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Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Why computers don't get faster

"Bill" and I were talking today about Windows V7. Bill reckoned that all you need these days is a web browser and the platform you choose to support it isn't that important. He's sort of right - people are installing fewer and fewer things onto their PCs and using more and more web things.

Ironically, the reason we were having the conversation in the first place was because a web-based system we were working with had slowed to a crawl. Web applications can be really good but most of them crash or go slow from time to time.

Then I remembered another time when I used a computer system that was slower than a slug on valium. That was in 1976 and it was slow for exactly the same reason - too many users on a remote machine.

It's those experiences that made the "Personal Computer" such an easy sell in the 1980s. The machine on your desk was all yours and because you were not sharing it with anyone else, it really motored.

Even when the Internet started to get seriously useful in the mid-90s most of the processing got done on your desktop machine. Things like WWW and Email were add-ons and if they were slow, they were still a heck a lot faster than snail mail and sending off for catalogues.

As the new millennium approached, there was a gradual shift off of desktops to web-based systems with central computers. Initially, it went well because most of the systems were not overloaded and there were really useful tools that hadn't been possible before.

In the 2000s, broadband and other high speed communications technologies encouraged the idea that just about everything should be web-based. Which led to Bill and I having time to for our talk.

So what's the answer? One part is to focus hard on what you are trying to achieve and give less attention to the currently fashionable technology. Another part is to recognise that technology doesn't change as much as you and the salesmen think. And we have that hardy perennial idea that "if you don’t understand history, you’re going to be compelled to repeat it"

Don't take these ideas too seriously and change anything though. It's nice to have time to chat with Bill.

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