Saturday, August 20, 2005

Computer Independence

I was thinking over the last week about what has changed in my use of computers over the past 10 years. Although technology has moved on considerably, the differences are less obvious than I would have thought.

In 1995, I was forced to run Windows at work, used Linux at home and wanted a Macintosh to play with. Back then, I wrote reviews for PC Week (now eWeek) and thus had a whole lab full of cutting-edge hardware, free software and a fast permanent connection to the Internet. I was already a neck-deep in the Web, running PC Week Labs' site (one of the few print publication sites to start in 1994, complete with discussion forums written in Perl).

Today, I'm still running Windows at work, use Linux at home, and can't afford a Mac. The difference is that it doesn't matter nearly as much. My "lab" is my living room, but the software that counts is free, the hardware that I can build myself for a day's pay outstrips PC Week's fastest workstations by several orders of magnitude and my home connection to the Internet is speedier than the one at work. And what clinches it is that I can start this sentence at work (Memo to boss: No, I'm not), write the middle of it on an Internet PC in the Eurostar business lounge at Waterloo station in London, type a bit more of it on my Blackberry, and finish it on my Linux PC at home.

In short, what computer I'm using is less and less important. The applications I like -- Firefox and Skype, for example -- are available on all three operating systems. The data that matters to me -- my email, Web bookmarks, photos, the blogs I follow, documents and contacts (the latter primarily kept in GMail) -- are accessible from just about any make or model.

For most of my friends and family, however, this may seem irrelevant. They're still running one computer, or at most two (home and work). Why is computer independence a good thing? One word: Freedom. I really don't care what Microsoft does, or who wins the operating systems war. I'm not drooling over the next promised upgrade of Word. And if I manage my data carefully, I don't care who gets reaped in the next Dot-Bust. I still want a Mac, of course, but when I get it, migration will be a breeze.

Over the next couple of posts, I'll take a look at my current strategies for keeping independent.

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