Newer Isn't Always Better

My odd hobby of collecting old LaserDiscs aside, the longer I’ve been around, the more I find that some “newer” things aren’t always better than what they replaced.
I once had a software dev job where I sat across the cubicle aisle from a man who had clearly been trapped in time. He looked and acted like a developer from the early 90s. He had long hair in a pony tail, wore a trench coat, had giant glasses, with yellow tinted transition lenses, and stubbornly refused to learn any programming language newer than C++. His fingers were stained nicotine yellow (presumably he started smoking when it was a cool thing to do), and he had a stack of binders on his desk that looked like they hadn’t moved in 15 years.
I swear I’m not that guy (not yet, at least) but I’m starting to become convinced that trends in computing these days are a drastic dumbing down of what I grew up with. The sweet spot seems to have been around 2006-2008…
Windows 7 was Microsoft’s best OS ever. It got them past the embarrassment of Windows Vista with the first version of Windows that had lower requirements than its predecessor. It offered backward compatibility for most apps through the DOS days, including an XP mode, and a forward thinking, ‘net first platform for the future. It was performant and attractive and relatively bullet proof.
Then came Windows 8. Compatibility got shot, the UI paradigm is schizophrenic at best, and the painful march toward killing off the Desktop means a PC is becoming as dumb as a tablet. Admit it, Windows 8 users: if you actually want to get anything done, you have to flip over to the Desktop “mode” (and ya, its a mode).
Similarly, Mac OS jumped the shark somewhere around Snow Leopard. They killed off Classic — which cost them basically nothing to include, but to add insult to injury, they put a bullet in the head of Rosetta, cutting off both previous generations of Mac software, as if to pretend the PowerPC era didn’t happen (apparently, also pretending their loyal customers for those painful years didn’t matter either). Two libraries of software suddenly unavailable, replaced with crappy “features” like Launch Pad (now your $3000 Mac can work like a $500 iPad!) Invested $4000 in Final Cut Pro Studio? Guess you shouldn’t have upgraded to our newest OS, cause that just doesn’t work any more. Don’t even get me started on the Dock connector to Lightning connector fiasco.
I wonder if this happens with all technology. Maybe it all starts out just a little bit unfriendly, and for awhile, only those smart enough to figure out how to work it can use it. But then the masses demand it, so we dumb it down a little, and then a little more, until you can buy a device with more computing power than anyone could have imagined 10 years prior, but you’ll use exactly 10% of it, because you don’t really know how it works — you aren’t intended to know. You’re just supposed to use it for a year, then throw it out and buy something new. And the ability to get under the hood, add a plug-in, script the start-up routine or run an app you bought two years ago is gone… but that’s OK, because its “easy to use”.
Keyboards are more prolific now than ever. They’re on your phone, your tablet, your Xbox… but watch teens use one on their laptop: they’re hunt and pick typists. Two fingers, staring at the keyboard while they type. They may be fast with their thumbs, but an actual keyboard, where you sit down and write a letter, or a poem, or some code… the skill set is gone. We turned computers into appliances, and created for ourselves a two-class system for technology. Those who buy their iDevices, but willingly remain ignorant and probably always a little afraid of them, and those who actually create them.
Maybe those latter folks will become the mechanics of the next generation. The often shifty, blue collar worker who tinkers with your gear for outrageous prices, and with a surly attitude. Or maybe they’re the poets and philosophers of a digital era, whose art won’t fully be appreciated for many years to come.
All I know is that my kids are going to play Mario Teaches Typing, and learn a programming language before they’re done 2nd grade…

One thought on “Newer Isn't Always Better

  1. I had a Dell Vostro that I kept too long (and eventually found a way to repair after every tech ‘expert’ I went to had written it off) basically because it worked so well. It had Home Vista, which although perhaps widely frowned upon, I didn’t mind. It never crashed, was easy to get around and made logical sense to a linear thinker like myself.
    When the new Windows 7 came out I read all I could about it and got prepared to upgrade. But the Vostro wouldn’t die! It kept chugging along like it might never die. Bits and pieces went. The antenna died so it had to be hardwired to the house, then the battery went and the device that charged the battery died too. I should have let it go, but I’m a stingy SOB and waited until the absolute end.
    As a result, I could no longer find anything that was running Windows 7. Everything I looked at ran Windows 8, which Mom had on her Surface. I looked at it and even tried to make my way around it, but it seemed like it had been designed by six year olds. It is like someone had walked into a library and said, “I bet it would be so much easier to find a book if we could see the cover,” and then taken all the books off the shelf and spread them out all over the floor. Impossible!
    But shopping for Windows 7 was surreal. It was like these clones had taken over every single device, and the glorious chaotic and creative confusion of your typical Asian IT center was suddenly all selling the same thing. Spooky!
    I finally found an ASUS dealer who had a nice little Notebook with DOS installed and noting else and he agreed to install Windows 7 on top. Perfect. Now I’ve got this great little computer – very slick and light – with an operating system that actually makes reasonable sense.But it wasn’t easy! I am hoping that by the time this one dies, the good folks at Microsoft will have come to their senses.

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