20 Years of PCs, and What Do We Have to Show for It?

We appear to have made stunning gains in the world of desktop computing. Screamingly fast chips. Huge amounts of RAM and gigantic hard disks. And those big, gorgeous flat screens.

If you are playing games, watching (and storing) movies, or editing photos, all that horsepower is essential. And websites have gotten all kinds of busy graphics that virtually require one to have a fairly current machine or suffer from terminal boredom waiting for a site to load.

But what about all those workhorse tasks that people in offices spend most of their time on, like word processing and spreadsheeting? How much progress have we made there?

HubPages ran a side by side test of a 1986 Mac Plus versus a 2007 AMD Dual Core machine, each outfitted with era-appropriate RAM and software.

The antique Mac won 9 out of a total of 17 tests. The article concludes:

Is this to say that the Mac Plus is a better computer than the AMD? Of course not. The technological advancements of 21 years have placed modern PCs in a completely different league of varied capacities. But the “User Experience” has not changed much in two decades. Due to bloated code that has to incorporate hundreds of functions that average users don’t even know exist, let alone ever utilize, the software companies have weighed down our PCs to effectively neutralize their vast speed advantages. When we compare strictly common, everyday, basic user tasks between the Mac Plus and the AMD we find remarkable similarities in overall speed, thus it can be stated that for the majority of simple office uses, the massive advances in technology in the past two decades have brought zero advance in productivity.

I couldn’t agree more. My happiest computer experience was with my NeXT, 1991-2001 (yes, one machine lasted 10 1/2 years, but it was a Ferrari of its day) running WordPerfect and Improv (a spreadsheet that leaves Excel in the dust). Even the well regarded Mac OS X is a real step down.

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One comment

  1. Anonymous

    The article and your comments ring true. However, not all applications have bloated to eliminate the speed advance. I download on a daily basis data for all US traded stock options. The file is zipped and comprises one large file with 280,000 rows by 27 data points. This file is way too large to load into Excel and would require Microsoft Access to even see the data which would take almost one minute to even load on my machine. Instead, I retaught myself Microsoft Basic which can now, when running in a Windows Command box, access larger amounts of memory. I read the entire file, sort it by ticker symbols, collect the latest option data for each stock ticker, and load and update individual files for each of the 2500 stocks which have listed options. Entire time: 6 minutes. Microsoft Basic has not advanced much since 1980 but this program when running on a 1980 (or 1985) machine would have taken all day. It is astounding to me the number of data points that can be manipulated on present technology hardware – the present day software is indeed bloated and slow.

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