Saturday, October 24, 2009

Genealogist's dilemma -- new hardware or new software

If you are running Windows 95 on a ten year old (or older) PC storing your genealogy files in Personal Ancestral File Version 4.0, you probably aren't reading this post and likely don't know or care about the latest in software and hardware releases. But if you are like me and have a scanning project where you have tens of thousands of files, including video, audio, and photos, you may be interested in looking for a new computer. One of the issues driving new acquisitions is the overwhelming prevalence of graphic files, not just from digital cameras and scanners, but from browsers like Google. For example, try loading Google Maps Streetview on an older computer with a dial up Internet connection. What a dilemma!

Right out of the chute, I have to advise you that I am a dyed in the wool Apple person. I used to be an Apple retail dealer and have owned almost every level of Apple computer since about 1980 when I bought my first Apple II. That said, I do almost all my work presently on various PCs, primarily because of the compatibility issue with genealogy software.

Now the world turns and I don't really have to rely on PCs anymore. Both Macintosh computers and PCs use similar types of Intel chips and theoretically could run the same software. As a matter of fact, Macs can now run almost every PC program either in emulation through Parallels Desktop, or by setting up a partition on the computer and actually running a Microsoft Operating System. Since we can now do both of those, I am now ready to dump my PCs once again and go back to being a Mac only user.

To make the issue of what computer platform to use even more interesting, Apple just came out with new iMacs. Both Apple and Microsoft have just recently introduced new operating systems. Apple's Snow Leopard is incredible. Microsoft has just very recently introduced a new version of Windows, Windows 7. With all such products, only time will tell as to actually how good or desirable they are (I am still running Windows XP because of Windows Vista issues).

So how do you know when to upgrade your computer system or software? The answer is pretty easy if you are young and rich and more of a challenge if you are old and poor. We face some of the same issues with TVs and the change to digital broadcasting, cars and the issue of fuel economy, and many other products in daily use. Unfortunately, computers hit us where we work. The more time spent on a computer doing genealogy, the more likely you are to be aware that your work could be done faster or easier with new programs and/or hardware. Sometimes the software issues drive the hardware purchase. Many newer software programs are not backwardly compatible with older operating systems. Sometimes we are simply driven by the need to keep up with our children and/or friends.

My analysis includes a vital commodity; time. I spend a huge amount of time in front of computers every single day, probably from eight to ten hours and sometimes more. Much of my time is spent waiting. Waiting for programs to load, waiting for images to render, waiting for Google to load. To me time is money. If I can trade dollars for more speed, then I save time and that means money. It also helps that I have billed my work by the hour all my life. If you have a lot of time and no money, you can probably stay with older technology for a while. If you actually want to produce something in your lifetime, you may want to take some of your precious time and upgrade both your hardware and your software.

I don't think I am done with this topic, but that is all for the moment.

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