Saturday, September 29, 2007

Why you should buy a new PC every year!


The first time I used a computer was in highschool in 1972; it was a teletype terminal connected to a mainframe. It used simple BASIC programming language. I learned to write a simple program that would count from 1 to 10 or generate random numbers, but it was not very useful by today’s standards. In 1973, I purchased the "Bowmar Brain" for about $100, the first inexpensive calculator that was widely distributed; but it was not programmable and, therefore, would hardly fit my definition of a computer. In college, I majored in engineering but still had limited, if any, use for computers. A few classes required writing computer programs to solve trivial math or physics problems. The computers were mostly text-based terminals, and some had the newer graphics-type display. It wasn’t until I entered graduate school in 1980 at Dartmouth College that I first used a computer as a productivity tool. In 1981, I used a brand new “mini-computer” to perform engineering analysis and generate graphical representations of mathematical results. The mini-computer was still a terminal based computer with wired access to a central shared processor. For one experiment, I would submit a set of mathematical equations to be solved by the computer and wait 6 hours for a printout that I had to retrieve from the “computer center” half-way across campus. If there was one misplaced comma or typographical error, the printout (about 50 pages) would be useless and I would have to start-over and then wait another 6 hours. I bought my first computer, a Compaq “luggable” in 1984, while I was in law school (about 12 years after I first touched a computer). Instead of crunching numbers, I used the computer mostly for writing papers; it was a great improvement because I made too many mistakes using the electric typewriter. When I graduated law school in 1986, lawyers did not have computers, only their secretaries did. The fact that I had a computer at home made me an anomaly in the legal profession. It wasn’t until 1992, that I bought my first computer for work, which was a Dell 320N+ notebook (I was always a sucker for portability). The Dell notebook had a black & white display that operated using Dos 6.0 and Windows 3.1 (yes, you had to install them separately!) and a 10MB hard disk. In 1992, I also bought a generic desktop computer and set up my first computer network (using Windows for Workgroups). In 1994, I replaced my Dell with a new more powerful Winbook computer. In 1995, I joined a start-up software company and switched over to the Mac, buying a Powerbook with a color display and a super-friendly graphical user interface using the Mac OS 6.0 that cost about $5000! In 1996 and 1997, I acquired several old Macs using them for networking, back-up systems, fax receivers, graphic editing, spreadsheets, and word processing. By 1999, I had 6 or 7 computers operating in my house. When I joined a venture-backed start-up in 1999, I was forced to go back to the PC, being issued a popular IBM notebook. Being an employee of a computer software company, new computers every year was the rule. Technology was changing so fast that it was essential to keep up with the latest and greatest software applications, and to run those applications, you needed more memory and faster processors. The old Macs, being fundamentally incompatible with the Windows PC, were junked. If you don’t keep upgrading computer technology, the peripheral devices, software, and components all become outdated to the point of being useless within five years. Having worked inside of three computer companies, I got used to buying (or being issued) a new computer every year. When I went back to the practice of law in 2002, I found out that it was essential to buy a new computer every year. According to Moore’s Law, processing speed, memory capacity, and LCD resolution are improving exponentially, doubling approximately every two years. That means that a computer you purchase today for $1000 may be worth only $500 in a year. And, if you are like most people, you need twice as much memory to hold all of your new information (pictures, music, and documents). And with the advent of the Internet, computers are being used by lawyers for more and more functions such as communications, entertainment, and commerce. These new functions require the latest operating systems and networking technologies. A computer is different than a refrigerator, a car, or even a telephone system. Computers are productivity tools, whose technology is changing so rapidly that you must continue to replace (not upgrade) every year. If the value of the computer after one year is only $500, then in two years, it is only $250. It makes almost no sense to spend even $50 to upgrade memory in an old computer (not to mention the cost of the technician to install it). I find it very hard to justify spending money on computer repairs or maintenance services. The computer companies know this as well, which is why they try so hard to sell extended warranties. Every time I buy a new computer, I find that I am significantly more productive. The new computer comes with more RAM (processing memory), a larger hard-disk, and new more powerful software applications. The time savings increases my productivity and billable hours far in excess of the $1000+ that I spend on a new computer. Also, I prefer to buy notebook computers instead of desktop computers because they take up less space, use less electricity, and are more readily adapted to personal use (I typically recycle my old notebooks by giving them to family members). New computers also make the practice of law more enjoyable. The less time that I spend waiting for computer software to load, and the easier it is to use multiple applications, the more I enjoy the practice of law. How often do you buy a new computer? What’s your philosophy on buying computer equipment?