Beware the shambling undead
America has an obsession with zombies. No, not the glut of undead-focused flicks like World War Z, The Walking Dead, or Z Nation (why do I still watch that show?), but the refusal to give up on technology that died long ago. These technological zombies persist far beyond their end-of-life, shuffling forward with us into the future, groaning under the weight of their own obsolescence.
We’ve got operating systems that just won’t go away, antiquated communication methods, ridiculously slow I/O ports, and spinning items in places where spinning items no longer belong. It’s sad, really.
Feeling courageous? Journey with us as we cast technology that doesn’t know it’s dead yet into the light. Be careful—some of these bite.
Sometimes it’s just impossible to say goodbye to a beloved operating system. Not only does Windows XP still lay claim to more than 12 percent of all online users worldwide despite being unsupported and hence insecure, per Net Applications, but even large institutions are having a hard time letting this vaunted old operating system go.
In late September, an Inspector General’s report said the Internal Revenue Service still had another 1,300 workstations to upgrade from Windows XP…to Windows 7. The problem, it turns out, is that the IRS cannot account for the whereabouts of some of those PCs. But at least corporate environments can still get security updates—if they pay to get them via Microsoft’s custom support program. Regular users are out of luck.
Sure, you can scan documents, use a digital signature, and send them via equally antiquated email. But oftentimes, documents from your lawyer—or anyone else requiring legal signatures—require first finding, then firing up a fax machine. Ugh.
Luckily, most of our all-in-one printers still include the technology to send documents over the phone line. Now if only I could remember where that telephone jack is…
We have Thunderbolt, USB 3.0, and USB 3.1, and yet USB 2.0 is still showing up in laptops and other devices like the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Special Edition, HP’s Chromebook 14, and even the slick new Lenovo Yoga 900. It’s astounding how this aging USB standard—which first appeared on PCs in 1997—continues to find its way into new devices even though it’s ten times slower than USB 3.0.
Obama loves his BlackBerry, but the world has moved on from the once-dominant keyboard-based handsets. Even BlackBerry itself may finally give up on its famous smartphone. Recently, BlackBerry introduced its first Android phone, the Priv, and CEO John Chen said the company would reassess the viability of BlackBerry phones before the end of 2016. If the company can’t earn a profit hawking BlackBerry-based handsets, the walking dead may finally be laid to rest.
Optical drives in laptops
Blu-ray isn’t ready to say goodbye yet; the trade group responsible for the technology recently released a new standard for 4K discs. Blu-ray discs and DVDs might still work in home entertainment centers and the odd PC tower, but slapping a DVD or Blu-ray drive in a laptop just doesn’t make much sense anymore. Movies can be ripped or downloaded onto a hard drive, and installing software doesn’t require a disc anymore. You can even buy Windows on a flash drive now. Plus, an optical drive adds unnecessary weight to a notebook, pushing it well past the tolerable five-pound weight threshold. Buy an external optical drive if you need to.
Smartphone makers such as Apple have tried to make voicemail more palatable with features like visual voicemail, which lets you sift through recorded audio messages the way you would email. But people barely want to talk on the phone any more, let alone deal with a bunch of voice messages—especially when an SMS, email, tweet, or Whatsapp message can generally accomplish the same thing with less hassle.
There’s no doubt about it: If you’re running a PC off a spinning hard drive, swapping it for a solid state drive will dramatically increase its speed and performance. That upgrade alone will make your PC feel like a whole new computer. With SSDs getting so cheap now—a Samsung 500GB SSD costs you around $160, and 60GB or 128GB models cost far less—it just doesn’t make sense to have a PC with an internal hard drive as the primary boot drive.
Sure, spacious traditional hard drives make sense for storing backups and media files, but as far as running your actual operating system goes, you’re wasting precious minutes every day waiting for your PC to catch up with your clicks because of that stupid spinning hard drive stashed in your computer. Relegate hard drives to secondary storage status only.
No, I’m not talking about the banking app on your smartphone, but about the touchtone wonder of telephone banking that was all the rage 25 years ago. Yes, in 1990 it was cool to pay the phone bill and transfer funds between accounts by pressing “1,” then “2.” But it just doesn’t make sense in the age of the Internet. If you’re still pressing star to hear the menu again, put down that earpiece and enroll in online banking.
DVI and VGA ports
I recently bought an overclocked Asus version of the Nvidia GeForce 750 Ti graphics card, which came loaded with one HDMI port, two DVI connections, and VGA output. That’s insane.
VGA debuted in 1987. While it’s still found in some graphics cards, monitors, and business grade laptops, it’s time to let our VGA habit go the way of the CRT monitor. In 2010, AMD and Intel both announced they would end chipset support for VGA in 2015—Intel’s Skylake line, released this year, officially retired VGA.
As for DVI, it’s still going even though it hasn’t really been under development for years. AMD said it would phase out DVI support in 2015 as the world moves on to HDMI and DisplayPort, making good on the promise in its new Fury, Fury X, and Radeon Nano graphics cards—though Asus snuck DVI support back into its custom Strix version of the Fury. Let it die, people.
Technically, passwords aren’t dead yet, but plenty of people and organizations are hard at work trying to kill them off for good—and thank goodness. Passwords are a pain to remember, and they’re often broken by hackers because we would rather reuse the same memorable password over and over again as opposed to using unique ones that are more random and difficult to remember.
The best solution is to use a password manager and enable multi-factor authentication wherever possible, but not enough people do that. Software makers are looking to replace passwords with measures such as scans for faces, fingerprints, and retinas, as well as solutions like Yahoo’s smartphone app-based Yahoo Account Key. Whatever replaces the password, it can’t come soon enough.