Ghosts of O.S.s past

For some reason I think the products were better back then too. Maybe it’s just me?
…well maybe not the products per-se. I seem to remember a much less buggier time, when the features tended to be mostly useful rather than more towards non-functional and annoying. Or maybe I’m just old and it’s nostalgia that makes me mourn the passing of the days when we could exit Windows and play in DOS unhindered. It definitely seems like today’s graphics and processor heavy games (and editing programs, maybe? For those who can work without the internet and distractions) could really use a DOS running environs to free up 100% of the RAM and processor capacity to run them without interrupts from background processes.

I tend to think that back when harddrive and RAM space were at a serious premium, coding was much more innovative. When you’ve only 1.38MB to fit a program into without running onto another disc, or a few MB of RAM to play with…well you sure had to make your code efficient, short and speedy. Of course this link kinda belies that, with hidden jokes in the code:

Farts and f-bombs: see the hidden jokes in Microsoft’s early code

…but the feeling from Win95/98 escalating onwards, for me, especially with the Office Suite, seemed to be a whole lot of code and a whole lot of resource usage, without the desired return. That said, Win95/98 are still the incarnations of Windows I liked best, with Win3.1 second (now 3.1 is a nostalgia award, but it did work well). Windows didn’t interfere with you messing with it or trying to do things as much then.

Of course…very little of what I now use a device for these days would be possible on an old 486 running Win95 (I’m assuming…never tried running Chrome or WordPress on a machine that old), and if it did, with 16MB of RAM on that processor, I have my doubts it would move very fast. But it was somewhat of a more satisfying user experience, at least in my rose coloured memory.

It sometimes looks like we may be going back to that era of innovative coding. There’s a bit of a trend towards small efficient apps with phones and tablets having limited capacities…but it also looks like those capacities are growing far more quickly than the demand for small well coded apps.

I remember in highschool actually getting in trouble because I preferred to code html in Notepad rather than Frontpage (yeah, I’m old!). True, we were learning to build webpages using html in Frontpage, in theory, but I felt like the problem was our teacher wasn’t up for coding by hand. Or something. I felt like maybe she wasn’t that computer literate, but that might be just my arrogant teenage ego. Still. My pages were 1/4 the size/length of someone who used Frontpage. The Java I dropped in it actually worked, and Frontpage didn’t screw around with it, or my text formatting (the reason I remember originally deciding to just do it in Notepad). How a professionally coded program kept screwing around my headings so much still confuses me. But hey, it was an early incarnation of the program.

My point remains though, even at the end of the 90s, it was better to code by hand than use an editor. Back before the 90s, people coded in binary, and got vastly faster software that way. You go back far enough, and programmers customised software per system/hardware to the point that the program ran in sync with the RAM’s cycle time, and arranged the code within it’s storage to minimise/economise transition between parts of the code to make the program run faster.

I don’t know how much of an increase in performance we’d get customising to that extent these days, but surely that kind of methodology/ethic could only produce better products? Custom coded programs for EVERY device isn’t really feasible, but the major phones and tablets at least? I know most of the programs I download onto my tablet are essentially the same files as those I download to my phone (they even say they’re the designed for cell phones version).

I guess I see a culture change towards easy shortcuts and away from more effective hardwork. Not that coding isn’t about easy shortcuts, but it seems the tradeoff has been more ease and speed over quality, efficiency of product, and elegance. Anyone who’s studied physics can appreciate simplicity and elegance in an equation, and the same goes for program code. That’s why things like Java and CSS can be so much lovelier than custom longhand html. And I never really learned to code those much for myself (stealing and customise yes, originally create, no), but after trying to do things in html and finding much simpler and elegant (also more foolproof) solutions using a couple of lines of code rather than a hundred…I appreciate.

So maybe I don’t want Win3.1 to run on this laptop…but maybe the next laptop or version of Windows I get could come without some of the huge baggage and resource hogging code, with options to install or activate features rather than them autoinstalling and running (Outlook I’m thinking of you)?

This user would wait an extra year for a more streamlined OS that’s not webonly.












*NB Although we teenagers loved the Flight Simulator hidden within Office…here’s betting the install would have been just a bit smaller without it.


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