NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, January 2011
Its Crystal Ball Time Again
By Elizabeth B. Wright, Member,
Computer Club of Oklahoma City October 2010 issue, CCOKC eMonitor
wright599new(at)sbcglobal.net (click to email author)

Is it any wonder no real work gets done any more? Since the advent of the personal computer, the workforce in the world has been in a constant learning mode. Early in the game there were many competing programs to buy. Some had a steep learning curve, others were fairly easy to conquer. In business, you either got the concept of a spreadsheet or you didnt. One way or the other the number crunching software became a dominant player in the office environment. The same held true for word processing. Apple had the inside track on graphics, but folks that is also based on numbers whether you can see it or not. Dont be fooled. Computers only do one thing, they turn on and off little switches which make up what you see on your screen. And they do it with two numbers, 0 and 1. Off is 0, On is 1. Admittedly it is a bit more complicated than that, number combinations which tell the computer what those two switches will turn on or off, but the basis of all computing is number handling.

Since the time of the first personal computers, there has hardly been a gap between the last software update and the newest release. Those developers who had a good product that was supposed to last forever found themselves quickly out of business, buried in the onslaught of Microsoft and IBM sales techniques. Just as Mt. St. Helens buried a good chunk of real estate, so has Microsoft buried the competition in personal computer software. Funny, both Microsoft and Mt. St. Helens are located in Washington state. Anyway, there seems to be no end to the product finagling designed to make users think they are getting something new.

But here is the problem. With each new version of both software and operating systems, endless retraining is needed to get the individual or workforce up to speed and to actually be productive. This provides work for the trainers, but of course the trainees never arrive at the productive stage because there is always a newer incarnation of the same old tired software, requiring the cycle to begin all over again. For government entities this is no problem since very little beneficial work gets done there anyway. But for other businesses, a thinking person might find it confusing that any corporation, large or small, could be profitable in the above scenario. I dont know to what extent the business world is resisting the pressure to upgrade and update, but obviously if one large company chooses to do so, many others must follow suit. Monkey see, monkey do.

The day has long passed since the novelty of owning a desktop computer, either in an office or at home, was exciting. Few people have opted to do much more than use email on their home machines. Small offices either had to make do with older software and machines or face non-profitability in the upgrade race. A few have been able to continue business as usual without changing with each new version, but the lack of support for older systems must be placing a heavy burden on such establishments.

Go to any bookstore or restaurant with wi-fi and you will see many people with their laptops doing what appears to be research, homework or business transactions. Are they upgrading their machines and software at every turn? These people often take up prime seating (case in point: a booth for four people which becomes a virtual private office) and conduct their affairs via the free internet access. Some even go so far as to talk to what I assume are customers/clients, either by cell phone or phone access via the computer. Can the restaurants and bookstores make enough money from these customers to continue providing free offices for them?? For the people taking advantage of the free spaces and services, perhaps its the only way they can make any kind of living. After all, if they had to pay the internet bill themselves or rent office space they almost surely could not be competitive. While these customers may buy a drink, or possibly even some food, the time they spend taking up space seems unreasonably long to me. But I suppose the business owners know what they are doing. Or do they? On a very recent internet news blurb there was reference to this very problem. As some of the coffeehouse/ bookstores/ deli cafes face lower profits, will they begin to see this phenomenon as a good thing gone sour?

Back to the subject of endless upgrades, I can understand hardware upgrades. But how can any of this superfluous software revision possibly be good for consumers? Since the really big companies utilize very specialized software and mainframe hardware which requires a far different kind of tech support, when does the upgrade cycle for the rest of us come to an end?

Are we in the fourth quarter in a tied game, users 0, developers 0? Laptop computers use the same software as our nearly obsolete desktop systems, so what is the picture? There is no overtime or sudden death playoff in this game. No winners, only losers. Some are saying we are at the end of the road for personal computers. Young people seem to want nothing bigger than something they can hold in their hands.

Or could I be totally wrong? Is there a whole new world of technology about to be opened up to us. Who will lead the way? .

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