Miscellaneous Ramblings

In Defense of 'Obsolete' Technologies

Charles Moore - 2010.01.05 - Tip Jar

Pismo PowerBookComputerworld's Mike Elgan posted a provocative Christmas Eve piece on 10 Obsolete Technologies to Kill in 2010. The enthusiasm some folks express for jettisoning allegedly "obsolete" technologies baffles me. I like "mature" technology. For example, I'm editing this column on a 9+ year old Pismo PowerBook that I fully expect to continue using for several years yet.

I'm not opposed to new innovations, provided they actually are an improvement on what they displace, but that's often a subjective value judgment, and I'm inclined to suspect that there's an element of elitism in advocacy of abandoning older technology.

On the other hand, sometimes it really is time. Eight-track audio (if you're old enough to remember that) was a technology whose time arguably never came, but I don't miss buying recorded music on frequently cranky, fragile cassette tape media either. However, I do have and still use a cassette player from time to time for music I haven't purchased on CD or in digital media formats.

the original iMacSteve Jobs was right about floppy disks when he launched the original iMac in 1998 sans floppy drive. I still have a couple of working Macs that support floppies, but it's been literally years since I actually popped a floppy into a drive.

However, I think Mr. Jobs is mistaken in his zeal to abandon FireWire, at least on "consumer" Macs. That may change when USB 3 comes on stream, but for now, USB 2 is a mediocre substitute for FireWire. (I have a FireWireless MacBook.)

Back to Mike Elgan's "obsolete" technologies hit list.

Fax Machines

He's partly right about this one. In the years prior to the Internet arriving in my neck of the woods in 1997 (dial-up only until a few months ago), I used fax extensively, although from my Mac with the excellent Global Village GlobalFax software. I've never owned an actual freestanding fax machine and haven't used fax of any sort for a long time. I find PDFs sent as email attachments are an excellent and superior alternative, and the OS X Finder and print engine make it easy to create PDF files from virtually any document.

However, I suspect that for some businesses and institutions, the fax machine, clumsy and crew though it is, would still be indispensable.

Cigaret Lighter Plugs

"Cigar lighter receptacle" plugs in cars? Not so fast. I don't smoke or permit others to light up in my car, but I do have a bunch of possessions - both automotive and digital gadgets - that came with "cigar lighter" plugs on their power cords, and I wouldn't like to see them rendered unusable.

The www. Prefix

The "www." phrase in Internet URL syntax? Sure, I'd be happy to see that go, but I'm not certain what the potential obstacles would be to giving it the heave-ho. In the meantime, I don't find typing the three letters all at onerous or its presence on business cards and the like at all offensive (or even annoying).

Business Cards

Speaking of business cards, Mike wants to deep six them too. Why? He has his reasons, none of which I find convincing.

I like business cards. I have a pile of them in my desk drawer and find them especially convenient when I want a phone number or address and don't have a computer running.

Video Rental Stores

Here's an example of elitism, I say, speaking as one who still uses VHS tape for a lot of TV time-shifting. There are still plenty of folks who don't have broadband service or even access to it, as I didn't until last September. I read somewhere recently that broadband penetration in the US is still only 65%. That sounds low to me, but I guess that not everyone who has access to broadband actually signs up for the service. Here in my community, we've had high speed wireless Internet for nearly four months now, but there are friends of mine who are still using dial-up and profess no intent to subscribe to the wireless service. In any case, there's a sizable month minority of the population that has no practical alternative to movie rentals for that sort of entertainment.

Editor's note: I can't speak to the situation in Canada, but here in the States, my wife and I find Netflix a great alternative to video stores. For $9 a month (plus sales tax), we can watch two DVDs a week. That's about the cost of one ticket to the local movie theatre, making it a cheap entertainment option. Best of all, there's no need to put a computer in the living room. dk

Remote Controls

Home entertainment remotes? I have five parked by my TV watching sofa. It's a pain, and I could probably eliminate one or two by programming multiple device functions into a universal remote, but I find it less complicated to use the dedicated remotes that came with the respective machines. The batteries last nearly forever - and they're cheap to replace from the dollar store.

As for Elgan's suggested alternative of controlling everything from your smartphone, I'm afraid that's über-elitism. It's a possible alternative if you have a phone that's up to the job and have the necessary software, one example of which was introduced at CES yesterday in the form of an accessory and free app from L5 Technology that can turn any iPhone or iPod touch into a universal remote control for televisions, DVDs, DVRs, cable boxes, audio equipment, and most other products that come with an infrared remote.

However, that doesn't really appeal to me. I don't even own an iPhone. The nearest GSM coverage is about 30 miles away as the crow flies, so they don't work here. Cellphone service is also, IMHO, absurdly expensive here in Canada (more on this below). I'll stick with my multiple remotes quite happily, probably for the duration.

Landline Phones

Which brings us to landline phones, another technology Elgan wants to dispense with - to which I say an emphatic "no way!" Not in the foreseeable future.

When cell service is competitively priced with landlines and as dependable, come talk to me, but I'm skeptical that landlines will disappear for at least another generation (of people - not phones). For example, Bell Canada's cheapest iPhone service plan is C$45/month for 150 minutes and 500 MB of data on a 36 month contract. I pay $25 a month for unlimited landline service with no contract lock-in. I detest service contracts.

Elgan argues that 25% of US households no longer have landline service, but that means that 75% still do. And what about emergency 911 service and DSL broadband, both of which require fixed locations and hardwired connections?

Music CDs

Music CDs? As noted above, I still listen to music on cassette tape from time to time. I don't particularly like CD media, and I've ripped all the CDs I own with music that I still listen to into MP3 format to play on the iPod or computer. However, I'm in no rush to do away with the CD, not only for movie music distribution, but optical drives in computers as well. I think there's a case for moving optical drive support to peripheral devices, à la the MacBook Air and the Mac mini server, but for reasons elaborated above, we're a long way from online distribution of everything.

Satellite Radio

Satellite radio? I'm not a subscriber, but why kill a service many people like and use? As for Internet-delivered radio over a cellphone, he's got to be kidding! At those highway robbery rates providers charge for data service?

Redundant Registration

Redundant registration - such having to type in your email address and/or password twice to register or enter your city and state plus zip code when the zip code already points to a certain city and state - is one technological aggravation I'll agree on getting clear of if security can be maintained (probably a big "if"). Happily, Apple has so far maintained an enlightened registration policy for OS X.

Call me a Luddite if you want, but like I said, I'm in no hurry to get rid of things that work, even when they're well back of the cutting edge.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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