The New York Times reports this weekend: Corrupted PC’s Find New Home in the Dumpster that many people are tossing their old computers rather than trying to repair them, a situation the NYT attributes to spyware. The users it quotes were ditching four-year-old machines.
Moreover, 68 percent said they had had computer trouble in the last year consistent with the problems caused by spyware or adware, though 60 percent of those were unsure of the problems’ origins. Twenty percent of those who tried to fix the problem said it had not been solved; among those who spent money seeking a remedy, the average outlay was $129.
I’d guess the cause is a lot less sinister: the Wintel compulsion. Microsoft makes the operating systems and office apps used on most home PCs, and each takes a beefier machine than the last to run smoothly. (”Wintel” refers to the handy way that bloatier Windows software encourages users to upgrade to faster Intel processors, which come in machines loaded with yet more Windows software.) Users who were perfectly happy with their new computers four years ago will no longer find them acceptable to run today’s recently-downloaded (non-spyware) software, simply as a consequence of that software’s development to use every gate of every cubic micron of silicon available to it.
Computers bought new four years ago will appear to crawl when compared to the newer, faster machines home consumers use in the workplace; a speedy Internet connection exacerbates the annoyance of waiting for the machine to process fancy web layouts. I know, I was just visiting my parents and trying to bring an excessed laptop up-to-date. Four years ago, Dell was touting a 700 MHz laptop that started with 64 MB of RAM. Today, its low-end home notebooks have twice the CPU speed and four times the memory. Spyware or no, the older machine just can’t compete. (Microsoft recommends a minimum of 128 MB RAM to run Windows XP Home edition.)
Not that I think this pressure for faster computers is a bad thing. To the contrary, I think it’s terrific that thousands of end-users wind up with machines that are far more powerful than strictly necessary to browse the web and process text. Together, these users benefit from the lower prices a mass market brings, while acquiring machines that can do more than typewrite. Some use this “bonus” capacity to process digital photographs, remix digital music, edit digital movies, or write and run their own software. That creativity in turn enriches even those of us who don’t do any more than process words and upgrade computers every four years.
P.S. Those older machines will run GNU/Linux quite handily. So wipe the drives of bloatware, and try out a Free OS.