Behind the Times with Technology

First written June 7, 2012
Revised November 26, 2012

An update to this article has been written:
Behind the Times with Technology: Update

Introduction | Satisfying My Computing Needs | Increasing Demands
Software | Phones | Conclusion

Introduction

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while but have put it off. I didn’t stop and realize it until a year or two ago, but it’s becoming obvious now – I’m behind the times. Why? The main qualifier is that my most “modern” computer is currently a Dell Inspiron 1501, which my dad purchased for me as a Christmas present in 2006 for almost $700.

Here are current specs for this computer:

Even back in 2006, this computer was considered average and nothing particularly impressive, but you know what? I needed and wanted a “newer” computer (something a little more modern than my 300 MHz Pentium II Windows 98 PACE computer and that could do more – matching or exceeding the performance of my dad’s Dell Dimension 4400 from April 2002 (which now belongs to me)). So I was quite happy that I got this computer.

More than five years have passed, and I’m still happy with this computer. It still meets pretty much all of my computing needs. But it has dawned on me recently that not many people are still using PCs from 2006 as their main computers. And they’re not even using Windows XP anymore. No, most people these days have got these flashy new computers from at least 2008-2010 and are running Windows 7, have dual-core processors, and 4 GB and above of RAM.

And when I realize how new these machines are – and how I’m still using technology that can now be considered fairly outdated, I wonder…what the heck happened!? Did I miss something? Why is it that with every new piece of technology that comes out, everyone suddenly buys it and immediately deems the old stuff as obsolete and unusable? And more importantly, why do people’s needs change so much to the point that they have to constantly raise system specifications? And where in the world do they get money for these things – especially in a poor economy?

Honestly, are people ever going to be satisfied with what they have? Can they not be grateful for what they have? I mean, I’ve been using this same laptop for over five years, it still works perfectly fine, and it still meets my computing needs even though I don’t have Windows 7, a dual-core processor, or over 4 GB of RAM. I just don’t get it. What more do people want from computers? Isn’t Windows XP good enough? What’s so much better about Windows 7 that they have to immediately ditch XP once it comes out? I’m not saying that Windows 7 doesn’t have advantages, but still.

Satisfying My Computing Needs

As of now, my computing needs are pretty much satisfied. I like being able to do the following on computers:

And those are basically the same creative desires I had for computers back when I started using them in the late ‘90s. Most of my needs were already satisfied with a Windows 95, 200 MHz Pentium MMX Packard Bell computer (reading, writing, viewing pictures, and listening to music – four out of the seven things I mentioned). Still, there were a few higher-performance desires that the Windows 95 couldn’t fulfill – which were at last satisfied with Windows XP-era technology (or even earlier technology). And even these last three things are pretty much interrelated.

First of all, even in its heyday, a 3.5” floppy just wasn’t that great for moving data. It was okay for most things, but moving data just wasn’t as flexible as it is now. Even then, you could sometimes have files that were over 1.44 MB, and you’d have no way to move them. Sure, you could have access to 3 MB files on your computer – or to 700 MB worth of data on a CD-ROM – but no way to move them (unless you were on a network). And also, you would have to use multiple floppies to store what you wanted. Now, all you need is one flash drive or one hard drive. You also have the option of using a CD or DVD burner, which adds more flexibility. In the early days, there may have been CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives, but if you wanted to create a video to be played on a regular DVD player, forget it.

Now, there’s more flexibility, as you can both read and write data. You can move almost any quantity of data that’s thrown at you, whereas back in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, you could receive data, but you couldn’t move it efficiently. And guess what? You can use USB flash drives and hard drives on a mid-2000s Windows XP computer. Heck, I’ve even used a flash drive on that same Windows 98 PACE computer I mentioned earlier! I should also mention that this data-moving desire also applies to downloading files on the internet. In the days of dial-up, a person would have to wait impatiently several hours for a 20 MB file to finish downloading. Now, with high-speed internet (perfectly usable on a Windows XP computer, by the way), it’s possible to have 2 GB worth of material in under an hour! So, with Windows XP technology (and earlier), that makes five out of seven of my desires fulfilled.

