Aside from commercial greed, why NOT universal computers?

I’ve followed computers since the first laptop came out and I bought TANDY from radio shack, which I thought was BOSS, but then discovered that only IBM compatible programs would work in it. I used to own a Commodore 64, which was a real pain in the ass and used large disks and two floppy drives that I never could manage to get to work in tandem.

It did have one cool aspect though, it enabled me to open up any disk and see what was stamped on it and I found so many of the damn things separately marked ‘IBM,’ ATARI, TANDY, APPLE and so on.

So, Microsoft came up with a good universal operating system, that confused the crap out of me for about two years, after I had already gotten headaches from trying to figure out STAR and DOS and WordPro and whatever the hell else various businesses used in their custom systems.

Eventually it dawned on me that all computers were basically the same, but the shitwad makers designed programs with systems that were keyed ONLY to work on their computers. (Nothing like free enterprise greed.) I celebrated WINDOWS, especially when other programs started becoming WINDOWS compatible and now, anything will work on my system.

Would it not have been better for ALL of us if the damn computer makers had made things interchangeable at the beginning? I mean, the WEB is getting to be a pain in the ass as it is because some sites use REALPLAYER, some use WINDOWS MEDIA PLAYER, some need MP3, and others use ADOBE READER. DAMN! I only got a small hard drive and if I load all of those damn things in, I won’t have room for anything else!

Why can’t they make everything compatible? I’m on AOL, which automatically upgrades my program or provides me with one – but they don’t provide me with all of the damn new programs needed to listen to or watch some websites and I have to go through the damn complicated process of downloading, setting up and activating one – which gets to be a real pain in the ass and often takes several tries.

Anyone think the computer industry MIGHT ACTUALLY GET THEIR ACT TOGETHER and all make everything interactive?

I mean, crap, I got a print program with the print commands for like 100 DIFFERENT PRINTERS, when each printer does basically the same damn thing! Talk about clogging up the hard drive! You buy a new printer and you got to search for the right program to run it or instal one! They could make a universal print program to work on all printers because you buy a printer depending upon what you need it for and the price – not for the selective programming.

What do you think? Will the computer guys ever get it together and cooperate with each other or what?

[QOTE]Eventually it dawned on me that all computers were basically the same

If you believe that you have a lot to learn about computers. No, I’m not happy with the state of affairs we have now but trying to bring every computer down to a single lowest common deniminator of software would be much worse.

You aren’t the first one to suggest this though so don’t feel bad. Back in the olden days when the PC hadn’t become fully dominant over the established CP/M machines there was an attempt to make universal software called the UCSD P-system. Software was all complied to a universal intermediate code that was run by a machine specific interpreter. It was horribly slow and inefficient in a day when computers were not terribly powerful. The fact that most people have never heard of it is the best testimonial.

It’s your fault that I have no one to blame but myself.

I like you, am continuously pissed off technology changes and forces me to spend money just to keep up, but that’s exactly it. TECHNOLOGY CHANGES. While you may think all computers, printers, etc. are all the same, I’d argue each is designed with certain features emphasized over others that distinguish them in the marketplace. Yeah, some is just stupid marketing, but some of it really is different.

Not being a computer guy myself I can’t speak to the technical difference between a Pentium III and your old Tandy Piece-o-Crap, but I can assure you they are quite vast and if we had all switched to a common standard years ago, no one would ever be able to advance it. And if you are going to argue that the common standard would be expandable, I’d ask, who’s standard would it be? Bill Gates is already richer than God and even he sweats when you say “Linux” because he doesn’t quite own the whole OS world.

It sounds to me like you’re asking why we don’t just have the computer world (and maybe everything else) be a big monopoly so there is only one choice. And while in theory that sounds cool (I certainly thank God I don’t have to drive around looking for a gas station that sells gas that is ‘compatible’ with my car). For most things, I think it destroys the quality of the product. Competition is what ultimately leads to technological advance. That, and lawyers I suppose.

Actually, all computers pretty much are the same, theoretically speaking. That is, they can all compute the same things. This is Turing’s famous theorem.

