Confessions of a Luddite
For a technical writer, people are often surprised to find me something of a Luddite. After the gee-whiz at the novelty of some new product, I invariably ask the question few seem to ever consider; what use is it? Or more specifically, what use is it to me?
I don't think Microsoft have ever gotten over their consternation when I asked that very question of Office 2000. At least they've never invited me to another product launch. (A profound relief, actually. Death by PowerPoint's bad enough without adding a bunch of hyperventilating marketroids into the equation.)
I posed the what-use-is-it? question in relation to that part of the office suite I use most often. It may come as a surprise but I use word processors to... um... process words. And that's it. I don't care about groupware, animated help tools or poncey interface changes. Yes, yes, very nice, but do they make the writing any easier, the spelling any spellier or the grammar any better good? The answer was "No". Does it enhance that most primary of interfaces, the one between my brain and the keyboard? No, again. Then what was the point, I asked, of spending hundreds of upgrade dollars to go precisely nowhere?
It's a question I still ask. And not just about office suites. (Especially not about office suites now that you can get everything you'll ever want for free!)
Don't get me wrong. I love novelty and new toys. I have a great time showing off XGL, the 3-D Linux interface that way out aero's Vista's Aero, and I think SuperKaramba's super-fun - and useful - but at the end of the day my real computing needs-list features neither.
That's why I still run an ancient P-III laptop. I'm not a road warrior; I use it rarely, and when I'm on the move I really only need it for three things; word processing, internet access and emails - applications that are largely processor-independent. (I've yet to find any computer that struggles to keep up with my typing speed, and a quad-CPU server tied to a dial-up line is still only going to suck down data at 56K.)
Yes, a top-of-the-line Thinkpad or Vaio would be nice, but when I factor the thousands they cost against the actual extra utility they offer over my ancient Dell - slightly faster start-up and... um... slightly faster shut-down... maybe - I find myself baulking at the waste.
There are even some advantages to older technology. I get no covetous glances when I open my laptop in an airport lounge, the odd bump or knock doesn't send my heart surging into overdrive, and I can wander off and grab a coffee without having to worry about chaining the thing up with a hundred miles of piano wire. And because its "old" I'm always careful to back-up important stuff.
We tend to forget that - the gaming sector aside - computers and software are simply tools, and that 99% of us only require a certain level of functionality. There are only a limited number of good hammer designs. Sure you could paint it in pretty colours, add a USB port and a fit an MP3 player in the handle, but what use is any of that to someone who only wants to pound nails?
Have a merry (and consumption-lite) Christmas!