Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What I do? Meme Hardware and Operating Systems

 I once calculated that I had spent more money on computers during my lifetime than anything else, including houses and cars. I say that because of the financial commitment that is involved in keeping both hardware and software updated from time to time. It is unrealistic (and wasteful) to upgrade too frequently, but technology is one of the many rapidly changing aspects of our current society and changes in computer hardware and software happen regularly and unrelentingly. The history of one company's microprocessors, Intel, are on an Intel Quick Reference Guide. Beginning in about 1988, Intel introduced one or more new processors every year! The processor used in my previous PC Desktop was released in 2002, the Pentium 4. Not every incremental new release of a processor makes any noticeable difference in the user experience, but over time, the difference in today's computers compared to those two or three years old is remarkable.

Now, as an aside, if you are primarily working on Personal Ancestral File (PAF) and using a little word processing and perhaps some E-mail, a ten year old computer might work just fine for you. But if you are integrated into the Internet i.e. Facebook, Video Conferencing, etc. you might just find that updating your hardware will make a tremendous difference in your productivity and your online experience.

Back to the hardware issue. For me, the benchmark program is Adobe Photoshop. Since we operate a graphics design business, (in addition to other businesses), there is constant pressure to have the work flow proceed faster and more efficiently. In genealogy, I have a similar issue, with a huge number of digitized files, any of the older systems are unacceptably slow. I have always used Apple Macintosh computers for that reason, speed with graphics. I know that there are PC systems out there that can claim to be faster than some of the Macintosh computers but the current 2.66 GHz Intel Core i5 iMac is the fastest computer I have ever worked with and the 27 inch monitor is spectacular.

Right now, I work on a number of computers, I have PCs running Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7. All my Macs run Snow Leopard, Mac OS X 10.

I recognize that Windows XP was considered a "good" version of Microsoft's operating system and that Vista has some problems. There were a lot of users who rejected an upgrade to Vista from XP and a lot of those users are still running XP on their systems. Windows 7 has generated very little controversy and seems to be a workable upgrade. However, there is one big drawback, most of the existing software running under XP has to be reloaded after an upgrade to Windows 7, requiring those who upgrade to dig out all their old registration numbers. As is usual with a major operating system upgrade, many existing programs, without a contemporaneous  upgrade from the software company, will not work with Windows 7.

Apple has the same issues with various versions of its operating system. The latest system, Snow Leopard, is also generating very little controversy. But, at the same time Apple has discontinued support for its older PowerPC computers. The older computers will not run Snow Leopard.

Everytime there is a software upgrade, there is a trade off. You can only fit so many of the puzzle pieces together and some software gets lost in the upgrade and new software comes along to replace it. It is a given fact of life of the computer world that users will be agravated by having to pay for software and hardware upgrades. The same people that will go out and buy new clothes to stay in fashion, or a new car to replace an older failing one, will grouse about having to upgrade their computer hardware and software. On the other hand, computers and the software to run them are expensive and to a genealogist on a budget, any upgrade must be carefully considered.

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