However, instituting an overarching interoperability standard that everything must comply to (if it would even be possible to have something universal and simple enough) would make for a world of software I wouldn’t want. Things that need to be interoperable become so by necessity (Macs, Unix, Windows can all access the web), and things that don’t need to be remain seperate. There are distinct advantages to various file formats such as RealPlayer vs MP3 vs Wav etc. You have to make tradeoffs.

If there was only ONE computer type who would own it? If they owned it, then there would be a monopoly. Which is a no-no.

Hey, go to your video store & rent Pirates of Silicon Valley, says it all pretty much.

On the one hand, I want to say that you just need to be patient: we’re headed in the direction of total interoperability, with a combination of open standards and software layers like jini. On the other hand, I’m confused by parts of your post.

Software isn’t “keyed” to work only on some systems, it’s built to work on top a particular system. Software isn’t interchangeable for the same reason that parts of your car’s engine aren’t interchangeable with your neighbour’s, unless he owns the same model. The design is different, the engineering is different, the whole machine is ultimately different in the details.

In fact, you’re wrong in saying that all computers are basically the same. They’re all basically different, starting at the chip. The motorala powering a Mac is fundamentally different from the intel in your pc. Your complaint is really that, because of corporate greed, software and OS manufacturers chose to capture their own markets based on hardware differences, rather than cover those differences in a universal software platform that handles each chip differently, but is treated by all software as the same.

You’re confusing monopoly power with universality. The reason you can get any program you want on your pc is that developers write programs for Windows first, since it means selling to the largest market for software. Porting that software to other platforms is an afterthought, if it occurs at all.

Software manufacturers will never agree on a universal computer because it means giving up advantages they use to sell their products. Mac’s entire commercial philosophy is based on the motorola chip: we’ve got it, you don’t, our OS works best on it, so no clones.

Like I said at the beginning, though, take heart: the direction all software makers are moving in is interoperability. Open standards for data and file formats means that programmers can easily support those standards, and as those standards grow in popularity, programmers risk marginalizing themselves in the market by failing to support them. We’re also finally seeing things like java and jini, which are platform independent software layers for programming and handling hardware, so programmers can develop apps for all computers, not just for particular operating systems.

This isn’t a sign of the computer industry getting it’s act together; companies like Microsoft and Apple and the rest were caught in the headlights of the internet, which demanded that different computers talk to each other in the same language. That layer of software and protocols that will make for a truly universal OS for the user is coming because companies can no longer afford to use the differences in their systems to maintain a closed market share.

Never attribute to an -ism anything more easily explained by common, human stupidity.

I’d also like to point out that different innovations to the same product is hardly something that happened as recently as when computers were invented.

The reason phonographs had several different speeds on them back in the day was because one company made their discs for one speed, and another a different way. Naturally, both companies sold phonograph players customized for their discs.

Also I think anyone above the age of 18 remembers the war between BETA and VHS. More recently there was the not-really war between DVD and DIVX.

The concept in all of these examples is the same - If you make a product, make things available to use on or in conjunction with that product. Eventually, either a compromise is reached (turntables made with varying speed control), an inferrior product is classed out of the marketplace (DIVX sucked compared to DVD) and even the inferrior product will win sometimes (BETA was better than VHS but they didn’t have enough software - movies - compared to VHS and they marketed it poorly).

In the case of computers, it’s even more interesting. Because IIRC, Macintosh held on to their patents furiously and kept all software in-house, whereas PC-technology was freely allowed (free as in anyone could do it, I don’t think it was “free” per se, but I may be wrong) to anyone to design software that would be compatible with their systems.

The result is that PCs have a lion’s share of the market. And this was before someone came along and made an operating system that was also flexible in terms of what systems could use it.

I don’t think you can ever see two thought processes get anty more different in big business history than the disparate philosophies the two competitors employed.

It really is fascinating…

Yer pal,

Actually the day of the “universal” computer is not that far off. The big word in the industry now is “appliance” as in data appliance or network appliance. You’ll have a fibre optic data port into your house so you won’t need a disc drive. There will still be differences in platforms just like a Sony VCR is not like a Panasonic VCR but they both play videotapes pretty much the same. A lot of appliances that are in your house today have an operating system buried inside somewhere, you just don’t see it. The data appliance will be the same way, just a display device for stuff from somewhere else.
You won’t buy new software at the store, you’ll just pay for it every time you use it just like pay per view. It will be as standard as your telephone jacks are today.

