Column: Changing computer allegiances is a bit like joining a cult

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 7, 2002

“A modern computer hovers between the obsolescent and the nonexistent.” &045; Sydney Brenner

Recently, I joined a cult.

OK, I didn’t really join a cult, but I did switch from one computer operating system to another, which is almost the same thing. Now I guess you could consider me bisystematic, or whatever the correct term for the operating system equivalent of bilingual is.

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One reason why I likened switching operating systems to joining a cult is the mental reprogramming involved. I now have to get used to a new set of keystroke commands. What makes this a challenge is that both systems feature different keyboard configurations. It’s not like the keys on the new keyboard feature the Greek alphabet, nor are they in alphabetical order instead of the familiar “qwerty” layout, but there are a few keys that are unique to each system, which takes some getting used to.

Another mental challenge is that I have no idea how to change the default settings in the new system. Although I have no desire to change the color of my desktop to florescent puce with metallic mauve text, it frustrates me that as of right now, I couldn’t do it if I wanted to.

Another reason I compared it to joining a cult was the loyalty involved. There are basically two major operating systems available, each with its own software. With very few exceptions, software designed to run on one system will not run on the other. Choosing one system somewhat precludes you from using software designed for the other. Moreover, like cult membership, once you choose where your loyalty lies, you try to brainwash, um, I mean convince other people to do the same. (Actually, I am not yet entirely loyal to either system. Right now, I still use both.)

The cult similarities end there, however. Under no circumstances do I anticipate shaving my head and traipsing through the streets draped in orange sheets and playing the tambourine. I have no plans to distribute cyanide-laced Kool-Aid to the masses. Nor do I intend to stand in the center of a circle of black candles, recruit 13 people to worship a comet, sell all my belongings or renounce all my personal relationships. Doing any of that would be just plain weird.

Never is a computer &045; or, for that matter, any other big-box purchase &045; more beautiful than when you first break open the tape sealing the box. From the squeak of the tightly packed Styrofoam packaging sliding against the cardboard walls of the box to the sight of the images fluttering across the monitor for the first time, it is quite a sensory experience. And, if you’re given to drizzling melted butter over those protective foam shipping peanuts, I imagine you can take it a step further and add taste to the experience.

The funny thing about computers is that the newness wears off, no matter how high-tech they are the day you buy them. After enough time, you can get better technology for less money. Given the rate of technological advancement, computers age more rapidly than dogs do. They eventually become too old to learn new tricks, or more specifically, new software.

That was the case here. There isn’t really anything wrong with the old computer. It has served me well for almost four years, and I will still get some use out of it. Actually, I used it to write this column. Eventually, though, I will completely make the switch and align myself exclusively with the other guys.

It just occurred to me that I have been somewhat vague in my descriptions. Some people out there might not know specifically which computer systems I am alluding to. Unfortunately, I will have to remain silent on that topic. It would not be proper for me to use my column to publicly endorse one operating system over another. However, I will say that my old operating system was somewhat of a pane, but in comparison, the new one should prove to be somewhat more fruitful.

Dustin Petersen is an Albert Lea resident. His column appears Mondays.