On Computers: What do People Really Need?

The people I know mostly want something that works – something that allows them to do the things they need and want. For most people this involves simple office applications, internet and other online apps such as instant messaging, email, facebook apps, etc. They want it to run securely, and stably, without having to spend a lot of money to upgrade hardware and software every few years going forward.

800px-Computer-kitten What they have instead is a confusing market dominated by Microsoft and software from members of the Business Software Alliance that seek to make large profits by requiring endless upgrades of software to stay current – which also requires hardware upgrades. All of this costs money. Does it actually deliver any value?

My experience answers ‘No.’ Food for thought: My computer that I built in 2001, running Windows 2000, runs applications faster than my friends 2 core laptop with Vista installed. He pays a fortune every few years for the latest and greatest hardware and software. I pay nothing to keep using my old stuff – and it works just as well as his. When Microsoft finally stops issuing the security updates for Windows 2000, I will switch to Linux Operating system and Free Open Source Software Applications – and again get what I need, free and legally. I have been playing around with Fedora Linux for about 4 months now on an old junker PC I had sitting in my closet.  I’m now starting to get the hang of using and securing Linux.

As far as I can tell, there was little of value in Windows XP, Vista, or 7 that is not found in Windows 2000. And, for the record, Windows 2000 (with all the updates) runs just as securely and stably as the others, and I have seen it run many applications perfectly well in as little as 128MB of RAM (as opposed to at least 1 to 2GB for Vista and 7). It also doesn’t require product activation every year when I reformat and reload the PC. Lets review the record: Windows XP ran more games, and introduced support for multicore and 64bit chips; Vista runs high-end graphics better, and introduced a key security enhancement – it protects the OS better from attacks against it (Uaser Access Control and Kernel Protection). Windows 7 appears to make Vista run properly – the way Vista should have ran in the first place. Did I leave anything out? Oh, by the way, it also introduces Windows Touch (touch screen control), so now I can blow a lot more money on a new touch screen monitor… Oh boy!  Out of all of these improvements, only the Vista security enhancements would add any real value.

To this date there are few softwares in common use that can run much faster or better on 64 bit and multicore chips.   I haven’t done any computationally intensive work since I was in college. Now, the most intense thing I do is run my antivirus and Sim City at the same time – and it runs as fast on my dinosaur as the new apps my friend runs. I realize I am being a little simplistic, but there is very little of value to the average user in the new software features of the last decade. The only real novelty I see in software over the last decade is the addition of negative softwares that cause problems for the user: adware, spyware and DRM technology that restricts how you can use the content you have purchased. Again, I ask you, the reader: did I miss something? Given my experience, I propose 4 reforms for the software industry:

  • REFORM 1: The congress should pass legislation requiring software companies to issue security patches for all software and operating systems beginning with Windows 2000, for at least 25 years, or a free upgrade path. I choose Windows 2000, because it is the oldest software that is still used by any significant number of people (about 1 to 1.8% of all PC users depending on who you ask)
  • REFORM 2: The congress should pass legislation requiring software companies to provide critical functional updates for all software and operating systems beginning with Windows 2000, for a period of 10 years, or a free upgrade path.
  • REFORM 3: The congress should pass legislation requiring software companies to issue a Linux version of all their softwares that is also subject to Reforms 1 and 2.
  • REFORM 4: The congress should pass legislation forbidding anyone or any company from installing unwanted software on someone’s computer.  The definition of ‘Unwanted’ should be defined by the consumers who pay money for the software, not by various industry lobbyists. My personal definition of ‘unwanted’ would include, at a minimum, adware, spyware,”trusted” anything and DRM.
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