Computer technology marches on at a relentless pace - as it always has done. One of the trends that I’ve noticed is the recessive nature of hardware compared to software in the minds of the user. This has taken place in many different ways, for example storage media: one of the first forms of data storage was punchcards, where there was a very physical aspect to the stored information. Many home users will have stored data on floppy disks, CDs, DVDs, and now cloud storage. The technology behind the cloud storage is hidden from them; they just see it as a convenient place to store data.
These days when I use a computer I feel more removed from the hardware than ever. I no longer hear the clunks and whirrs of a floppy disk, or the high-pitched hum of a CD. SSDs are silent compare to their scratchy magnetic predecessors. Tablets have even removed the need for a hardware keyboard and mouse, and run silently… not even a soft purr from a dusty fan!
At the same time, advancements in software tools have meant developers have become far more removed from the underlying hardware. Now I can create a virtual machine within seconds, giving me virtualized hardware that previously I’d have had to order in specifically. It’s easy to take the underlying hardware for granted. I certainly know less about RAM types than I did 10 years ago. These days I wouldn’t consider buying a desktop, I’d always buy a laptop as they have more than enough computing power for my needs. A laptop is typically a sealed device with few options for upgrading, again pushing hardware components out of the thoughts of laptop owners.
So what does this mean? Is it better, or worse? I think it’s definitely better for software development… developers have enough to think about at any given moment so to remove the hardware from their thoughts can only be a good thing. Virtualization is a massive help in achieving this.
Having said that… I wrote in another post that I’ve recently been tinkering with my old Amiga. I enjoy opening it up and working in it… it’s weirdly therapeutic to be unplugging and changing old IDE cables (even if it now runs on a 4GB SD card and not the original 20MB hard disk!). I enjoy learning things about Agnus, Paula and Denise. There’s something about working with hardware that makes it enjoyable for me - maybe it’s because it’s a very physical works/doesn’t work situation whereas software has more grey areas. Maybe it’s because I can get away with concentrating less. Or maybe it’s because I’m old and like old stuff…