Game Development

Rant: How the unwashed masses have ruined computing

When I first started using the PC (mid-80s) there was only DOS. DOS wasn’t hard to use. My Dad, who bought the computer, installed some kind of shell where you could hit F7 or something to enter a directory, F6 to go back, and F5 to run the highlighted program. However, the shell actually ran the regular cd.. and cd [dir] commands. So I learned 80% of all the commands I would ever use in DOS in the first day, and 99% in the first month. I never used the shell again after about a week.

Then Windows came out, and it sucked. It was slower to get to my programs, took minutes to load, as opposed to seconds in DOS, ate up memory, and basically didn’t contribute anything to my ability to use the computer. Yet, over several revisions, it was popular. Eventually, application companies stopped supporting DOS and I was forced to upgrade my computer just to run Windows.

Most of what I did at the time on the computer was play games. Back in the DOS and early Windows days, there were no installers. On floppy disks there were unpackers. Early CD-ROM games just had the whole game on the CD-ROM and you could run it from there directly if you wanted to.

Things were good, because I had control over my harddrive. I knew were every file on my computer was and what it did because I put it there. If I wanted to backup, copy, or move a game I just did it. There was no registry or shared files to contend with. There was no crap left over or “Add/Remove” programs list where 1/4 of the programs in the list actually don’t exist but can’t be removed from the list.

Yet, companies started using installers, and they started using Add/Remove programs, and soon my harddrive was cluttered with crap. My computer was now slower, with wasted harddrive space, and I had to reformat every 6 months or else things got out of control. Even now I still reformat about once a year.

Fast forward a few years. The next version of Windows, Vista, takes half a gigabyte of RAM just to run. I complain about my work computer regularly, which runs XP. Yet it is an Intel 3 gigaherts. That ought to be fast enough to open a text editor right? But for various reasons it’s often not. Essentially, unless you have a top-of-the-line computer you can’t even run the OS anymore without frustration and slowdowns. Why is this? Because people want cute 3D windows, animated icons, and other crap that has nothing to do with the point of the OS, which is to run your programs.

This is the same reason why console gaming is more popular than PC gaming. Consoles are less powerful, harder and more expensive to develop for, and the games are more expensive. Yet they account for 3/4 of the market for two reasons: quality control and installation which consists of inserting a cartridge rather than clicking through a few windows on your PC.

Half the population has an IQ under 100. Better applications, which don’t support “click and drool” as a fundamental design feature, fall behind those that may be worse in every regard except the installation. Windows vs. Linux is arguably in this camp.

It’s important to end a rant with a lesson learned, since complaining isn’t going to change the reality of the situation. The lesson is to make your software so easy to use that your Grandma can use it. If you can do that, you’ll sell to the 50% of the population with an IQ under 100 that your competitor can’t sell to.

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