In 1985, I remember fondly opening the box to my first PC. It had 768K of memory, a 6 Mhz processor, and a 10 MB hard drive. It was a state of the art, technological marvel. I wrote my master’s thesis in a program called EZ Writer, and I planned my life and balanced my books in Lotus 123. It did everything I wanted it and more. I never thought it was slow, except when I saved to the 5.25 inch floppy.
Today, over 20 years later, I am writing this article on my new Winbook portable. It has 512MB of memory, a 1.6 Ghz CPU, and an 80 GB hard drive. I still pretty much do the same things – word processing, email, spreadsheets, and the occasional PowerPoint presentation. The funny thing is that my computer is not noticeably faster than my first PC, and in some ways it seems a little pokey.
So what’s the deal? I have 200 times the processor, 600 times as much memory, and 8000 times the hard drive space. Is it unreasonable to think that we should be getting our work done faster? And if not, why the heck not?
Of course, I am over simplifying. My PC today can do things that I could never have imagined 20 years ago. From manipulating digital photos, to wireless networking; it is a vastly more powerful device. But all other things being equal, I still feel short changed in all of these advances in hardware
technology. It’s like there’s a black hole that eats up hard drive space, free memory and cpu cycles.
If I were to give the black hole a name, I would name it Microsoft. Even more frightening is that
there is a Super Nova on the horizon called Vista. In one swoop, it will eat up all the disk space,
free memory, and cpu cycles in our PC’s.
Last week, Microsoft announced their recommended specifications for Vista PC’s, and frankly I was floored. A Vista PC should have a DVD-ROM, 1 GB of memory, a 1 GHZ CPU, and a 40GB hard drive with 15GB of available space. Of the PC’s that tested at PC Pitstop in April, over 70% do not meet Vista’s bloated specification. Worse yet, over 80% of portables and 80% of business PC’s do not meet the spec. Note: our analysis does not include Vista’s video memory requirement of 256MB. So our statistics are best case.
Why in the world does Vista make such strenuous demands on the hardware? There is one simple answer – Eye Candy. Before the introduction of XP, one was hard pressed to tell if someone was running Windows ME, Windows 98, or Windows 2000. Though the internals were different, the user experience was the same. This all changed with XP. Microsoft created a whole new look and feel for XP, with new rounded corners and visual effects.
Microsoft hopes to continue this tradition with Vista. Vista will change the way that Windows are displayed on our screens. In particular, Vista will incorporate smooth transitional effects when we change from one window to another. Despite the wow factor, this approach is extremely memory intensive. Worse yet, is what happens when Vista runs out of memory. The computer will start thrashing.
Let’s suppose Vista has enough memory to open five windows, and you open a sixth one. Since your memory is full, the computer will start thrashing. (Your system is thrashing if your hard drive light is illuminated for extended periods of time.) Windows will attempt to move things that it thinks it does not need out of memory in order to make room for the new window. If you have not experienced this problem, it is not pretty. Depending on the size of your windows, you could leave the room, take a shower, and it might still have not changed windows.
What’s Microsoft’s solution to this mess since so many systems might simultaneously start thrashing? Vista has a special feature that allows you to expand memory using a thumb drive – those little flash hard drives that plug into a USB port. I have a better solution. Don’t upgrade to Vista.
Do you have two monitors connected to your computer? Are you running at 1280 or higher resolution? Or do you like to have 50 windows open at the same time? These problems just get worse for you guys.
Certainly, there aren’t a lot of people that will upgrade to Vista just for eye candy. Not much I am afraid. Most of the really useful features like improved security and intuitive search have already been pulled. Unbelievable as it sounds, Microsoft plans to include a calendar in Vista. Now that’s worth upgrading to 1GB of memory!
I bought Microsoft stock in 1997 when I was still at Gateway at $10. I have ridden it up and I’ve ridden it down. I don’t like to sell my stocks, but in this case, I have to make an exception. Vista is a pig that doesn’t deliver the pork.