Then, there was the issue of watching videos. Sure, there were videos on computers back in the ‘90s and early 2000s, but they weren’t in as good of quality as they were since the mid-2000s or so. They weren’t really the same quality as you’d see on a VHS tape. Also, regardless of the quality, the issue with viewing videos also ties in with the data-moving issue I mentioned above. If you had a way to make a video on a computer, you wouldn’t have a way to move it to another – or make it viewable on TV unless you had a TV-output jack on your computer. With the onset of DVD technology, there is enough storage space to view videos in good, sharp quality. And you can burn movies on a computer to make them viewable on a regular, standalone TV instead of having to watch .AVI files on the computer. And that right there makes the last two of my seven desires fulfilled.

So, since all of my computing needs were met, have I had a change in standards? Have I decided that I want more and more performance out of a computer? For the most part, no. My basic needs are about the same as they were when I started using computers in the late ‘90s. I can easily move mass-quantities of data, I can not only view data on CDs and DVDs, but I can also write data to them – making them playable on regular TVs. And thanks to DVD, I can also watch videos in reasonably good quality.

So as of now, Windows XP-era computers really have met pretty much all of my computing needs and fixed nearly all computing inconveniences for me, and I really haven’t had the need to go higher. Windows 7 might make my computing experience slightly more smooth and efficient, but anything beyond that, to me, is just excessive and a waste of time. My needs have been met. End of story. I don’t need a burning hot 3.0 GHz dual-core processor and 4 GB of RAM just to write a simple 50 KB text document! And writing stories and journals is a big bulk of what I do on the computer, anyway!

Increasing Demands

Despite the fact that even XP-era technology appears sufficient (to me, anyway), people still don’t seem satisfied. They still want more, more, and more! In regards to video, DVD isn’t even good enough for people anymore. No, they need better quality. Gee, I thought the DVD picture quality was pretty clear and sharp, what more do you want to see? The pores on somebody’s face? So people have been starting to use Blu-ray technology. Gee, it doesn’t feel that long ago that I started using DVD and spent a lot of time converting my old VHS tapes to that format, and now, DVD is on its way out? Last time I checked, DVD quality looked pretty sharp and impressive to me. Pick a format, and stick with it unless there’s something functionally wrong with it! In the case of VHS tapes, they were prone to getting jammed in a VCR, and you had to fast-forward through everything to get to one scene. They could also wear out after being played multiple times. With DVD, you don’t have to worry about your media getting jammed, and you can skip instantly to the point of the video you want to see. And for the most part, you don’t have to worry about the picture quality suffering due to multiple playbacks (though you still might need to back up your DVDs every so often, as there is the risk they could fail at some point).

I think another thing that’s driving up performance demands in computers is gaming. Newer games have a lot more graphic detail (supposedly) than older ones and have a lot of other things going on in the background, and thus, require more memory and faster processors. Just like with DVD, I thought the games were pretty advanced and detailed already. I mean, as an example, let me briefly mention two games I’ve played: Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. Chaos Theory had higher PC requirements than the original, but I didn’t notice any significant graphical improvement. The graphics of the first game were perfectly clear and sharp to me, and that game only required a computer with a 1 GHz processor.

Software

Now, I will venture into area of technological “improvements,” and that’s software. Actually, this is mainly what I wanted to blog about from the beginning. The operating system on my main computer is Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2, and I use Microsoft Office 2000. Meanwhile, most everyone else runs Windows 7 and has at least Microsoft Office 2007 - but more likely Office 2010. I’ve used Office 2010 before, and while it does have a few nice, “fancy” features that would offer a little more convenience, in the overall scheme of things, it doesn’t offer me any significant reason to upgrade from Office 2000. I use Word 2000 to write stories. It works just fine for me. I can type, format, and print text just fine. That’s all I need. I don’t need to spend $200 on a program that does essentially the same thing as a program I already have. Heck, I might even be okay using Word 97 – or lower, as long as it gets the job done!

Which is another very big issue I want to address – probably the biggest point I’d like to make in this whole entry. Where in the world do people get the money to buy all this stuff? I thought the economy was bad, and people were having trouble paying their bills, but somehow, they have the money to own brand new cars and the latest software, which isn’t exactly cheap.

That brings me to yet another point. Not only do people have the latest software, but it seems they have it installed on several machines! I thought these days, with product activation, Microsoft only allowed you to install a copy on one computer (at least in the case of operating systems). How in the world could people afford to spend several hundred dollars worth of software just to put it on two or three computers? Maybe they got it illegally. After talking to at least one person about this, that appears not to be the case. Not only does he have Windows 7 installed on multiple computers, but they’re all genuine, legal copies.

