NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, January 2007
President's Corner
by Bill Moeller, President
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Here we are facing a brave new world in the coming year, and I’m off on a rant already. Bright and early this morning a neighbor called with problems--two of them. Her address book was spontaneously expanding to include people she’d never heard of, and her sewer system was backing up.

The problems are similar in that they are both likely due to invasion by external agents, but very different in one key respect—her computer is only a couple of years old while her black water system is well over fifty years old. To an engineer, the explanation is simple: the sewer system was designed to do one thing, and to do it reliably, year after year; her computer was designed to do all kinds of things, none of them particularly well, and without regard for how many years it would continue to do so.

As I look forward to that brave new world, I can only hope that the Dells and Microsofts of the world will begin to shift their design and marketing strategies from trying to be all things to all people in one small economy package, and begin to produce products that will do what they do, reliably and well. Every design engineer knows what that great science fiction writer, Robert Heinlein, immortalized in his intergalactic battle cry, “TANSTAAFL!” (There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch!) Life is full of trade-offs, and there are definite trade-offs between complexity, reliability, performance, and cost, to name just a few of the design criteria for systems.

As consumers and users we can have an effect in this arena. We can choose our systems well for their intended use, with an eye to these trade-offs. With hardware, it’s a bit simpler than with software. We can either have our machines custom made to meet our specific needs, thus focusing our resources on what is important to us, or we can spec our machines to the Dells and HPs and refuse to pay for what we don’t need or want. With software, the choice is there to some extent but we’ve got to do our homework before buying. Why buy the top of the line version of a Vista, for example, if the bottom of the line version will do everything we need? In order to answer that question, we have to know what we need, and we have to know what the different versions will and will not do. Our User Group is a great forum for finding out about what various hardware and software options will do, but the key to a sound buying decision remains in determining what we need, a key which we each need to find for ourselves.

So, get out there and face that brave new world — but, remember, “TANSTAAFL!”

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