The History and Direction of the Computer - A Personal View

Jim Kuzma concludes his series on where computers have been, where they are, and where they may eventually be

By Jim Kuzma, Contributing Writer, KOOZ@CompuServe.COM


So now we are faced with operating systems so large that it takes a CD-ROM (or two or six) just to load them. Megs are now gigs, and you need 10 gigabytes of disk, 30 megabytes of ram, and a Pentium running at hundreds of megahertz just to be able to click on an icon and not fall asleep waiting for something to happen. Just a few days ago, an audible gasp was heard from a spectator as I typed a command from a DOS prompt. Speed and features are everything to me on a workstation, and why would I want to run a Windows version of a perfectly good CAD package? To make it slower? To force me to buy a bigger machine? Ah, there's the reason. Code bloat, lack of concern over speed of execution, and laziness has lead us to believe that the latest releases are better, and if they are too slow, just buy a faster machine. Both industries in hardware and software are in cahoots. One can't exist without the other, and they are in a symbiotic and mindless rush towards inefficiency.

Bugs are nevermore to be corrected, releases come faster than they can be installed, and closets are full of dust-collecting processors, which only years ago were eagerly bought as the latest and greatest available, and wasted more time than they saved while they were running. Who cares if a two thousand-dollar active matrix display doesn't last three years? By that time, the machine will be useless anyway. You won't even be able to type DIR. But the new ones will still have windows that jump behind the desktop and scroll bars that hop to the top of the file when the arrow leaves its border. Yeah, yeah, that's what I want!

One of these days, some enterprising and brilliant software company will boil all the fat off of the operating systems and release a compatible platform that will efficiently run programs in a graphics environment multitasked. But wait, isn't that what AmigaDOS did over a decade ago? No wonder that machine still has devotees. It's nice to work with. But the world is Windows now and you won't find many Amigas on desks, or laptops running AmigaDOS. It's a shame.

I'm being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the quagmire. I'm forced to contract software development for Windows that costs a fortune. I'm forced to run new hardware accessories in Windows because they aren't supported anywhere else. But I'm content to write this article in DOS in my favorite text editor that I use to write everything but e-mail. It will always be fast because it was fast on an XT. The macros I wrote over the decade still serve me well, and I don't have to unlearn them and "upgrade" to something different. I can still buy a used machine for a few hundred dollars that gets all of my work done, and it will all fit on the puny, uselessly small drive that no one else wants. Well, I've always been a hoarder, a repairer of old and solid appliances that continue to operate for twenty or thirty years after they were thrown away. Maybe I'm just an anachronism fated to be left behind in the dust while the rest of the world gallops full speed ahead. But, it sure looks like there's a cliff over there.

Maybe I'll have some satisfaction. I am, after all, a control systems designer. Maybe my obsessions with efficiency, longevity, reliability and ease of use will be the key differences that make our products stand out in a crowd. I can only hope that those qualities are still in demand in this throw-away world.