that had developed an operating system for IBM’s new Intel based PC-1 and called it PC-DOS. It managed the PC, used a small amount of memory, and enabled the advent of the highly lucrative PC industry we see about us today. Microsoft continued to improve and enhance MS-DOS through several versions. All through the life cycle of MS-DOS, things that were written for the earlier releases tended to work fine with the later releases of DOS. This is called Downward Compatibility.

Incremental enhancements included better memory management, improved system services, and, of course, bug fixes. Unfortunately, the improvements included in the releases caused the software to grow, size wise. Each release consumed slightly more memory to run and took up more space on the diskette. When hard drives became available for the PC, MS-DOS got even bigger. What used to be on a single diskette suddenly required 4 or 5 diskettes, and not the 360 KB floppies, either, but the high density 1.3 MB diskettes. But nobody said anything and Microsoft pressed on.

Apple released their little machine with a graphical user interface (GUI) and Microsoft responded with Windows, a graphical user interface for the PC. Now we had a choice, DOS or Windows. However, Windows required more space to operate and more storage on the system, which meant more memory and bigger hard drives. That meant a user, you and I, had to go out and buy new hardware. The hardware industry was not sitting idle during this time either because systems started running faster, memory got bigger, and so did hard drives. I shudder to think of trying to run Windows on a 10 MB hard drive today. Back then the thought for most of us was, “10MB, Wow! How will I ever use that much space?” Microsoft Windows, arguably, caused the growth of the computer industry and common computer use in the world today. MS said,” We need more space to run our system!” The industry developed bigger memory chips. MS said,” Windows needs more storage space!” The industry responded by inventing better ways to store data and bigger and better hard drives.

There’s only one problem. Each time Microsoft releases a new Windows version, it requires more. More space, more storage, more power. You want to upgrade your copy of Windows, you will have to buy a new computer or upgrade your old one. It is becoming a vicious cycle. To a degree, Windows is creating a market place for computer hardware.

Now, that’s not altogether a bad thing. If you have the money to pay for it. If, like me, you have a pocket full of pennies with my finger print embossed on them (form pinching) you are getting to the point where you start asking why you should buy more system just to run an operating system that doesn’t really do all that much more than the previous release.

Next time, “Is anybody doing something about it?”