Cars, cellphones, computers, the glitz and glamor of fast-changing technology...the latest is always the greatest—or is it? For the casual user the answer is invariably “yes.” The shiniest new toy with the latest features is eminently desirable. Yet for those who use technology primarily as a tool rather than a status symbol, the perspective may be somewhat different.
How else can you explain why many people use older cars, cellphones, and computers? It’s not just about being thrifty or having a blessed ability to see through the lure of marketing hype. It’s that folks are simply comfortable with their old stuff.
Take computers for example. Many users are happy sitting down at any computer provided it has a working browser and a suite of common office applications. Any data they have is transient, to be dealt, and dispensed with as quickly as possible. Custom settings are not a concern, since any computer will do. Internet cafes make money off the fact that most will need only a browser and connection to the Net. The younger crowd want their favorite online games-du-jour, but these are
fairly standard as well.
Contrast this with computers that have been sitting in homes and offices for ages. Some have been
in use far longer than the expected life of five years. I have one that’s still on Windows 98. Huge support centers still have hundreds running NT 3.5! Why are these dinosaurs still up and running? Well, so long as they do their job with a minimum of fuss and bother, their owners won’t complain. There is also the comfort zone associated with old, familiar technology.
New computers will have faster, modern hardware, fine. But then you have to install and tweak the software to the point where you are secure and comfortable with it. The more standard the desired configuration (say, browser and office applications only), the simpler it is to do. Specialist applications (such as graphical editing software) can be notoriously finicky and a royal pain.
Sooner or later a computer will need an upgrade. In some cases, failing hardware makes it more economical to simply buy a whole new box. Other times, the software becomes too slow or riddled with security holes that a clean upgrade is the only way to maintain productivity. A word of warning: Upgrading a Windows operating system to a newer version doesn’t speed up an old computer, rather it’s likely to slow it down. Newer versions of Windows demand better, faster hardware. If you want to keep your old hardware but speed-up an old computer by upgrading the base operating system, replace Windows with any variety of Linux.
Now, it’s easy to back up your files once you’ve decided to upgrade. What about your settings, which you’ve tweaked through the years to make your PC comfortable to use?
Ever since XP, Windows has included a “user settings migration tool.” But ask your computer tech
about migrating your settings and you’re likely to get a shrug and a promise of “best effort.”
Migrating settings are such a bother that few techs would be inclined to do it, even if they knew how. Thus the joy of anticipating a fresh, new system is offset by the uncertainty of finding yourself using an unfamiliar setup, a stranger in a strange land.
That’s just migrating within Windows, even to the same version of the OS. Imagine changing the operating system to Linux, and many people get nervous. Linux will provide as much, if not more functionality than Windows. It will, of course, deliver that functionality in a somewhat different way.
There is one class of users for whom migration angst seems almost completely absent—those who
switch from Windows to a Mac. New Mac converts are nothing but an enthusiastic bunch. They never complain about how things on Mac are different from Windows. Rather than treating them as annoyances, any differences are touted as enhancements. It’s a very positive mindset, driven in no small part by the fact that any complaint or admission that their expensive, new toys are giving them problems would be somewhat embarrassing. After all, you don’t diss a status symbol
you just paid a hefty sum for, do you?
Contrast this with the reaction of some who have moved from Windows to Linux. The attitude
is sometimes completely opposite to that of Mac converts. You will hear complaints galore about how Linux doesn’t do things the good old Windows way.
Yet Linux and Mac’s OS X operating systems are closely related, much more so than either are to
Windows. So, why the difference in attitude? Mac converts will see the glass as half full, whereas some new Linux users will view the glass as half empty.