Lamentations of 2008

John C. Dvorak, from PC Magazine, talks in his article this week about the problems of the industry, the problems of the economy, and the nation, and the relation of all of them.

It is no secret now, that PC Magazine is no longer in print. Not only was the money not there, I would say that yet another problem was a lack of focus.

When I was beginning in computers, there were two magazines I bought religiously, Byte and PC Magazine. While Byte was much more technical, PC magazine was aimed at the intermediate computer user, with information at several levels, and took its readers, over time, from basic knowledge to advanced users, sometimes having more knowledge than the ‘professionals’ who served them at computer stores.

Computer magazines in general educated us all, through the coverage of the hardware, the software, and our interactions with the two. It did not matter if you were a reader of Byte, computer Shopper, PC Computing, Info World, or PC Magazine, you came out with more knowledge and understanding because someone took the time to research an article, give examples, and fully explain the material covered.

This 5 minute blog entry doesn’t do this today.

When some of these magazines began to go away, the remaining ones decided that their way to further life was to branch out, and cover things not computer related. Now some will say that almost anything can be computer related, including those six-packs of Jolt cola that you drink during late night computing sessions, but that type of relation has diluted the coverage and the quality of the message today.

When I started taking computer courses in college, I already knew most of what was taught in the Intro to Computing class, and was also very capable of doing BASIC programming in that class, because of what I had learned in BYTE and PC Magazine. When I started learning assembly language, I already knew quite a bit about pushing, popping, moving, and jumping, because of all the small utilities made available in PC Magazine.

This doesn’t happen anymore. The average user today thinks that the computer is simply an appliance, and cares little about the inner workings of the machine. It may as well be just like the ‘black box’ of object oriented programming; no one cares what’s inside, as long as the right stuff comes out when the right stuff goes in.

This type of attitude transferred to the companies who make the parts that make the computers. This did not just happen in 2008. 2008 was the year where much of the small snowball of indifference, rolling down the hill of time, came smashing to a halt.

Companies that produced quality parts, that were used in quality computers, are going out of business almost daily. While we look around and marvel how cheap computers are today, are we silly enough to believe that all of this comes about due to the economy of efficiency? One look at the quality of a computer keyboard of today versus an original IBM keyboard (probably still in use today) attests to the changes of the last few years.

When the magazines started going away, the products advertised in them lost revenue, and yet were expected to continue getting less expensive, so quality suffered.

Some will say that things cannot last, because so much is different today, so building to quality is not cost effective. again, I cite the IBM keyboards. The keyboard chips (which used to be known as an ‘8042’, something learned from PC Magazine) were fast enough that they can be used on the fastest machines today. This is not so of some of the newer, but cheaper, units built in the last few years. When much faster machines came along, the boot time was cut so short that the BIOS was through trying to query the keyboard, before the keyboard was ready to initialize, so the machine would show a faulty keyboard message upon a cold boot. Another clue to this quality is the mouse. When I bought my first mouse, it was the Microsoft original ‘dove bar’. It still works, and I still have it. If I wanted to use a mouse with no wheel, and clean the ball to remove fuzz every month or so I could. Mice these days last months, if lucky, not years like some of those early products. This stuff was propped up by advertising in the magazines where their operation was fully explained. This led to many people being well informed about what they were getting when they went to the computer store to get a mouse.

Who goes to a computer store to buy a mouse anymore? Many go to pick up something off-brand and cheap at Walmart, while the ones who want something better get it from Newegg. Although neither of these examples of things still usable were built in the U.S., many things in fact were built here years ago.

These American made items, used by Americans, and advertised in American magazines, made Americans happy because they were the best that could be had.

The good old days really were.

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