Thursday, September 07, 2006

Mr. Answer Man Answers Questions About Computing History

“>>techies hate Microsoft for how it has set back the technology industry.
Can someone explain to me how did they do it?
What was there before Microsoft for the masses?”

The linked blog entry though is about Sony vs Microsoft, which I think in the grand scheme of things is being rendered moot...

I answer this question so often I should save a template of some sort.

It wasn’t exclusively Microsoft, but the PC in general. Whether things would have evolved so badly had Microsoft not been in the picture is open for speculation, but as Microsoft plays such an important role in the average user’s PC experience, they have to take the bulk of the blame as it stands.

The PC allowed many people who would never have been allowed inside the air-conditioned/raised floor computer room the chance to hit the on/off switch of a computer for the first time. I’ve met many people who consider this an important milestone in their life, and maybe that has something to do with the fact that “booting” is such a popular pastime for PC users. (On the old mainframe systems I had to schedule special time to re-boot the computer to show new employees what was involved, because it was something that almost never happened otherwise.)

Over the years I’ve watched these folks, newly empowered with their own private on/off switch demonstrate repeatedly why they were never allowed near the computer room. They still blame everything that goes wrong (including such things as forgetting to do backups) on “the computer”, and they marvel at such “new” concepts as RAID drives, uninterruptable power supplies, vector processing, virtual machines and “managed code” that were invented in the 60s or 70s.

As the computer industry recovers from that set-back (which is quite real) the resultant systems are going to look a whole lot like where mainframes were headed anyway. Most people will not be aware of this, nor will they be aware that we could have probably gotten here a lot faster by standing on the shoulders of giants rather than re-inventing the wheel (sometimes mixed metaphors make sense).

How do more and more people connect to the Internet? Through a specialized box that keeps out all the bad stuff. In my case that box also connects to a hard drive that manages shared storage, it communicates with my streaming devices on several radios throughout the house, it does it’s own scheduled back-up, and none of this involves any technology from Intel or Microsoft. Imagine that! Most of what I do with computers these days involves data stored somewhere in “the cloud” of the Internet and I only need to worry about making local copies when I travel where there will be no Internet access (an increasingly rare situation).

As I mentioned in a post above, much of what was wrought when IBM allowed other companies to control the destiny of the PC has now been rendered itself obsolete by yet “newer” technologies that look, once again like carefully controlled centralized systems. Even compare with strong points of new Xbox and PS3 systems being server based and you see that the PC/Game console are looking more and more like the vision of smart terminals that (again) isn’t really a new idea at all.

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