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Aquatic Mac

Obsolete Two Year Old Computers

Andrew W. Hill
2002.05.06

Why are computers continually replaced by large companies and institutions? Most people would have you believe that the computer is outdated and slow, cannot fulfill the necessary tasks, and slows the employee down, thereby costing the company money. It seems to me that this is only partially correct.

I am currently typing this article on a slot loading iMac with 64 MB RAM, Mac OS 9.0.4, and Netscape 4.0.8. It's in the back of the room, while the brand new Dells are at the front.

Nobody uses the iMacs. Why? Websites don't load properly with them. What good is a Web station that can't load all the relevant websites.

As everyone around Low End Mac knows, an iMac is not a slow computer, especially when it has no applications beyond a Web browser on it. This is probably a 350 MHz machine, which was the bottom of the slot-loading iMac range - not too shabby at all. My main machine is a G3/450. Sure, my G3 has a bunch of added extras, but I do some fairly hefty stuff on that computer - certainly more than this iMac does.

As you, my gentle reader, have probably figured out by now, the problem here does not lie in the speed of the machine or even the comparatively small amount of RAM, but in the browser. Although I refuse to use it, Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.1 is a fantastic browser and will load any page the Dell's at the other end of this room will. Netscape 4.0 was not a fantastic browser by anyone's standards (at least on PowerPCs). At the least, they should be using Netscape 4.7, which at least works most of the time. Mac OS 9.0.4 was not exactly the best operating system, but upgrading to 9.1 or higher probably won't yield any better performance.

Why does this machine have nothing but the stock software on it? Unfortunately, people cost more than machines. The time to upgrade the software and keep them up to date costs more than anyone is willing to invest. Suppose we were to hire a student at $10-15 an hour and it took him two hours to upgrade the browser and OS of five machines. There are about twenty machines here, so we're looking at about $100 to update machines that would cost around $16,000 to replace. Sounds like a good idea, yes? Keeping in mind this would be done every three to six months to keep them current, that sounds like $350 a year. Surely that isn't too much?

The problem lies in bureaucracy. Sure, it only costs $350/year to get the kid to keep the lab up to date, but the costs go beyond that. Naturally, you can't hire someone for a one time task, but there are enough labs on campus to give someone a five hour a week job. Now you have a single employee. Who is his superior? Probably someone in the tech department. Oh, there's no tech department? Let's put him in the maintenance shop in the computer science department then.

OS 9.1 is a free upgrade from Apple? Well, now you have to pay him to download and burn a copy of this free upgrade. Oh, he doesn't have a CD burner? Why can't he just download it on each machine? Oh, we don't do that. That's a security risk. We'd probably get a virus. We'd need to give him administrator privileges.

Now we'll go to personnel and payroll. We've subsidized a small closet in the basement of the computer science building for him to work in, which seems to be larger than most faculty offices. We've subsidized a computer for him to work on (probably a Dell). We've pushed paperwork for hours. Now we have to pay the administrators their salary - and don't forget to pay them for the hours they spent organizing the staff stress relief party.

In the end, there is too much paperwork that costs too much money. It's not the work that's expensive, it's the people that catalogue the work for various government agencies that's expensive. And for what? The computer gets a two-year tax write-off, and then they can just buy another computer (sending the old one to China) and get another tax write-off.

Wouldn't it be nice if it took one person to do one person's work? Heinlein seemed to think so.

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Andrew W. Hill (a.k.a. Aqua) has been using Macintosh computers since 1987 and maintains that the Mac SE is the perfect Macintosh, superior to all - including the Color Classic. He is on the verge of being evicted from the family home due to its infestation of Macs (last count: about 50). Andrew is attempting to pay his way through college at UC Santa Cruz with freelance Web design and Mac tech support.

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    Aquatic Mac begun December 28, 2001. All Tech Reflections articles ©2001-2003 by Andrew W. Hill. Low End Mac is an independent publication and has not been authorized, sponsored, or otherwise approved by Apple Inc. Opinions expressed are those of their authors and may not reflect the opinion of Cobweb Publishing. Advice is presented in good faith, but what works for one may not work for all.
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