How Far Have We Come?

It was my first year teaching computer applications in a new district. After half a year of complaining, I received a new computer for my office. It had everything I could possibly need. With it, I could send and receive email and access the World Wide Web. I could create and edit word processing, spreadsheet, database, and presentation documents. I could print to network printers. I could import pictures from a digital camera or a scanner (which I received the next year). What more could I possibly need?

A Mac -- and I'm not even saying bad things about it!That was 1995. The computer was a Power Macintosh 5200/75. It had 8 MB of RAM, a 75 mhz processor, and a 500 MB hard drive. History hasn’t been kind to this particular machine, and some consider it to be the worst Macintosh ever produced. Still, despite its shortcomings, it still did just about everything I needed it to.

For the last year or two, we’ve been buying new computers with 1,000 MB of RAM, a 2,200 mhz processor, and an 80,000 MB hard drive. Given the improvements in processor technology, that’s 100 times the computing power of that 12-year-old computer. What are we doing with all of this power? Sending and receiving email. Accessing the web. Using word processors and spreadsheets and presentation programs. We’re doing the same things.

Sure. I know. I can’t use Netscape 4 to surf the Web anymore. And if somebody emails me a word processing document, the likelihood that I’ll be able to open it in Word 6 on a Mac is pretty low. I’m pretty sure I can’t connect my usb scanner or digital camera to a computer that only had serial and SCSI ports. And Skype probably won’t run on Mac System 7. The technologies have moved on. But the tasks haven’t.

As we face another round of hardware upgrades, I have to wonder why. Do we really need Flash 9? What does MS Office 2007 offer that we didn’t have in Office 2003 or XP or 2000 or 97? Is there anything that we really need to do that isn’t available in the old version? What does this week’s version of Adobe Reader have that the free and rarely-annoying Foxit can’t handle? Did Internet Explorer really fix more things than it broke? Why in the world would anyone run Vista if they didn’t have to?

The computers we’re going to replace next year were wonderful when we installed them. They were fast and reliable and people were really excited about them. Nearly six years later, what has happened? We upgraded operating systems, installed a lot of security patches, and kept anti-virus software up-to-date. We tried not to needlessly upgrade productivity suites or other software, but some of those upgrades were unavoidable. Now, they’re slow. But we haven’t really gained any more functionality from them.

Sometimes I think it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to get off the tech roller coaster for a while. I was in a school recently where every piece of technology — every computer, printer, monitor, scanner — everything was a model that we have already discarded in our district. I didn’t see anything in the school that was less than eight years old. What are they doing with it? Email, word processing, presentations, some Web work. Maybe they’re on the right track.

2 thoughts on “How Far Have We Come?

  1. John,
    You make alot of sense. When I heard we were getting new computers in the Dell Lab last year I was really excited. I had been working in the lab for 2 years at that point and while I considered the computers we had to be in good shape, it was still exciting to get the new equipment.

    Last year I heard the kids complain all year about how slow the computers were, how fast their computers were at home and on and on…. this year I hear the same complaints. I am not sure many of them appreciate or realize what is under the case of these computers. I hear when are we going to change to Vista, why don’t we use word 2007, why is this computer so slow !! .

    I had heard people talk about our mobile lab like it was a dinosaur… while working on one of the laptops the other day I realized that they had 1.0 processors, substantial harddrives and enough memory to run the applications they need. I have a laptop at home that is a 450 and a harddrive so small I have to constantly clean it up just to make sure I don’t crash the drive but it does what I need. When I mention the mobile lab at school people turn up their nose and look away as if they were as slow as my 450! Sure they require alot more maintenance, it takes awhile to boot up, but what are we doing with them? Word processing, web searches, power point…. sound familiar? I will admit after all this time they do need to be reimaged, but there is still life left in them, and I’d love to have one like them at home!

    One definate advantage for me is that the older computers needed more maintenance, they needed to be cleaned (they needed maintenance run more often, parts wore out and needed to be replaced) The new computers are under warranty..and they look really nice.

    At the beginning of the year, I moved my new computer to the cart and hooked up the projector to it so that the teachers would have access to the new equipment instead of having a different version of word, etc on the projector. Do I miss the new computer? Once in a while I do.. if someone is standing behind me waiting for an answer and I click and have to wait I am a little embarassed but other wise I am pretty happy with the old computer I am using now. It does what I need..word processing, email etc…

  2. Less is less in the world of software. Just looking at the hundreds of Web 2.0 ( sites leaves one to wonder how many ways one can accomplish any number of things. With software being so robust these days, the unfortunate part is that the hardware must also meet the demands of processing more data faster. So, if you are using a early version of software it will run faster per say on the sleekest, newest model out there (provided the OS will run it, and you can find that old software). Add the bells and whistles of an OS of Vista, or the GUI of Microsoft Office, or even the animation possibilities of Flash 9, then you need the bells and whistles of a larger, faster system. In the end, less is less in software because one cannot do more, or at least what they would like to do, without the powerful, faster processors of the current day.

    The computer is as only as good as the user. If the user can use full potential of “geeked” up processor, display, RAM, and video card then one should use it. Now comes the part in my own geeky, computer soul of what someone else can do with what I have created. Before I go there let me iterate one thing about all of this >>> The limiting factor is – money

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