The right answers

Friday February 3, 2006

In a moment of idleness today I sat down at the computer and started researching laptops. Wish I hadn’t. It’s a confusing and frustrating business to say the very least and I’m glad I don’t have to do it for a living. Separating the information you need from all the ‘buy me now‘ material is not easy. Nor does it help that for every machine you look at there will be an enthusiast who says it’s the best thing since the electric sewing machine, balanced by someone else who’s tried it, and hates it.

I started out thinking that the IBM Thinkpad would be ideal. Fine machine, even if the ‘IBM’ label is suffering from Chinese whispers these days. I worked my way through the mist and discovered that not all Thinkpads are equal and that my requirements are matched only by mid- to high-end models, which seem to my uneducated eye to be very expensive. So I poked around, looking at manufacturer after manufacturer, none of whom seem capable of providing an online list of features in a straightforward manner. Eventually, and just before my brain started to melt, I came to the as yet uncertain decision that a mid-range Toshiba might suit both my needs and my budget.

It’s simple enough. I want a machine capable of running Windows XP, Outlook Express, Explorer, Word, Excel, Photoshop, and a couple of utilities. All the machines I looked at can do that. However, it’s when I look at connectivity that the picture gets confused. I want to have a choice of Internet connection options, including dial-up and mobile phone to keep me connected while we’re in the caravan, and a wireless connection to keep the system compatible with our Netgear home network when it’s established in our new house. Finally, I want to be able to burn data DVDs and, possibly, attach an external hard drive.

“You know what, Dolly,” I said as I closed the browser with a sigh of almost despair. “I’m not sure the Internet is the best way for an amateur to research this kind of thing. I think I’ll see if I can’t pick up a magazine with comparative reviews when I go to Tesco’s tomorrow.”

All I got from Dolly was a feeling of almost but not quite total indifference.

I have some fellow-feeling with her. I’ve tried to maintain the same attitude to hardware for a long time. Since I retired and said goodbye to my beautiful IBM mainframes, in fact. If I had remained an avid reader of the computer magazines I’d know not just about what’s available but also the questions I need to ask today. I have a strange and probably outdated conviction that if you don’t really know the right questions you’re very unlikely to get the right answers.

 

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