After enduring many months of my spare computer playing up regularly – crashing, losing time, losing its CMOS settings – I finally decided to take a look under the hood yesterday. And found an obsolete video capture card in there, one I haven’t used in years. I don’t think I even have any drivers for it around the place. Anyway it was half in, and half out of its slot. Ah. D’oh. Sure enough, once it was removed, everything was hunky-dory again. Well, almost. Actually I think the CMOS battery does need replacing.

Are computers ready for prime time? I mean, they’re very common in homes now, but when it comes down to it, I’m still not sure I trust them to be left in the hands of your average punter, without that average punter having to regularly scream for help. And it’s not like a VCR, where the most complex function – programming the timer – can be safely ignored. When computers fail, there’s so many different ways they can fail, many of them severely limiting what you can do with them.

Take, for example, my dad. He rang me up last week and said he’d like to start writing again. Which is great. And he had gone looking for a word processor, like the one he used to own. One of those single function things. No games, no Solitaire, just word processing. And he couldn’t find one. He was told you can’t buy them anymore, and he’d have to buy a computer.

Alarm bells were ringing in my head. My dad just manages to work his TV and his alarm clock. Even if he had a computer which was not hooked up to the Net (and therefore was facing minimal risk of viruses, worms, spam, Gator software and other such nasties), I could just imagine something going wrong. Some driver would go funny, and what would he do? Is he going to replace a DLL or rebuild the kernel himself? Like hell. He’d be on the phone in seconds, and I’d have to traipse across town to fix it. And if I couldn’t do it that day, he’d be stuck in the mean time.

In this area, it seems to me that not much has changed since I wrote the "Techheads vs Users" article back in 1997. Computers are still a long way from being bulletproof. I think I might find my dad a typewriter.

Have a good Christmas, everyone. Or if you don’t celebrate Christmas, then have a good December 25th. If you use a different calendar system, you’re on your own.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.