You know, I just can’t bring myself to believe in that vision of the future. It reeks of marketing hype, just like push media, the network computer, and banking by television. If computer companies have displayed one consistent ability, it’s the ability to describes futures that never happen.

Never attribute to an -ism anything more easily explained by common, human stupidity.

I agree with all of you and thanks. It still burns me up because I downloaded REALPLAYER – which was FREE, then accessed netsites to find that REALPLAYER had UPGRADED and the UPGRADE was not free. The I incorporated WINDOWS MEDIA PLAYER, and discovered that sites with Real Player or MP3 wouldn’t work on it. In the meantime, I’m watching the available space on my tiny hard disk diminish rapidly.

I got really fried when I entered a government site and discovered that all of their information required an ADOBE reader. That sucked because I figured if they could print the requirements in a language I could read without the reader, then why write the rest of their crap in stuff that needed one?

I’m pretty satisfied with WINDOWS, using mainly the word processing functions, after I managed to get to know how to use it all, but I’m not happy with not being able to safely dump all of the crap it contains that I don’t need and just takes up needed space. Windows, I found out, will use parts of one program to operate other programs with and if I remove something like, say MATHPRO, then SPREADSHEET might not work. Once I dumped the WINDOWS browser, having AOL’s to use and figured it was redundant and found I could not automatically boot up. I had to reinstall the damn thing and clog up more vital hard drive space. Darn!

Ah, bloatware! That’s another valid complaint, and it’s actually Microsoft who is one of the worst for it. Internet Explorer is at 20 MBs to download; you can get a browser called Opera that’s only 5% as big.

Say to yourself a few times until it sounds sane: my OS takes up more room on my hard drive than all my other applications taken together.

Never attribute to an -ism anything more easily explained by common, human stupidity.

On the other hand, who really cares if their major application (a browser) takes up 20 MB on the hard drive, when hard drives are selling for a penny a meg? That represents 20 cents worth of space on your hard drive. Big deal.

I was really choked because the C++ compiler in the new Visual Studio takes up close to 400 MB, and I currently only have a couple of gigs left on my hard drive. I was thinking about how bloated it is, and how annoying that is, until I realized that I can buy a 27 GB hard drive for $300, and fit 70 copies of C++ on it. Since the Visual Studio package was something like $700, using up $4 worth of hard drive space just shouldn’t be an issue.

Complaining about incompatability of file-formats isn’t really fair, because each format is generally designed for a specific purpose (MPEG Layer 3 is designed to compress a sound file as well as possible and maintain quality, whereas RealMedia files are basically griny video and tinny audio, but are small enough to be streamed across the Internet.)

Besides there are plenty of programs around which convert between different formats.

It’s not the relative real estate on your hard drive that’s upsetting: it’s the fact that bloatware runs slower and is more of a burden on your computer. You upgrade your computer to keep up with software, and new software comes out to bloat that. It’s a vicious circle of upgrades.

Perhaps it’s more upsetting in principle, when a browser like Opera can come along and outperform I.E. and Netscape at less than a tenth the size. That’s when you realize that the stuff you’re buying is the rule because of platform dominance and not quality. I could have installed a couple hundred megs of Visual J++; instead, I downloaded Kawa, and have as good a java IDE in less than 5 megs.

Never attribute to an -ism anything more easily explained by common, human stupidity.

Visual J++ only takes up something like 30 megs. C++ is huge because of the MFC and a lot of other support stuff.

And just because a browser installs in 20 megs doesn’t mean it uses up a lot of runtime resources. It may, but the 20 megs may have a lot more to do with support files and DLL’s to handle things like DES, XML, CSS, and about a million other technologies that IE5.0 supports. I haven’t looked at Opera, so I don’t know exactly what it supports, but IE5.0 is very comprehensive.

That’s just it: it’s pointlessly comprehensive. It’s trying to be a kitchen sink, when what it should be is a browser. Microsoft Office is the same way: I look in the help file and see a hundred things I’ll never do, nor want to do once I read about it.

The bloat comes from features that Microsoft (and others: Microsoft isn’t the only one guilty of this) adds in to make a single application all things to all people, at the expense of creating quality software. Remember Adobe Photoshop 3.0? Illustrator 8.0 has everything it had and more, and it’s supposed to complement, not replace, Photoshop.

