Cyberdiversity, or the lack thereof

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iantm's picture
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While posting on another topic, I ended up ranting about the death of diversity with the unification of the vendors. In the last 20 years, we've seen our platform choices dwindle. In those days, it was Mac, Amiga, Atari, Apple II, C64, TRS-80, or MS-DOS. Nowadays, we have a choice of Mac, Unix (linux and bsd derivatives), and Windows. Some greats have fallen hard. Commodore and Atari vanished, the TRS-80 machines were displaced for DOS machines, and the Apple II showed its age by the time 1993 rolled around.

While perusing old issues of Byte magazine (anything prior to 1993 is good) and Macworld (again prior to 1994), I noticed that the computing culture was a lot different. It seems as though the explosion of computers on everyday people in the mid 1990's changed everything. The platforms consolidated, and later on, so did the component vendors. Nowadays, LCD's, CRT's, power supplies, power adapters, and laptop batteries all seem to come from one of three companies in the component cartel. LG Electronics, Samsung, and a third vendor whose name escapes me at the moment seem to be the sole providers of these parts. Now, with the intel migration, we're going to likely see this happen on a larger scale with Apple. Considering that Gateway/eMachines, Dell, Compaq/HP, and all of the remaining pc vendors all use the same commodity parts in their machines, I think that Apple will be going even further with it. After all, what's the difference between a Dell and an eMachines - the plastics and eMachines has a better tech support line.

What's everyone's thoughts on the consolidation of the tech sector and the changes in our culture. We're in the midst of a computing cold war between Apple and Microsoft. It's only a matter of time before we know who will become the soviets who effectively bakrupted themselves trying to one up the americans in the arms and space races. (I can go on about the cold war and space race, and how we got much better movies during that time period than now, but that can wait for another day)

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astro_rob's picture
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Give The People What They Want... ?

You're not alone in noticing the lack of diversity in platforms. When I taught computer science a couple of years back, the science academy that employed me pretty much had the history of personal computing on site (and even a PDP... go figure). It really just comes down to Darwinism... survival of the fittest. Microsoft's goal was never to be an equipment vendor but instead specialized in software; that strategy, plus their rather aggressive methods for distribution, worked.
Even as recently as 2000, we had a few more options for the average consumer then we do now. For instance, in addition to Apple and the MS monopoly, we still had Amiga (sort of) plus a couple of odd players in the QNX platform based machines, the 3Com Aubrey and the iOpener. This is just a question of architectures, though; remember, technically a PC can run any OS you want, as long as your machine meets the requirements (personal note; I think that computers have gone over the deep end where hardware requirements are concerned. 128 MB RAM just to run a word processor? More to surf the net? No, folks... this comes down to a bastard child of Moore's Law and [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson's_law]Parkinson's Law[/url]. Sloppiness begets sloppiness).
Sadly, I really fear the days of multiple platforms has passed. Just like the days of multiple military contractors, aerospace companies and automobile manufacturers.

Happy Easter,
Rob

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On the note fo car companies,

On the note fo car companies, I find it kinda funny that an "import" may have more US made parts and have been assembled in the US than a "domestic" that has been made from foreign parts and assembled in Mexico and shipped here to be sold... The days of clear diversity are long gone.

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There are more choices than M

There are more choices than Mac OS, Unix, and WIndows. At least in the server world. The iSeries (AS/400) and zSeries (S/390) are still doing fairly well. VMS is still around and is doing okay. You just don't see much of those as they are not cheap and only exist in the larger installations.

As for the consoldation. It costs a lot of money to design and produce a computer. When a cheap PC cost $2K it was easy to have lots of manufactures as there was plenty of money to go around. Now you can build a computer just about $200. The only way to stay in business in to consoldate and have as few variations as possible.

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iantm's picture
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True True

I know about iSeries, zSeries, and the rs/6000 boxes (don't remember what they're called now). But since they aren't what I'd consider computers you'd buy for home use, and the fact that they all rely on one variant of the PowerPC or another. I understand that with prices coming down that consolidation is inevitable, but then again, in the early 80's you could get a vic 20, and later on a c64 for around $300. There will always be a low bidder platform, the sad thing is that we are all now dependant on that one platform (or soon will be with Apple phasing out PowerPC in favor of intel). Even having OS/2 around was a nice option, but it died horribly (good job IBM for having the ability to run windows apps natively).