I should also mention that people seem to upgrade at a rather rapid rate, too. It’s enough that you broke the bank, spending several hundred (or even thousand) dollars worth of merchandise, but as I’ve said before, people are upgrading at a rather fast rate. The minute a new software suite or Windows version comes out (which is often only about two or three years), people go out and buy it (or eventually buy it several months later). So that’s even more money spent – in a relatively short amount of time!

Finally, another big issue with upgrading to modern (Microsoft) software is its lifespan. Since Microsoft implemented it’s precious “activation” feature in the early 2000s, it makes it harder to use its software multiple times – or on multiple computers. So, if Microsoft one day ever decides not to activate older software anymore, you’re outta luck if you want to keep using it. You have to upgrade (or downgrade). In the case of my copies of Windows XP, two of my computers have it because they Dells and appear to skip the activation process – and the other computer I have with Windows XP was bought second-hand – and already had the OS installed. If it weren’t for these OEM-installed versions of Windows XP, I might still even be using Windows 98 or 2000!

Phones

For a brief moment, I will talk about another area of technology besides computers: phones. Really, it seems that people are so obsessed with phones these days. Everyone has a phone (sometimes more than one). For the record, I have a phone – a TracFone W376g, but it’s currently unregistered, and even when it was registered, I rarely had a use for it, other than checking the time or playing a quick game. Don’t get me wrong, I like having it because it can come in handy in emergencies (yes, even if it’s deactivated, I can still call for help). But people these days seem so dependent on their phones it’s crazy.

And people complain about how terrible the economy is. Well, maybe it is, but the last time I checked, you didn’t need to spend $45 a month or more on a cell phone service – or buy the latest $200 or $300 phone! With TracFone, just buy a $20 phone, spend $100 on a year-long minutes card, and you have service for a year. My friend and I talked about this once, and he said that you tend to get better customer and technical service with the more expensive phones and services. Maybe, but I don’t talk on the phone much at all for it to even matter. I rarely even talk on my landline phone.

Conclusion

By the comments I’ve made in this entry, it might sound like I hate technology and am an old geezer that resists technology. Far from it. I like technology. Touch-screen phones are pretty cool when you think about them, and new technology can offer a lot of fancy features. But that’s all they are. Fancy. I don’t have much practical need to upgrade my computers, so I’m perfectly fine with what I have. Most importantly, buying all this new stuff requires money that I simply don’t have – and am surprised everyone else does. In this entry, it might have sounded like I was a little testy when it came to defending why I still use a lot of older technology. I think it just comes down to the fact that I don’t like that I’m behind the times – and that the hardware and software I use can now be considered obsolete. I don’t understand why people feel they need to constantly upgrade everything before barely giving the old stuff a decent amount of use. And again, I just fail to see where people get the money to buy all this new stuff at such a fast rate.

I guess it’s also that I’ve used Windows XP for over ten years and am just used to it. It works perfectly fine for what I do, and upgrading is just not a huge priority for me. Granted, I think I was used to Windows 95 back in 2002, but even then, I recognized its limitations. Windows XP may have a few limitations, but most of them that I can tell are just not being compatible with modern day, top-of-the-line software. It can do most everything I want to do on a computer, and I don’t notice any significant limitations. Also, I have to admit that a number of the things I said I could do on older computers I didn’t actually start doing much until I started seeing computers as “entertainment centers” – but even so, once I reached a point where I was satisfied (primarily video quality), I stayed there and had no reason to press for anything higher, since what I had was already pretty good. Not to mention the fact that, as I said, most of them can be accomplished by older machines – I just didn’t do those things back in the ‘90s because computers weren’t thought of as entertainment centers back then.

One thing I do understand, though, is that technology doesn’t last forever. As of November 2012, my laptop is almost six years old and could give in at any time, and the same could be said about my Dell Dimension 4400 desktop, which is now over ten years old. Sooner or later, I plan to buy a new computer – assuming I can get the money for it. But even then, it’s mainly just because the computers themselves don’t last forever.

Anyway, that more or less concludes this entry. One more thing I should also add is that I found a page about a guy who, amazingly, still used Windows 95 as of 2008 (Why I Still Use Windows 95). The page doesn’t appear to be around anymore, but I was still able to see it with in the Internet Archive. Even though I like Windows 95, there are a number of features I have taken for granted in Windows XP that I wouldn’t like to lose. Still, if this guy did it, it might be worth a try :).

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Updated Monday, November 26, 2012