The Enticements Of Technology
Why do we feel the need to constantly upgrade our computers when we completely resist this phenomenon in most other areas of our lives? We don't go upgrading our couch every 6 months, or remove and dispose of perfectly functional appliances just so we can have that new shade of "almond" or an even shinier stainless steel backsplash. Don't even get me started on these "new and improved" low-flow toilets. They will have to pry my 5 gallon flusher from my cold, dead hands...
But for some reason, computers are a completely different matter. We seem willing to dispose of our previous system at a loss just so we can get a few more megahertz or frames per second. We move on to DDR, RDRAM, AGP, and all manner of improvements. How do we know what technologies will last and which ones are just a fad? History is always a good teacher.
In a nutshell, we started with the old IBM PC where floppy disks were king, to the XT, where hard drives made an appearance. We saw the rise of monitors that could do shades of amber instead of pure monochrome. We went from Hercules, to CGA to EGA to VGA to SuperVGA and beyond. 13" monitors once littered the landscape, but now 17" is the de facto standard, and 19" is becoming even more popular than ever.
Oddly, while we have made a full-blown switch from the command-line to the GUI, we have seen many things stay the same on the hardware side. There were ISA slots on motherboards some 20 years ago, and by golly, there are motherboards made today that still have these slots. We have had floppy drives and serial ports and printer ports and game ports, all of which can still be found on the modern PC at this very moment.
Realities Of The Human Condition
Some things have advanced quite fast, but at the core there are still a lot of older technologies that serve as the basis for our modern computers. Why are they still there? Perhaps because they have been reliable mainstays. It seems that part of our nature is to hang on to things that we are familiar with. Once we are given something, it is very hard to take it away from us without getting a forceful negative reaction.
Look at how long it took CD-ROM drives to become accepted, and how long it took for Microsoft to wean us off of MS-DOS. Ergonomic keyboards have become fairly popular, but by far it is the tried and true layout of the flat, rectangular "QWERTY" keyboard that we end up buying some 85% of the time. Computer cases have slowly moved from desktop to mini-tower units, but it turns out that a mini-tower is really just a desktop turned on its side. There are many more examples, but I think you get the point.
As it turns out, human beings don't really feel comfortable thinking "outside the box". We get used to something and are loathe to let it go. We know how it works, we can understand the flaws and usually accept them because it is more comfortable to stick with what you know than it is to take a leap of faith and try something different.
Computer makers have been struggling for a long, long time trying to push the envelope without alienating the consumer base. Some innovate and wonderful products have fallen flat on their face, while less innovative, less capable products have continued to win the hearts and minds of those who pay the bills. So now that we know this, lets move on and take a look at some specifics to see just where we are, and maybe where we should go.