Dreaming of a Perfect Computer

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, December 26, 2016

On some days I hate computers!!! When I feel that way I daydream about my perfect machine. Right now that would be a Surface Studio, Microsoft’s contender to give Apple’s best iMac a good thumping. Yet, if I owned a Surface Studio and it was giving me the same problems my current machine is pestering me with, I’d hate it too. Microsoft is innovating like crazy, but it’s not going in the direction I want.

What’s annoying me at the moment is my Outlook for Office 2016 quit communicating with my Office.com and Office365 accounts. I have to use the web version of Outlook365, but I was able to configure Thunderbird to handle my Office.com mail. Because Outlook, Thunderbird, and Postbox will not configure with Office365, I’m wondering if my university’s setup with Microsoft changed. I’ve contacted the Helpdesk and they say no. I follow the configuration Office365 gives to use IMAP, but it doesn’t work. I’m wondering if the powers that be behind the scenes are pushing universal web access. I essentially pay $69 a year for Outlook. I do use Word, but not that often. I hardly every use the other programs. I love Outlook. Living without it is damn annoying.

When your favorite program breaks – do you blame it or the computer?

I’ve been a computer guy since 1971 when I took my first FORTRAN class, programming on a IBM 1620. I’ve always loved computers – but on some days I hate them. Today is one of those days. So was yesterday. Okay, maybe it’s been a bad week. I hate computing without Outlook. I think things went south when Microsoft’s updated my copy of Windows Pro Insider Preview. I can’t find out if Build 14986.rs_prerelease.161202-1928 is the culprit, or something else. Sure, I’m working with what’s essentially a continuous beta, but 98% of the time I notice no problems. I’ve had some bad releases before. Things will suck until a new version is pushed out. I can’t blame Microsoft because I chose this option. I wouldn’t do it again though, not on a machine I use daily.


I should just buy the commercial edition, but I’m afraid I’ll spend $99-119 and still have problems. Microsoft continuously updates production Windows 10 too. And I’m not sure the problem is Windows. I subscribe to Office365, and it updates in the background too. And it might not even be an update. I have no way of knowing.

For decades I worked as a programmer and computer tech. I was the guy staff called at my college when they needed help. Now that I’m retired, I’ve gone three years without keeping up with current problems. I’m the guy to call when I have problems, but I wish I had someone else. I feel sorry for people who have computer problems, don’t know shit about them, and with no one to call. They must really hate computers much more often than I do.

Microsoft and Apple are in an eternal battle to sell us tech that wows us, but I haven’t been wowed in years. Computers have been more than good enough for a very long time. I never even bother to learn the new features of the new version of an operating systems. The innovation I want is different.

I want a computer that doesn’t update. I want a computer that always runs as fast as when I first bought it. I want Windows and Office to run off ROM (read-only memory) chips and not constantly change files on a disk drive, so viruses/malware can’t alter their code. I know this would mean giving up adding new features, but Windows has been around a long time – do we still need new features? I remember back in the 1950s and 1960s when TVs lasted decades without updates. Sure, you might replace a vacuum tube now and then, but their operation was simply and reliable. You turned on your TV. That was it. It worked. It didn’t need a manual. It didn’t need no stinking updates. It didn’t even need a virus checker.

I have an Intel NUC with a SSD drive and 16GB of memory. It boots up fast. But the OS is part of the file system, and can be corrupted. What if operation systems were etched into ROM chips? After almost 40 years of personal computer development, can’t they make one that doesn’t need constant updates? Wouldn’t it be great to have computers with a ROM socket with a replaceable chip that contained Windows and Office? A new version Windows and Office could be bought every few years with a new chip. Or wouldn’t it be great to buy an All-In-One computer that would run perfectly for ten years without any maintenance, updates, patches, down time, infection, malware, or repairs? That’s the kind of tech innovation I want.

