21 February 2009

"Good enough" technology

Quick: how many people do you know who are still running Windows XP, either at work or at home? How many are still using Office 2000?

In my case, I know a lot. A few people I know bought Office 2003 and really liked it, but most balked at the price. Besides, early adopters were "punished" because they had to save as their documents to Office 2000 format if they wanted to share them with those who had not yet upgraded.

Yet here they are, using ten-year-old software on three-year-old machines, and they're getting a lot of work done. They're not wanting for features. They're happy with how things are.

Other things are changing rapidly: cell phones/Blackberries/smart phones on the hardware side, and yet more information and tools being loaded onto the Web. But for anyone who hasn't gone Mac or Linux, things are very quiet.

It was interesting when Vista came out. Instead of being excited about it, people were saying things like, "Ugh. Will it slow down my computer again?" or "Yeah, but what's the use of it?".

Now, I'm not interested in a Microsoft slam, or even a PCs-killed-by-cloud-computing slam. I mean, cloud computing is at least ten years old too —remember "internet appliances"?

What I mean is that maybe, just maybe, people have "good enough" computing power. They can make complex spreadsheets, long and elaborately formatted documents, presentations with lots of animation and complicated transition effects. They can listen to the radio, call their mom long distance, and watch the news. They can play games, keep in touch with long distance friends, and figure out driving directions. They're content.

Maybe it's time for a period of refinement instead of scrambling off to the next innovation.

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