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I have to agree with redrouteone

The platform diversity is there... even if all we had was *NIXy OS's, there's still plenty of diversity. What you are complaining about, and you nearly hone right in on it in this last response, is that the diversity is lacking in the choice of the consumer: the consumer is the one limiting their own diversity ("what should I get... hmm... Windows... or Windows... lessie... Gateway... or Dell... such a tough decision"). We do it to ourselves. What I've noticed, is that the vast majority, say, 95%+, think (really believe) there is only one choice, Windows, and that the other choices (Linux, Mac, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, Plan9, SunOS, Solaris, QNX, OpenVMS, etc. etc. see here) are not choices at all, either because of ignorace or prejudice. As it stands, there are enough fully functional and modern platforms for every day of the month. Just because one is more popular than the others does not negate the existence of other platforms nor does it limit your choices if one opens their mind to the possibilities.

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It's All About Architecture

I for one lament the lack of different architectures available to the average consumer. Yes, there are different architectures out there, but how many are readily available to the average end user? I remember seeing on the shelves in the late 1980's...
- Commodore 128 ("D" models) (Commodore 64 DOS and C/PM)
- Commodore Amiga 500 (Amiga OS)
- Apple 8-bit & Laser 128 (Apple Pro-DOS)
- Apple 16-bit (GS-OS)
- PC's (MS-DOS, Windows, GEM, C/PM-86...)
- TRS-80 (just barely hanging on...)
- Tandy CoCo (OS-9)
- And of course, Macintosh

But you know, when you stop and think about it, some of those old machines were really dead-end developments. As I mentioned in my post, this is Darwinian, and the fittest survived. Forget that 95% of the PC market is dominated by Windows; it's a robust design that is very adaptable. None of those other, older 8-bit machines could manage that, even the Apple ][ series.
In reality, there are some rather interesting options out there for the consumer, provided they are up to the challenge of finding them (I'm thinking the Alphasmart Dana series here, as well as the QuickPAD portables, though they are really satellite computers more than true computer replacements. Doesn't meant you can't, though).
The thing is, most people have neither the time nor inclination, nor are many computer shops interested in leading people away from the rest of the flock.
But options do exist.

Peace,
Rob

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...I Forgot...

Remember the Atari ST series?

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huh?

Quote:

Forget that 95% of the PC market is dominated by Windows; it's a robust design that is very adaptable.

we must have very different definitions of 'robust.' The windows that ran in 1994 is not the windows that is running now.... It's NT, if anything, that is robust (prior to M$ buying the whole dev team, it was ported to a lot of architectures, or at least it was going to be)... the saving grace of windows, you could call it, but they somehow even managed to screw up the stability of NT, eventually. Sorry... I don't mean to start a stupid flame war or anything... but I have an extremely low opinion of windows, whatever its underlying configuration (but not necessarily a low opinion of Microsoft or the Bill).

I just disagree I guess... It's Microsoft's "right place at right time" (re: sensitive dependence on initial conditions) and ruthless business tactics, and that most in the business world that are sheep that, is responsible for the ubiquity of Windows... and not any inherent qualities of windows like whether or not it is robust.

---
maybe I should qualify my bold statements.
An example of a robust platform would be the Amiga that ran the video toaster. Those things were in use a decade after Commodore went under. Another example of a robust platform would be (OS X and) Apple's early PPCs (more current hw too young to tell). I want to get rid of my 9600... but I can't justify it because it is my most stable machine (had an uptime between updates of @ 45 days... lessie that in the windows world on a machine made in 2005). Does anyone still have an old Windows machine? In my experience, after a year or two, they are almost unusable.

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Well...

I was referring to PC architecture, not Windows. From a design standpoint, the design of the original IBM PC was pretty rock solid, if a little chintzy (they took major shortcuts because IBM did not believe in the "Boca Raton Project"). That design still rings true today. It's a decent design... not a Mercedes or Rolls, but definitely a Chevy.

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IBM rules

fair enough... I've always loved IBM... maybe they didn't make the best business choices over the decades, but they definately DO advance global technologies, the market notwithstanding. They do have some hardy machines.