Aug 19, 2006

How fast is your computer?

No matter who you are or what you do, people are always complaining about how slow their computers are. We groan about how much time it takes for that spreadsheet to load or how jittery the graphics in that new videogame is. And that is after spending loads of money to get that blazing fast new processor and motherboard. When it comes to giga-hertz and giga-bytes, It seems we are simply obsessed with speed. Faster is always better.

That is why somebody who would say that all that processing power is maybe too much for us strikes you as somewhat odd. I have a friend who says just that. He thinks that we are simply being forced to upgrade to newer and faster hardware because of the evil nexus that exists between hardware vendors and software companies.

He might have a good case though. The latest operating system won't run with hardware that is now in the market, you would have to wait two more months for that to happen. Indeed, it might very well be the case that clueless consumers are being forced to upgrade to software that is by no means better, but definitely expensive and requires nothing less than a supercomputer to run on. But then, we have great visionaries like Bill Gates who made a software empire make statements like 640 K should be sufficient for anyone. Maybe he is seeing the glass half-empty. (To be fair to Mr. Gates, the authenticity of that quote has not been established beyond doubt.)

Consider what we have seen in the last decade in personal computing. To be more specific and really to the point, let us take computer games. Would you really believe that someone who was playing Dave in 1995 can play Halo 2 or FIFA 2006 now? (If you have actually played through all those games, you would get my point more easily.)

This revolution in the industry didn't happen because we sat tight with what we had. No, we decided to push the limits. When software was too demanding on the hardware, we made faster hardware. When we got better hardware, we wrote better code to take full advantage of its capabilities. This virtuous cycle is what drives innovation and indeed, the entire industry. It is not that we never seem to have enough, we just shouldn't. Maybe our obsession with speed isn't accidental, it very well could have been hardwired into us. So the next time you are wondering why that document is taking too long to open, you might be actually fueling innovation.

No comments: