Why we need fast computers ?

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Why we need fast computers ?

Postby AtariZoll » Sun Nov 20, 2016 12:22 pm

Question in title may seem as trivial for some, but in this forum I see threads what show that it is not exactly clear topic for some (other) people.

Simple answer: there will be always something demanding higher and higher processing speed. Like simulations, games and so on. Detail level is actually still pretty much low.

When I bought my first ST, it was because I wanted faster computer than 8-bit one, at 3.5 Mhz. ST was almost natural choice then - it's price/speed ratio was then probably best. And yes, it gave me speed gain of about 4-5. Some 30 years later ST is very slow oldie. But it will be same with nowadays computers soon. We even can not imagine what will be possible with computers 10000 faster than what is now in mass usage.
There is lot of false claims, wrong statements, explanations circulating around. Some say that multiple cores are needed because one core replaces other, which must rest :D That some CPU with 3x bigger cache is 3x faster. That you can encode video in Linux 4x faster than in Windows, because later is so inefficient. Well, latest one may be actually not that stupid. If user takes not care, it may be really that most of CPU time is spent on useless crap. But it is not Windows core what makes slowdown, or eats GBs of RAM. Windows 10 self eats about 1GB, but some services of it may much more.
In Win7 I just discovered that update service (while I disabled automatic updates) eats 25% of CPU time and 2GB RAM. For what - to look for updates. But probably there is more, what is not public, I guess. Is it stupidity, lazyness of MS people, or surveillance paranoia - will not go in it here.
Things are that you can have almost 100% CPU time, and most of RAM for your need in Windows. Just need to take care.
I say all it because some people in some threads here talk about very inefficient resource usage in modern OS, Win in first place. That simply is not true. All depends on you user. If you let them, they will take it over from you - advertisers, update paranoia and like. And even did not mention malware.
If you see slower work than usual, should immediately check in task manager, disable auto run of crap etc.
Speed is always welcome. I did recoding of great movie Heaven's Gate (over 3 hours runtime) with 2 core, little older CPU in 3 whole days. Some newer 4 core can do it 6x faster. But even Atari related things can go better - accelerated Steem is more accelerated. My primitive Win packer is still slow :D Converting to STE high-color is still slow ... Claims that you don't need some high speed for usual tasks are just stupid. There is no such thing. Even simple WEB browsing is very demanding now. And will be more and more. This is how things go.

Video watching is where you need really high power - especially if want 4K with some modern codec. But even full HD with x265 (HEVC) is very demanding. But some still talk about watching DVDs. No thanks, that's just not enough sharp for me anymore.
Actually, today CPUs are very very slow for some things. Why they use thousands of CPUs in cluster by supercomputers ?
Of course, industry is one, who forces people to buy newer and faster computers periodically. SW publishers highly involved. But if you are not hardcore gamer wanting to play newest releases, you may save some money by simple checking of your config and disabling crap.
This is nothing new in fact. Stays for many of Atari people with mass storage too. They want lot of diverse resident SW like ACCs, extensions and like to be loaded even when using it not at all.
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Re: Why we need fast computers ?

Postby exxos » Sun Nov 20, 2016 1:14 pm

I can format a floppy on my ST about 3x faster than my quadcore PC 8)
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Re: Why we need fast computers ?

Postby EmpireAndrew » Sun Nov 20, 2016 4:17 pm

Why do we need faster computers?

Most of do not need faster computers, they were plenty fast enough 15 years ago.

This in fact is what got me back into retro machines, several conversations with other tech friends over lunch about what we do at work with our machines now and how powerful they are (we are mostly devops people writing code on MacBook Pro's) vs how we used to do it back in the day and the young guys in the group felt the old machines they never used must be a horrifically slow experience to which we pointed out not. And they couldn't understand how that could be possible. It certainly got me thinking and I felt the performance difference, if any, wasn't as much as I would have thought given how much more powerful machines are today. I mean, how much more powerful is the multi core CPU in my MacBook Pro vs say a 68000 or 68030? Just on clock speed alone we're talking 12GHz of so (combined) vs say 25MHz to put a number out there. That's around 500 times more powerful. With added instructions per clock, better piplining, more cache and so on It must be at least 1,000 or even 1,500 times faster surely? And it doesn't have to deal with the graphics, that's handed off to the GPU so it has even more time on its hands.
The SSD at 2,500MB/s vs 1.8MB/s out of an old SCSI Atari or Mac is around 1,300 times faster. With 16GB of RAM I have about 4,000 times more memory than a maxxed out ST.

So 1,500 - 4,000 times more powerful?
When I'm sitting here doing average tasks, writing this post, reading my mail, checking the news online, is the experience that much better?
I argue not.


Take the average office worker writing a document in Word, or creating a spreadsheet in Excel with charts. They will take said charts and put them in a Powerpoint. You could do all of that on late 90's computer with no sluggishness. You can have your email open in the background too.

The programs themselves were smaller, which meant they took up less memory and the CPU chewed through fewer cycles to run them. They took up less space on the disk too.

Digital artists would want a faster machine to deal with multiple layers or large (by the standards back then) graphics in say Photoshop. Since then images have grown larger requiring more memory and more processing power to work on them.

Video editing was fine in the early 2000's on an iBook, but they were DV quality, not HD. Whence we went to HD we needed four times everything just to get the same experience.

We work on larger data (for better or for worse) and thus we need more powerful machines.
But in situations were the data hasn't grown (email, word processing etc) we don't.

There is also massive bloat. I read somewhere (I forget where) that something like 85% of features in Word are used by less than 1% of users.
But you need new stuff to sell the next version of your product. In the end people are happy enough with what they have but support for older formats is dropped forcing upgrades.

However we do have other genuinely useful features enabled by this excess of processing power. Take the way the Apple Spotlight feature works to index everything on your disk live so you can call up any file anywhere just by typing a few letters into the hot-keyed search box, even text within PDF's for example. We have full disk encryption. And so on.

We also want to move faster competitively speaking, so apps are mostly written in higher level languages and there is a focus on writing clean, readable and more easily maintainable code for these ever more complicated apps instead of optimising for memory or speed. I don't think we've gained any stability of maintainability by it as the feature count and scale has made up for any gains. And speed (of code execution vs development time) definately suffers.

A raspberry pi is a lightning fast machine vs my old Atari's but running a simple word processor on one vs my Atari often feels slower.
Even with Linux which is supposedly much more efficient than Windows but has bloated itself all out of control imho negating many of its former benefits. If a Pi running Linux feels sluggish doing simple tasks like browsing through the file system and editing text files, vs my old Atari's, then something is wrong.

The web is a very interesting, and depressing, topic to me.

With an ethernet connection and a suitably designed website (ie something with no javascript or css and with images designed to load over a 56k modem) my TT can cope perfectly fine if still a little sluggish.

My late 90's PowerMac is a dream to use.

But...

CSS is computationally intensive and while a late 90's machine can cope fine (if it has software that can deal with CSS) a mid 90's machine struggles.

But the no 1 worst thing is javascript. We are now writing apps to run in a web browser and for the most part they're interpreted. Not compiled. So they're slow, probably by a factor of 20 (finger in the air guesstimate). There's 10 years of computing progress rolled back right there. What do we gain over javascript free web? Well you can drag and drop email messages from 1 mailbox to another for example, instead of having to select the message and choose move, then choose from a list of folders presented to you. It's about ease of use for the end user. Not a bad thing, but not necessary if we weren't running interpreted code in a web browser.

I can live with that trade-off, but of course older machines are locked out.
Again, I can live with that. But what really annoys me is how the simple concept of reading a news article, i.e. text and average sized images on a page, is also locked out due to all the unnecessary junk. Basically designers run amok. There should be no reason I can't read an article on say the BBC website with snappy performance on say a Raspberry Pi or a mid 90's computer for that matter.
But the experience is either slow or impossible due to all the unnecessary junk they wrap it in. It's web designers run amok. We prioritise having pixel perfect floating divs and kerning over making information available to as many people as possible.
Why does it matter if we're all running cable modems and multi core processors? Because:
A: Not everyone is, it would be nice if we didn't create an unnecessary digital divide, especially with developing countries. Also there are about 3 million active dial up accounts in America alone. So keeping pages small and simple would help them.
B: The cost of reading a page over a metered internet connection rises for no good reason.

The internet has not gone the way it was supposed to.


As for games, they look amazing, Project Cars vs Mircroprose Grand Prix isn't even a contest.
But I don't have any more fun playing the games now than I did 20 years ago. If anything they're all a bit samey frankly.
In fact the CPU doesn't matter that much in the game, and generally can only use 1 core. It's all about the GPU and graphics.
Games need to move on and exploit the power they have for more than just eye candy.
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Re: Why we need fast computers ?

Postby AtariZoll » Sun Nov 20, 2016 6:23 pm

Interpreting was normal thing on 8-bit computers, since they worked normally in Basic as default. I made some speed comparisons of simple variable increment in Basic vs. CPU register in ASM. LET A=A+1 vs INC A . It was about 4000x faster. After compiling Basic was still slower some 50 times.
And there was some commercial SW written entirely in Basic.
So, what you say is nothing new, nothing Windows, Linux or whatever specific. Efficient coding with short and fast code was always very hard, and done mostly only when it was absolutely necessary. Because most time goes on writing, coding SW, and not on designing HW, or even earning money to buy HW. And that's just another argument to have fast computers. That just gives us luxory to code efficiently - here saying efficiently considering time spent on coding. And again, that's nothing new. TOS was made in C in bigger part. Doing all in ASM would mean more delays, slower updates.
If we talk about speed, we should take in comparison new instructions which can process multiple data at once. And that still evolves. But it is not easy to code, and of course is not necessary for most of SW. But doing same routine with classic instructions would be mush slower on same CPU. So, I think that there may be factor about 10000 in compare of some new PC, MAC and Atari ST - for certain SW.
Talking about text processing is really pointless. Such SW spent most time in waiting user input 35 years ago, and it is same now.
Smaller code must not mean faster execution. More RAM allows faster code because we can make diverse routines for specific tasks instead some universal one. Good example for that is text outprint in GEM - it is very slow, because same routine does all font types and much more. In ProfiBuch it is called monster routine.

What makes Internet pages slow is lot of advertising, fancy graphic and even short videos on pages - all in one goal: to sell. There is Google present everywhere now - they follow you, they know what you bought, what you are looking for, etc. I don't think that Google cares at all for those with dial up connection - they are not good potential costumers. Not mainstream.
We could continue with arguments that most of power is spent on useless crap. That's pretty much true. Still, I say that I did good move when went on faster CPU, board. For less than price of Vampire self got CPU, MBO and 12 GB DDR3. Full power is used maybe in 5-10% of time. But is used, and that's same when buying car or stereo.
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Re: Why we need fast computers ?

Postby EmpireAndrew » Sun Nov 20, 2016 8:57 pm

Sure for that moment when you need to do something computationally expensive, like encoding a video, having the power is good.
But as for text processing being pointless, it very much isn't. That's what office workers do day in day out.
They write reports, proposals, do presentations, write quotes, examine figures etc. They send emails and instant messages.
99% of the time the machine is idling and almost nothing they do is computationally intensive so the machines are massively overpowered for their needs.
Not many people edit videos at home to be honest, they mostly consume, with the exception of video calls perhaps, and the hardware encoding and decoding of the likes of h264 means the CPU isn't do a great deal then either.
this is why tablets, which are considerably less powerful than todays laptps, are so popular.
They're primarily a consumption device and have all the power the users need. People are not upgrading their older iPads etc as the greater power of the newer ones is just not necessary.

As for coding features vs trying to make the routines more efficient (eg inline assembler) it was indeed only done when necessary back in the day, and almost (perhaps games are an exception) never now. And yes I worked for a company back in 97/98 writing a large app in Visual Basic which was sold to global companies for thousands per seat. There's nothing wrong with Basic or whatever. But it needs to be understood that higher level languages mean slower running and more bloated code. And so much today is written on top of layer upon layer of libraries and frameworks that bloat is out of hand. A worryingly large number of young developers today have no idea about efficiency at all. I do code reviews with people who pass copies of massive objects into method instead of doing so by reference. The memory requirements and performance both improve when they stop doing it. And it's no extra work for them either. They just don't care as computer resources are seen as infinite. When you show them how miniomal change can speed up their app though, then they begin to care a little. But the reality is, when you move your apps to the cloud and use scaling, the amount of money that you can save by having your app split down into micro services and running on hundreds of AWS micro or even nano instances instead of medium ones becomes financially significant. If Google write something to use half the resources it might otherwise need, the financial savings are mind blowing. But a lot of people writing apps that were designed to run on the customers hardware which is not paid for by their company and is practically infinite, get a rude wake yup call when they write cloud based apps that run on hardware their company has to pay for. The ability to handle millions more users on the same infrastructure spend as your competitors becomes an important competitive advantage. Even when at the same time you're writing in a higher level language (these days I'm being forced to use NodeJS which I hate) in order to deliver to market faster, there are ways you can at least think and design efficiently, if not as efficient as it would be if you were writing it in say C (because no-one in their right mind is using assmbler) for example.
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Re: Why we need fast computers ?

Postby calimero » Mon Nov 21, 2016 9:56 am

EmpireAndrew wrote:If a Pi running Linux feels sluggish doing simple tasks like browsing through the file system and editing text files, vs my old Atari's, then something is wrong.

The web is a very interesting, and depressing, topic to me.

With an ethernet connection and a suitably designed website (ie something with no javascript or css and with images designed to load over a 56k modem) my TT can cope perfectly fine if still a little sluggish.


my thoughts exactly!!!

Todays internet is arguably SAME in sense of usefulness as "old" internet but with many unnecessary fanfare!
If you want to buy ticket for airplane, order book, or exchange messages with friends, read article with images - all this stuff could be perfectly usable on 100MHz computer if there will be no layers over layers over layers of frameworks, interpreters, languages and all stuff that are basically PATCHES (CSS... than patch of CSS: Sass, Less...) to UNFINISHED design (which essential is World Wide Web! Complete mess of complete uncontrolled stuff).

Saddest of all things is that we, except adding bloatware on www, we do not have NOTHING MORE that we had decades ago! (except we need GHz CPU for www)

I still CAN NOT trace provenance of information on internet (e.g. I can not trace who and when start to talk that Jack Tramiel invest 500.000$ in Amiga chipset!), we still do not have BACKLINKS (only Google have it by brute force), we do not have micropayment for contributing in any project (since copy&paste do not keep track from where, when and who copied what...)...

And I still can not combine data from different places, from different format in ONE place (application). Best what we have is Word with OLE (or Evernote...). It is TERRIBLE!

Once upon time you could do this on far LESS powerful computers and today, beside GHz CPUs we still can only dream about such system:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnrlSqtpOkw?t=2m16s < just watch what was possible long before WWW!

Remember, this is from 70s on Xerox Star machine (something like '20MHz Atari ST'?)

We should use GHz to easing of manipulation of data, to make it more user friendly and more powerful than todays applications. We should not have 10 different file formats for same thing, and 100 different applications for same purpose. We should have components that can be easily combined when you need them on universal data structure.


I personally hate todays computers because they are essentially SAME as 30 years old Atari.


One bonus clip about what went wrong with computer industry and how:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6SUOeAqOjU if you have time, watch entire series: "Computers for Cynics" from Ted Nelson.
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Re: Why we need fast computers ?

Postby alexh » Mon Nov 21, 2016 10:18 am

I do believe that there is now new inputs to "Why we need fast computers" and they are (in my opinion)

Security - The online/live nature of the programs we run today and the data within them has meant that the solution to security has drastically increased the complexity of the programs running. Realtime encryption and decryption. Sandbox execution. Virtual Machines etc. all add nothing to the user experience but add a lot of processing under the hood.

Time-to-market : You could say this hasn't changed but what has changed is to meet the time to market the number of people working on a software project has increased. One person can no-longer understand and be knowledgeable at a line-by-line basis the code an application is executing, especially when it calls the OS and other 3rd party bits of code. The effect is that optimisation and code profiling cannot be done to the same level it may once have been done. (That said I imagine the tools to do such things have probably increased?) I truly believe that programs written today require more CPU power simply because badly written code can and does slip through the cracks because they were written on computers where CPU power IS available and hard disk bandwidth IS available and problems are hidden from the developer. It is only when the user with older hardware uses them problems become obvious.

Latency : Our online world is now at the mercy of internet latency and this latency is not just lack of bandwidth it is bad code in our TCP/IP stacks both in our PC's and embedded devices like our router and the DSLAM at the exchange. Just recently teams tried to tackle the Wifi latency issue with some success. Google for bufferbloat if you're interested.
Last edited by alexh on Mon Nov 21, 2016 1:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Why we need fast computers ?

Postby calimero » Mon Nov 21, 2016 10:44 am

alexh wrote:Time-to-market : You could say this hasn't changed but what has changed is to meet the time to market the number of people working on a software project has increased. One person can no-longer understand and be knowledgeable at a line-by-line basis the code an application is executing, especially when it calls the OS and other 3rd party bits of code...


One more video with Alan Kay talking about bloatware:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubaX1Smg6pY

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Re: Why we need fast computers ?

Postby AtariZoll » Mon Nov 21, 2016 12:16 pm

No doubt that there is lot of bloatware, poorly coded SW, what runs so-so fast on modern PC, and is slow on little older computers.
But I consider it just as very poor argument against need for fast computers. The reasons for such SW were described well by alexh. I can just add what told already - inefficient code is nothing new. I see it almost every day in games for instance. Example, seen many times: some managed to make simple decrease of player life count, what normally is 1 CPU instruction to hardly followable mess. Variable is moved/copied on multiple places multiple times and like. Probably because they followed C coding recommendations for structured programming, and made it as function. Floppy accessing code can be very inefficient too, and so on.
There will be always inefficient code. Expecting that suddenly everyone will learn and put effort to make efficient, compact code is not realistic.
Most of people working on WEBsites is with low programming knowledge. Most of SW testing is primitive: checking is it work (enough fast), and that's all.
Argument about that tablets are so popular because they have enough power for almost everything is not correct by me. They are popular because being portable in pocket, small bag, usable everywhere. But screen can not be compared even with some notebook's. Just not good for any serious work - not because lower speed, but screen and bad input in first place.
At the end it is all about what you get for how much money. Saying that so large power is not necessary, that all it can be done with more efficient OS, SW are just bad excuses and wrong. There will be always something enough CPU power demanding. And btw. h264 encoding via GX card is possible only with some newest cards. SW will be as is, and as was. Imagine that Atari said in 1991 something like: hey, we don't need 32 MHz TT (first ones were at 16 MHz) - we will ask SW houses to make more efficient code :D
Considering Internet - there are many other annoying things there beside poorly coded WEBsites, scripts. I waste much more time because misleading links, lies and like than because slow code.
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Re: Why we need fast computers ?

Postby alexh » Mon Nov 21, 2016 1:39 pm

If we think solely about games I am sure the need for fast computers is because the abstraction between the real world and the world the game portrays is getting closer.

WTF?

By that I mean that the physics used today to model gravity, particles, and especially light (shadows, reflections) previously were very high approximations in earlier games. As the CPU (and GPU) horsepower increases then the model accuracy can increase to give a more "realistic" game.

I personally don't think that realism is a reason to throw more horsepower at games. My favourite games of the last 10 years are all low CPU/GPU titles with innovative stories and interaction which could have worked on old hardware no problem.

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Re: Why we need fast computers ?

Postby nobox » Mon Nov 21, 2016 2:02 pm

We dont need fast computers. We have to take in nourishment, expel waste, and inhale enough oxygen to keep ourselves from dying, everything else is optional.

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Re: Why we need fast computers ?

Postby EmpireAndrew » Mon Nov 21, 2016 2:32 pm

I'm not saying we don't need faster computers in general.
But your average home user has far more computing power on tap than they need to complete the tasks they are doing.
I'm not talking about enthusiasts like us, geeks if you will, I'm talking the average Joe.
I personally don't like tablets, I prefer a laptop, but that's not the point.
Sales of laptops plummeted and tablets rose. I see family and friends sitting on the sofa using them in front of the tv, or even to watch tv, when previously they would have used a laptop. They have iPads that are several generations old because there is no need to upgrade them to watch youtube, facebook, movie, facetime etc etc.
If mum or dad need to do some work from home they use perhaps the company laptop, mouse and lots of typing, to use Excel or whatever. You don't need an i7 for that. Heck you don't even need an i3.
But computer power is cheap. It gets to a point where you might not save any money getting a slower machine, so why not get one faster than you need for the same money?

The problem is I don't personally notice myself being much more productive today than I used to be.
The biggest improvement came with the introduction of the internet (ignoring cat videos) and the communication and work sharing it made possible.
Things are definitely better and more efficient than they were 25 years ago, I'm not advocating going back.
However given the processing power and data transfer speed improvements we have seen in 25 years, I expected computing to have moved on a lot further.

I am quite concerned about the digital divide that now exists in the world, even within developed countries.

I should not need a (relatively) powerful machine with software no more than a few years old to connect to the internet to read the news or chat.

It's really only few KB of text and maybe an image or two for a news article. I should be able to view it, perhaps in a degraded way, but view it nonetheless, on my TT but I generally can't. Because web designers only care about what is new and shiny and despite so many lessons on ensuring your site degrades gracefully they don't really care.

Take instant messaging. I should be able to send instant messages to other people using a late n90's computer because we were doing that then with ICQ. No client is available for those machines for current instant messaging networks. They have the horsepower, the developers just dropped support to reduce testing overhead and because their tool chains dropped support also. Their clients will be built on newer frameworks that never worked on the older OS's.

Really the burden is on us to write stuff that can use modern API's.
For example a jabber client written using appropriate abstraction techniques to allow it to be compiled for Atari, Amiga etc etc (something I'm considering if I ca just find some damn time).
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1990 Atari 1040STE, 4MB, UltraSatan, TOS 2.06, TT Touch -> Atari SC1435 Colour CRT Monitor
1991 Atari TT030, 2/16MB, Int 8GB Gigafile, TOS 3.06, CaTTamaran Accelerator -> 1991 Atari TTM195 19" Mono CRT Monitor
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Re: Why we need fast computers ?

Postby Mindthreat » Mon Nov 21, 2016 2:59 pm

I'd be perfectly happy with an HP Omnibook 430 with parallel cable connected to a Jaguar with a Flash cart =)
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Re: Why we need fast computers ?

Postby AtariZoll » Mon Nov 21, 2016 5:33 pm

Well, computers are big business over 3 decades already. We know that many things are in one purpose: to increase sales. They push you to get new OS, because older one is "not secure anymore", and when you install it, appears that no driver for graphic card, WEB camera ...What clearly shows situation, since doing/adapting driver for newer OS is not big work. So, no need to wonder about bloated SW and other things.

Someone mentioned parallel cable. That is case where we actually have significant speed improvement. Parallel printer protocol is simply not for multitasking OS, environment - it slowdowns whole machine a lot (because there is lot of waiting on CPU port) . USB resolved that problem.

People here says that many things can be done with older machines. So, why not doing it ? I have here some, even P1 machine in basement, and I used it couple times for specific purposes. Situation is actually better than in past - we have now so-so good SW compatibility on newer PCs. How was it in 80-es ? New computer model - you need all new SW . It was with Apple, Commodore, Atari ... Until they did not realize need for OS and HW what will be backward compatible. That just shows how SW is important factor.

Lot of complains on SW here. I have some bigger ones: it is very bad that one OS, Windows dominates. There are other choices, but most of people, institutions, schools, etc. use Windows. There is 500 m. people in EU, and we are not capable to make some modern OS ? Windows has many drawbacks, some lazy solutions ... I could continue. Basic concept is very old actually - seen some 35 years ago. I don't see real improvement, except cosmetic. Whole concept is just same. Worse, they make it harder and harder controllable with every new version. Filesystem is outdated too. I'm sure that user interface can be better and more configurable to user habits, needs.
I'm not against GMO, I'm against that children play with fire.


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