Aren’t we smart enough to engineer a computer that never breaks or gets infected? They no longer need moving parts. My dream computer would come with 12 empty ROM sockets for the software I used the most, and that I wanted to be absolutely dependable. It would have at least a quad processor, with CPU 0 dedicated to the operating system. It would use a SSD drive for data that mirrors with two cloud services like Dropbox and OneDrive. And I want that data encrypted with multiple biometric verifications. Any software installed via downloading would be put in a sandbox part of the system with extremely tight controls. Each program would get it’s own folder, and not be allowed to interact with other programming folders. That way if some company wants to distribute crapware, they’d have to live with it.

Is a computer that always works too much to expect? Is a computer that’s always dependable and never slows down with age an unbelievable fantasy? Why do we have malware, viruses and identity theft? Wouldn’t it be great to have a computer and software that lasted years so we had time to learn to use it properly before the new and improved version is forced on us?

Aren’t there people who want to become billionaires willing to invent a dependable computer? Do we need to phase out TCP/IP and come up with a new protocol, and start the internet over?

If cars or HVAC systems had the reliability of computers, wouldn’t we start a revolution. Oh wait, newer cars and HVAC systems do have computers. My super-efficient HVAC has had its circuit board replaced three times. I love my old Toyota Tundra. It’s seventeen years old, but it’s simplicity and reliability is a virtue.

Okay, that’s enough daydreaming for one day.


2 thoughts on “Dreaming of a Perfect Computer”

  1. Oh, my brother…
    I hear you. And I’m not even one of those people who knew how to code. I grew up on Atari cartridge units, based on gaming (hah!, like that truly existed then). I weaned myself onto the early Windows (3.0, 3.1, etc) because I thought the cartridge gaming was a joke. Zork was my final effort in the Windows digital world. (Bar-bar-bar!)

    And I’ve been a Windows guy right up until this year. I’ve also lived in the Mac World, mainly through work necessities. It’s pretty much English vs French when it comes to trying to understand the world that the data lives in when dancing from one side to the other.

    When it comes to the actual tools to be used for real work on the PC/Dingleberry I’ve found that there isn’t very much difference. Unless of course you need Outlook or other Winders proprietary tools. And that is where we are hoist by our own petards. We don’t own our data, we don’t own our information, we are not going to be allowed to keep that data for ourselves anymore. We only get to choose who will manhandle that data for their own use and profit.

    As far as what kind of data management tool you use, that’s a choice you make – even if it doesn’t work. Then you try another to see if it is better. In the meantime, your digital life is scoured, flensed, and processed for somebody else’s profit. There really isn’t any other choice*. Although true copyright protection could help, that doesn’t seem to be available through our government.

    The major tools (and I use that term advisedly) will never let you do what you want to do unless they expressly state they will do that (whatever it is that you want). So my friend, you need to learn and decide what it is that you legally and world-wide want your data to do, be, and go to.

    In other words, fire away at any and all circumstances that you wish. I’ll gladly join you in peppering them with adverse wit and attitude. But if you expect them (aka Win/Apple/etc) to worry about your concerns and issues then I have only one further comment.

    Boingggggg! Bar-bar-bar….

    *I speak with only a smidgeon of knowledge regarding the various Linux ports; I’m considering diving in to Linux Mint for the very reason I posted the semi-rant above.

    1. I keep an Ubuntu machine running as backup. What’s always kept me stuck to Windows is Microsoft Office, especially Outlook. If I’m force to give up Outlook I might switch to Linux. I’ve been messing around with Linux since the early 1990s, but have never used it as my main OS. At work I even programmed several years on a Mac. But after Windows 95 came out, I’ve been a Windows guy. I almost gave up on Windows when Windows 8 came out, and started using my Linux box more while hoping my Windows 7 system wouldn’t die. But the Windows 10 Technical Preview converted me back.

      I was thinking of Linux again, but I want to get into digital music, and all the best DAWs and synths are primary windows. I’m looking at Ardour because it runs on Linux.

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