Flexibility, that was the benefit of a PC. Not the boring standard IBM PC or the sealed box of sparkles and magic that Apple have always touted, but the thrown together unmatched parts of the IBM Compatible PC that most people started with and still use (even if still not realising that has always been the case).
A Maxtor Hard Disk, memory from Kingston, an Intel processor, Nvidia graphics card, SoundBlaster graphics card, ASUS motherboard, Microsoft keyboard, Logitech mouse.. Interchange various brand names and that was and still for the most part is, a PC. Not a single manufacturers hard work building each component to the highest standard, a hodgepodge of manufacturers selling kit to private individuals or global corporations to create a computing platform.
So the HP/Compaq/Dell/Lenovo branded machine has always been that, a brand stamped on the case of other manufacturers equipment.
Enter the private PC builder. Go to a site such as PC Specialist today and you can see the way to build any range of PC from a £400 laptop to a £6,000 gaming rig. That’s what those in the know have been doing since the 1980s. Testing, comparing and purchasing the best components to build the specific design of computer to suit their needs. If you were lucky, you knew or know one of these people and they built you your very own custom PC that lasts however long you wish it to.
There never really has been a Ferrari/BMW/Ford type of manufactured PC. They have all been the equivalent of kit cars, each different in some way. Even the same make and model of a well-known branded PC could have differing components depending on the date of manufacture and what kit was available on the day it was made.
But now, the game is changing, Microsoft’s Windows operating system has become a closed shop and joined ranks fully with Apple. Even though the nature of the operating system is to contain standardised ways of interacting with myriad variations of manufacturers kit that almost always are simply an extension of previous software. This means that almost by the nature of developing software, backwards compatibility to all previous hardware could be maintained quite simply.
Oh nononononononono, we can’t have that. That implies people could use a webcam, hard disk, or just plain old PC for as long as they want. No new sales until the equipment wears out? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
So, even though you can use a 1990s Microsoft Sidewinder brand gaming handset that includes gyroscopic controls, when connected to an Android phone (yep, I tested it, I have that much spare time!), it will not work with Microsoft’s own software, Windows. Odd that. Not really though, Microsoft made it so costly for hardware manufacturers to certify any hardware (through WHQL) that it would only be cost effective to certify new equipment. Hmm, manufacturers of hardware can then profess honestly that it isn’t their fault you have to replace their fully functioning hardware, it is Microsoft’s. Microsoft counter, the hardware manufacturer doesn’t care because they won’t pay Microsoft to get their old kit certified. Pretty good con and no government can stop such large organisations today, so the consumer eats the shit they are served.
Windows 10 then marks a time where the home user becomes indentured to Microsoft. You will allow them to change the way Windows works, disable a function you use or redesign the way you use your computer, regardless of how you want to use the tool you have paid money to ‘own’. When your hardware is deemed in need of replacing, it will start to not work with Windows. This has been actively pursued since the release of Windows 7 and was entrenched by the enforced Microsoft controlled update process that now exists for home users in Windows 10. You can no longer turn it off, so you will adhere to the specific standard Microsoft demand of you.
So why is a PC now like a console? Well, a console is supposed to be a standard platform for gaming. This is done so as to allow a global interaction between players of games or users of apps which precludes (mostly) cheating or people who can afford more expensive equipment being granted an unfair advantage. That’s a laudable principle and one which has been understood for decades, not just in technology.
PCs historically could be built in a specific manner that would lean them towards better performance for a single specific need, not standardised at a lowest common denominator. So, if you wanted to play games with far better graphics, controllers and performance than a console will ever offer, you could. It wasn’t about being online or getting an unfair advantage, it was about getting the best experience on your own equipment used in your own home.
If you wanted a desktop graphics design PC you’d purchase an entirely different graphics card than for a business or gaming PC. Conversely a gaming PC rig would be designed to minimise all other operations, dedicating all possible resources to rendering of graphics and processing of the game mechanics.
If you cannot control how those options work because Microsoft deem all PCs to now be able to cope with running dozens of system options that you may never or perhaps very rarely use, you cannot in many cases, customise your PC to do what you want it to any longer. You can to a degree if you spend so much more money over-specifying your PC that you purchase several thousand pounds worth of components. Why though, 30 years on from where home computing blossomed does a high-end gaming PC now cost 10-20 times that of a console rather than 2-3?
Used to be that as technology was adopted by more people, prices went down. Now, the more popular your equipment, the more you can charge and you can get rid of old stock by branding it with a new name each year. With processor vendors mass producing low-end options which cannot cope with operating systems such as Windows 8 or 10. High fashion pricing adopted by technology vendors has left the majority of people stuck with only the McDonalds of the IT world, PC World as their source of technology.
So, do you need highly optimised file searches when playing a game or rendering a 3D video model? No. Your ‘intuitive’ Microsoft user experience evangelist thinks you do, so you will. Disable the option and Windows restricts access to functions that used to work perfectly well on slower PCs… Nice. OneDrive, Microsoft’s very own virus. Cannot be disabled, cannot be removed, it is there and will resist any attempt to remove it. “But I don’t share any files online why can’t I turn it off?” says the foolish serf.. I mean consum.. sorry, I mean customer. “Because we don’t want you to” is the obvious if rather disturbing reply from Microsoft. You no longer default to saving files on your own equipment in your own home, you are encouraged to save everything to ‘the cloud’ at which point all such data becomes pretty much public domain. Data Protection? Oh dear, another fairy tale for the masses.
If you work in the IT industry, you will be aware that Microsoft rarely, if ever, set industry standards. They provide boundaries within which they offer support to customers but have always avoided visibly getting involved in the real world environments that have often included many versions of their software that they no longer hold staff with skills to support (Unless you don’t mind paying into the hundreds of thousands of pounds, in which case you get proper attention). Most standards evolved by techies doing things with Microsoft software that no one at Microsoft had envisaged. I’ve seen and been involved with a number of them, so can attest directly to how little support Microsoft would give until a new development had been proven to work by individuals for many years. Once it looks like there could be no possible liability arising from supporting a process that technologist have been using for years, Microsoft announce it as their own and praise their techs for rubber stamping it.
One thing I noticed over the years that could explain why Microsoft shied away from supporting their older versions of software. It wasn’t that the software was out of date. It resulted from nobody working for Microsoft agreeing to work with anything but the newest tech that would look good on their CV. So it wasn’t a case of not wanting to support it, just that there would only ever be a half dozen people globally who work for Microsoft that could.
One of the best comments I ever heard from a Microsoft Consultant was “I grew up looking at all these big companies and was so impressed by their work, now I’ve worked with many of them and can’t believe they manage to keep running each day!” When you’ve helped daily to stop them from falling over and tried for decades to teach people and organisations to be in control of IT, it is hard to watch the subscription based, vendor driven version of technology take control by force.