The Disposable PC.
I was just having a conversation with a colleague when we had gotten to the topic of the disposable PC. If you are not familiar with the concept, this post will highlight the details below. When I first dabbled with computers back in the late 80′s, it was an Apple. We didn’t own it. It was available at the local school in the school’s computer lab of no more than 25-30 computers. They were running the Apple IIe and even though they were outdated at the time, they didn’t have the finances to upgrade the systems. By the time the 90′s hit I was already well acquainted with Macintosh line of PCs but again our family didn’t own any. All computers were just too expensive. At around 1995 (maybe a little earlier) our family dropped nearly $2,000 (USD) into a Packard Bell (rated as one of the worst PCs of all time). I am going off of memory but it ran no more than 70 MHz (Intel Pentium) and had no more than 8 or 16 MBytes of EDO RAM. I don’t remember the hard drive space, although I believe it was 2 GBytes supplied from one of the old school big foot drives. The PC came with Windows 3.11 but was soon later upgraded to Windows 95.
Note that I still use those big foot drives. I actually have a few scattered around the house and are used as door stops. It is all about recycling old computer equipment.
So there you have it, that is what almost $2000 bought you. So when you had a problem with your PC, you spent the money to fix. That is you bought all the necessary software or paid the appropriate technicians to handle all of the work. The PC was an investment and you were not going to drop it for anything else.
Flash forward to the year 2001, when Windows XP was released. A decent computer could be purchased as low as $700 USD. That included a licensed copy of Windows XP. Flash forward to the present when mobility is a constant demand, and a decent notebook or even netbook could be purchased at $500 USD. Obviously thanks to manufacturers such as Intel, AMD among others, the prices for hardware components have dropped significantly. It is very affordable to acquire the necessary equipment and has gotten easier to set it up in a home or anywhere else.
When I write about the disposable PC, blame for the creation and maintaining of such a culture does not belong to a single entity. It has gotten to the point where hardware has become so cheap that whenever someone who lacks any real technical knowledge comes across a computing problem (whether it be hardware or software related) has no problem running out and purchasing a new replacement. Microsoft and retail stores add to this culture.
For instance, what happens when you (a non-technical person) are prompted with a bunch of error dialog boxes, a virus or a system crash? If you do not personally know anybody who can fix it, you will take it in to a retail store that offers PC repair services, such as Best Buy. The only reason why I pick on Best Buy is not because I harbor any negative feelings toward them (they are a business selling services and products) but instead because in the late 90′s to around 2001/2 I used to work for them and was familiar with the processes and routines when it came to PC repair.
Note that prices may have changed since then.
To diagnose a PC, it was $60. We would not have repaired the PC, even if the problem was apparent unless this diagnostics fee was paid in full. This $60 was never applied toward any other repairs either. So if we came back saying that your hard drive went bad and you need to replace it and reinstall the OS, you looked at spending another $120 for a hard drive, $60 to re image Windows followed by another $20 or more to install all Windows Updates and/or any other applications or device drivers. Add another $60 if we were able to salvage data from your old hard drive and transfer it to the new one. At times you were looking to spend over $320 for repairing a PC. This could have been more than half the price of buying a new PC. So why invest into something that is already outdated? And if the service prices have increased since then, then what is the point when you can spend $400 or less and get a netbook with a Linux distribution or Windows 7 pre-installed?
Some of you may be asking: how does Microsoft fit into this? Deep down, I believe that more than half of the problems in Windows are intentional primarily because Microsoft (and good for them) is a money making machine. In order for them to make money, the people that sell and repair their products have to make money. I am pretty sure that if Microsoft wanted to invest the time and money to create the most secure and stable operating system, they could. They don’t have idiots working for them. I think it is that “if you scratch my back, I will scratch yours mentality.” It also doesn’t help that whenever a call is placed to a support center or when a PC is brought into a repair shop, the solution usually given by the technician is to re-image Windows. If I have a virus, why can’t you just remove the virus and I will be on my way?
I, as many of my readers, on the other hand know better and choose to rely on something a lot more stable and secure with (insert flavor of Linux or UNIX here). Why be bothered with constantly having to maintain or repair your OS. Sometimes you just need things to work. Maybe that is why you read stories about how repair shops such as Best Buy’s will refuse the repair of a computing device if you are not running a version of Windows. They probably don’t see any money it.