The difference is software written by computer users who perceive a functional need, versus software written by directors of marketing asking “what feature will make a selling point?”

That IE 5.0 is 20 megs, when Opera or Amaya is less than 5, tells me that Microsoft has been packing in bells and whistles with little or no attempt to improve the core functionality of the browser. I downloaded Mozilla (milestone 11) and it was only 5 megs, and it does everything IE does except the Microsoft specific things, like VBScript.

Ultimately, what offends me isn’t Microsoft: they’re a company trying to make moeny, and what they do is always done in light of that objective. It’s important to me, though, that I be careful not to simply accept what’s handed to me, and rationalize it by saying things like “a new hard drive is only $300.” I find the idea distasteful that I might actually swallow some of the marketing hype, and enjoy the taste.

Never attribute to an -ism anything more easily explained by common, human stupidity.

Rainbowcsr postulates:

Computer manufacturers are not conspiring to keep things different… well, actually they are, but not for the reasons that you suspect. With each new advancement in technology, there’s some incremental benefit. Each computer manufacturer wants to protect their competitive advantage and are not inclined to share it with others… though, in actual fact, the lagging competitors are not always interested in change. Take the difference between Wintel machines and Macintosh. Back in 1985, both Intel and Motorola shared similar architectures in their computer chips, known as CISC - Complex Instruction Set Computer. Intel chose to hold onto that architecture and push it’s technological limits in terms of speed. Motorola decided that another architecture held more promise for the future. It is know as RISC - Reduced Instruction Set Computer. Don’t let the names fool you, there are a lot more differences than just the instruction set complexity between these two architectures. So the Wintel world stuck with CISC and their machines gained ever faster clock rates, but Apple, and Sun Microsystems, and others switched architectures. It was tough at first, but it is starting to pay off. The software to drive RISC architectures tends to be significantly smaller and the pipelining results in much faster actual performance with slower clock rates… That’s why the 500MHz Macintosh G4 is considered the fasted personal computer available, even though there are 750MHz Celeron computers available from AMD…

As for open systems, this merely simplifies things at the medium to high level. In the nitty gritty, the differences between the Wintel architecture and others still exist, so how you arive at that “open systems solution” is very different on each architecture and their respective performances and compatibilities will also differ.

Oops! That should be 750MHz ‘Athlon’ processors from AMD, not ‘Celeron’. I think the ‘Celeron’ processors are from Intel and they max out at 700MHz.

Nevertheless, someone wake me when the Wintel processors reach 1.8GHz… that’s the point that some experts are saying the Wintel machines will match the 500MHz G4 benchmarks. dig… dig…

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m pro Mac. I use a Wintel machine at work (not my choice), but when it comes to spending my own money I’ve got two Macs at home.

Like most Mac zealots, you have taken the biased (and often blatently false) claims of Apple and other mac zealots as truth. In fact, the 750Mhz Athlon is the fastest single-processor computer available today (with the possible exception of an Alpha based system, but I’m not sure about that). The benchmarks provided for the G4 systems are highly inflated, and even worse, the comparison benchmarks that these sources give for the other machines are horribly crippled.

I just want to warn you to in the future, take any numbers that you see from Apple with a chunk of salt.

But, that isn’t the reason I don’t own a mac. The reason I don’t own a mac is because you cannot build one yourself. I can and have built all three of my machines, and have upgraded each a significant number of times. Macs are computers for people who don’t like computers. I’m not one of those people.

Now that this thread is headed for cuba, I’ll just take this parachute and a self-inflating liferaft and go skydiving. Geronimo!

Yeah. I used to be like you. Then my employer forced me to switch from a PC to a Macintosh. I went kicking and screaming, but eventually I adjusted, and after a while I came to appreciate the Macs. Then in a strange twist of fate, my employer did a 180 and switched back to PCs. I didn’t think it was a good idea, but I figured, “well, PCs are nearly as good as Macs now that they have Windows…”
I tried to give them a fair shake, but after switching back to PCs I’ve become a Mac Evangelist. I’d love to share with you all my thoughts on this subject, but it belongs in the Great Debates Forum… If you’d like to ‘challenge’ me there???