Personal Computing Today: Too Many Headaches?

I had to think twice about writing this post! On the one hand, I am a long-retired electrical design engineer – from the computer industry – responsible for at least a tiny sliver of today’s technology. I remain a dedicated user of the latest technology. My two self-published books were written (and “designed”) by me using today’s tools; the same is true of the blog you are reading. Thank goodness for the technology tools which enable such personal endeavors!

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On the other hand, Linda and I are both finding ourselves quite enveloped by those same technology tools. She uses her Apple MacBook Pro laptop heavily in support of volunteer duties as a board member of our local Sunnyvale Historical Society. I recently bought a MacBook Air laptop computer as “backup” to my main desktop iMac. I run Microsoft Windows 7 on both of my Macs using Apple’s “bootcamp” feature which allows booting up either in Mac’s OS X operating system, or Windows. Most engineers of my era grew up with Windows since it alone offered early engineering software applications via third-party programmers.

Yesterday, Linda and I spent over two hours with a resident genius at the “Genius Bar” of Apple’s flagship store in Palo Alto, CA, reloading OS X on my new laptop.

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Earlier, while installing Apple’s bootcamp software and Windows 7 on the machine, I had worked through the entire process only to find that Windows would not accept my just-created password for log-in; yes, I know all about the potential CAPS pitfall, etc. In attempting to uninstall Windows and restore the original Mac operating system partition from my backup drive image, the process stalled, and I was left with an “erased” operating system and no good options for recovery. Our Apple genius knew just what to do, but it did take even him (and me) over two hours to recover my system and successfully install Windows 7 (at the store, this time!).

Despite my former professional resume stating “electrical engineer” and not “computer scientist/engineer,” I nonetheless managed to absorb a lot of computer science during my thirty-seven years designing those rotating magnetic computer memories known as disk drives. For a very long time, every personal computer contained a disk drive, and business was great! Today, disk drives are being replaced by semiconductor memory chips – as in the MacBook Air computer – but I diverge a bit.

The main point I would like to make?

Computer software has reached a critical point for consumers due to the complexity of the functions it increasingly offers with each new upgrade : It is becoming too time/energy intensive even for (some of) us retired engineers.

For those who get their jollies regularly perusing operating manuals for Windows, OS X, and their companion software applications – there is no problem. For the rest of us retired techies and the public at large, the complexities of today’s systems have become barely manageable.

The Apple Stores around here are always very busy – with potential customers, yes, but even more so with recent purchasers who have run amuck as I did, or those mired in a thousand questions of “how to do this” and “why this doesn’t work for me.” To Apple’s great credit, the “one-on-one” appointments they offer and the last-resort  “Genius Bar” make life bearable for many. Linda is ready for another one-on-one session with an expert at the store to help her understand why certain things don’t work the way they once did now that we upgraded her Mac operating system from “Snow Leopard” to “Yosemite.” The Apple Store with its ground-breaking customer service features was a stroke of genius….and a necessary one, at that, in order to keep folks happy behind the screen and keyboard…and to maintain sales!

Two recent events prompted me to finally express my frustration at the trending of computer technology. First, our son-in-law, with a degree in computer science and a considerable programming background, recently offered that the industry would be well-advised to market a more bare-bones operating system and applications package that would be easier for the general public to use. Second, an Amazon customer review on the “Missing Manual” for OS X which I purchased commented on the growing “thickness” of the book with each new system “upgrade.” While praising the manual, he decried the industry momentum which seems to require ever-more complex features in order to “sell.” I agree with my son-in-law: Offer a basic system which is almost bug-free and which offers only the basics that most folks will need. Bigger is no longer necessarily better! I use Microsoft Word for writing my books and my blog, but, actually, I use only a tiny fraction of Word’s myriad features, many of which serve only to confuse and obfuscate!

A parting thought: I always purchase third-party print manuals for software that I use. I am not a fan of screen-based help menus when dealing with a system problem: Too hard on the eyes, and too messy to go back and forth between multiple screens – an actual manual and a few bookmarks work for me!

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A final parting comment: As I watched my new MacBook Air gobble-up data streams during the aforementioned activities, I thought back upon my experiences with my first computer – the Apple II – back in 1979. I still have it! OMG, what hath Apple Computer and Microsoft wrought over those thirty-six years? As an engineer who fully appreciates the technology represented, I am overwhelmed by the tremendous progress. As a senior citizen whose memory can no longer store and unfailingly retrieve and process all of the clicks and keystrokes required to take full advantage, I am also occasionally overwhelmed – but not in a pleasant way. I really do miss my morning reading hour each day now that computers and the complexities of life absorb so much of my time. Technology is always a two-edged sword which cuts both ways – for better or for worse, depending on how we utilize it.

There must be others of you out there who feel the same way?

2 thoughts on “Personal Computing Today: Too Many Headaches?

  1. As the mentioned son-in-law I should point out that the bare-bones OS was not my idea. It actually exists as Google’s Chrome OS. Over the last few years I have definitely felt that traditional operating systems have begun to feel burdensome (all of the updates, incompatibilities, installations, bugs, etc.). It just seems like way too much time is spent on keeping the ship afloat. As the traditional OS sinks under its own weight, many web based solutions are appearing to compete against their OS-bound counterparts. The more I use them the more I realize that they allow me to do everything I need 95% of the time, and they don’t require installation, updates, or even local storage. The hardware is also cheaper and far easier to swap out (no transfer of data or programs). I’m not saying we’re 100% there yet, but I like where things seem to be heading.

    • Thanks for the additional input, Scott. The idea of going off in a new computer-direction is initially daunting (bound to be another learning curve), but the alternative of keeping-on keeping-on with the present burdensome schemes is even more daunting. Seems like about the right time to bite the bullet?

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