I recently employed a university student to do some work for me, and when I sat him down at the computer I had set up for him, was embarrassed to find out that all of a sudden it had decided to grind to a complete halt. MS word took around 5 minutes to start up, and even the shiny Vista start button took half a minute to pop up with it’s lovely animated fade in.
Which got me thinking: how come my $800 Playstation3 can reliably immerse me in amazing 3D, highly-graphic, CPU-intensive gameplay day after day, but a relatively new $1,600 workstation can’t even render a boring, static word document without having some problem or another?
After checking for rogue programs, doing a full virus scan, and other trouble-shooting basics, no solution to the problem could be found. The only solution seemed to be to do a complete re-install. Then I realized that I have been doing this same routine on all of the PCs I own, and some of the Macs, at least once per year for the last 10 years or so.
As I was looking for my box of software installation disks, and the one that came with this particular machine, I came across on old version of Windows 98 second edition, and suddenly had a sneaky thought – why not give downgrading a go?
As the installation process for Windows 98 started on my P4 machine with 2GB of ram, I couldn’t help giggling joyfully at the speed of the install, and the fact that I could remember installing this piece of software on a machine with a 2GB hard drive – let alone 2GB of RAM.
This giggling turned into sheer amazement once I had installed a few old applications - they would open instantly almost in advance of a mouse click. I had never experienced such speed! Of course, I started running into problems – such as the fact that drivers haven’t been released for parts of the machine, or many of my peripherals. But it got me thinking:
I realized that hardware and software manufacturers have been keeping in step - machines are getting faster and faster, but software is getting more and more complex at exactly the same rate. Which means that the actual speed of our experience on the computer has been exactly the same for years. In many respects, I can’t remember Windows 3.1 being any slower to do word processing than my current machine.
One solution could be to make all the software companies take an enforced 2-year sabattical so that they end up a bit behind the hardware guys, and then hopefully our computers will always be speedy!
Another option perhaps is that someone could write a game for the PS3, that is actually an advanced, 3D version of Windows 98, with word processing, spreadsheets, databases, storage and internet browsing, and is also a closed system (like a game) so that it can’t get viruses or slow down.
Then with all the productivity we’d all gain by everything working so much faster, and the money we’d save by the whole package being cheaper, we could get off the computer and read a book every now and again!
*of course I’m partly joking with my suggestions. But perhaps…