Low Maintenance Joe and Long Term Computing

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I’ve gotten many responses on how to tell someone his computer isn’t very good. Many of them of very clever and funny, and we’ll put them up in a couple days.

There was a fairly common theme expressed in them, though, which I take a bit of exception to, and I think it might help some to at least hear me out on this.

What a lot of people said was, “Big deal, even a POS can run the Internet and handle Word fine.”

This is true (and in this particular case, that’s all that is needed).

However, we don’t live in an eternal now. Computers not only occupy space, they occupy time.

The Low-Maintenance Joe

Most actual computer users are low-maintenance Joes. This is especially true if there are no kids in the family. Frankly, current computer systems are overkill.

Does that mean you should just shop based on price for such a person? No, that’s actually foolish.

Most importantly, the bargain basement systems will tend to have shoddy parts, and one huge headache will wipe out any cost savings.

Something often not considered, though, is the useful life of a bargain basement as opposed to what I’ll call a “frugal” system.

In short, how long will it be before Joe concludes, “My system sucks” and wants another one?

In all likelihood, provided the POS keeps working, even a POS will probably be quite suitable for three years or so.

I would argue that for low-maintenance Joes, we really ought to be thinking about effective lives that are a lot longer than that.

For instance, if instead of a low-end PIV with SDRAM and a 400MHz FSB only motherboard, the person had gone with PIV with DDR and a 533MHz motherboard, the second computer will probably have a much longer useful life simply because you can always replace a 1.8GHz CPU with a 3.06GHz (or maybe Celeron equivalent) down the road which will certainly keep Joe happy another two, maybe three years.

Of course, it would be foolish to pay an arm and a leg to pay for that additional flexibility, but if the difference in the price tag is only a couple hundred dollars, it makes sense, especially when you consider the kind of person Joe is.

Some will argue that buying cheap frequently may make at least as much economic sense, but what that doesn’t take into account is Joe’s attitude about buying new computers. He doesn’t like to. He cringes at the thought of shifting over: a new computer isn’t a thrill, it’s a trauma.

The Terminal System

For low-maintenance Joe, we’ve reached the point where we almost have to think the next computer will be the last one. That’s not literally so, but unlike a few years so, you can’t automatically assume that you’ll have to replace in a few years.

My ideal terminal system for a low-maintenance Joe with an old system should become available in about six months. It will be the lowest-speed HT PIV coupled with a Springfield motherboard; a SATA hard drive.

I figure that will be good for a Prescott upgrade way down the road, and after that, the damn thing can rot. I can’t see any technologies in the next three-to-five years that somebody like him is going to have to have for what he does. Let it break before he replaces it (and I would bet the replacement is more likely to fit in his pocket than not).

Don’t Be Geeky About This

Please don’t write me and say something like, “AAAAAAHHHH!!!!! Everyone will have to have 64-bit processors [or whatever technobsession you have] shortly or they will surely die!!!

No, sir. You may die if you don’t have the latest whiz-bang thing, but Joe certainly won’t, and don’t assume he’ll be BSed into getting one too easily.

I get an amazing number of emails from people who apparently can’t conceive that the average cop with a computer doesn’t think exactly like themselves, and want and need anything and everything they want.

When I see emails like that, I say to myself, “Earth to ______.” Where do these people live? Don’t they ever talk to ordinary people about computers?

To them, computers aren’t a labor of love, just a labor. And they’re going on strike.

Revenge of the Non-Nerds

Of course, knowingly or not, such folks are following their own self-interest. Up to now, the general population has been cajoled into effectively paying for most of the geek R&D by buying evermore powerful computers.

What they haven’t noticed is that the U.S. Joes are revolting. There’s no worldwide computer malaise; outside of North America, computer sales are middling to pretty good.

What does exist is a North American computer depression, and that’s because both Joe Sixpack and Suit has his desktop which does fine and he doesn’t see the need for a new one.

This is very, very important for the future. You and the Joes are going through a parting of the ways. You may want more, more, more (and in the past year, even a lot of you have gotten much more reluctant), but Joe doesn’t, and what will get Joe off his wallet won’t be the same things that get you off yours.

I have an acquaintance who is a Mac programmer, and he asked me a question which shortly (if crudely) sums it up.

I was speaking about video cards, and he asked me, “Are these expensive video cards good for anything besides giving teenage boys something to do when they get tired of masturbating?”

And I had to say, “No.”

Now don’t get all riled up about it. I knew what he meant. He wasn’t trying to be nasty or insulting, or trying to knock gamers and gaming. He was just trying to ask, in his oddly witty way, whether these cards represented any real general improvement for anything besides 3D gaming, and the answer is still, “No.”

There’s nothing wrong with gaming, just like there’s nothing wrong with golf. However, the way computing has gone up to now, it’s like the geeks have cajoled everyone into buying new golf clubs every few years and paying the lion’s share of the research to improve them.

That may not have been too bad so long as the non-pros got some real benefit out of them, but now the clubs have gotten to the point where only the pros can really use them, and the duffers don’t get anything they notice out of them, so why keep paying?

What that means is that fewer people end up paying for the high-end stuff, which means the high-end stuff goes up in price over time, and a gap will emerge in the middle.

Eventually, that will mean Joe will pay less for good enough, and the power geeks will pay more and more for progress simply because there will be fewer around to pay for it.

Email Ed

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