Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Hardware Gain, Productivity Loss


At the dawn of what became known as personal computers, I was asked why I didn’t buy computer A. I inquired as to why I should and was told it had much more potential. In the future, I said. What I want now, need now, is productivity not promises.

I have always bought computers as tools to do what I needed. Then, as now, I didn’t want a hobby, and certainly not a toy. Software became truly productive for me in 1992 with Windows 3.1x. I still use parts of it as well as applications acquired then.

One of its features was Object Linking and Embedding (OLE). This allowed a file to link to other files, creating an instant hierarchy. I had waited fifteen years for this breakthrough.

With this tool, I built interrelated task files enabling me to control many projects and participate in many organizations. But every time Microsoft forced me to change operating systems, I lost some of that productivity. Now, OLE is only dim history.

It died with Vista (which I skipped) and has no replacement in Windows 7 or 8. Now all my task control is relegated to my old XP running as a virtual machine. Despite buying a newer, faster computer, my productivity has taken another, bigger hit.

Some people think software (especially operating systems) must change to accommodate new hardware. Yet, SVGA connections work on all my monitors and OSs, even the newest. Obviously, the degree of hardware compatibility is up to the manufacturer.

If hardware is faster (and it is) and bigger (storage is crazy cheap), then why is there so little gain (for me, always a loss) in productivity? Might as well ask why schools cost more and deliver less. Or why government gets bigger and does less.

Increased overhead or administrative bloat, it amounts to the same thing. Easily 90% of operating systems code exists for situations that will never affect the home user. I made this clear back in 1992, when I wrote the series “Impersonal Computing.”

Over the years, personal computer software has become morbidly obese by meeting everyone’s needs—except home users. Given hardware’s capability, it is less productive. And it’s so top heavy it’s a wonder it doesn’t fall on its face more often.

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