Computer de-evolution: Features that lost the evolutionary war

Today's tools may be more powerful, but many lack some useful features of their forebears.

By , ITworld |  Software, keyboards, Linux

Today's computers offer processing power, speed, storage, Internet connectivity, display size and quality, and other capabilities that few even dreamed of ten or more years ago, certainly not at prices affordable for any developer or even consumer.

And many of the applications that run on these machines cheerfully consume these cycles, network megabits per second and gigabytes of RAM and storage.

But there are some things they don't do that the old, slow, often command-line-intead-of-GUI-oriented applications did.

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I've got my own pet peeves, of course. Two of the text editors I used to use -- PC-Write, the old DOS text processor I used to write my freelance articles with, and also PEN, a Unix screen-oriented text editor that was at BBN when I worked there, which I used for writing computer documentation and other projects -- could split the screen window as many times as I wanted (e.g., I could have five or six slices of a file showing). For editing long, complex documents, this was a great convenience. By contrast, Microsoft Word can only split the screen in two.

And when I moved my landline phone from Verizon to Comcast (going digital in the process), I lost one feature that was often useful: Remote forwarding. With remote forwarding I could set call forwarding from a phone other than my home phone to a phone other than my home phone.

Here are some thoughts from developers and users who have been in the biz long enough to have used a variety of tools. Not surprisingly, the features they miss mostly center around productivity and efficiency.

Shortcuts and keyboards

"I have been typing on a computer since 1981," says Eric Loyd, President and CTO of Bitnetix Incorporated, a small technology consulting company located near Rochester, New York. "What I miss most are keyboards that have some 'omph' to them, and software that makes use of keyboard shortcuts. I really miss the 'clicky' IBM Model M keyboards from the mid and late '80s, for instance. I can type 150+ words per minute and I can move my fingers across a keyboard faster than I can move my hand to a mouse, move the cursor, click, and put my fingers back on the keyboard. I really really really miss customizable keyboard shortcuts."

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