Is less really more?

This leader in The Economist argues that we are now using Moore’s law to to get cheaper computers, rather than more powerful computers.

Constant improvements mean that more features can be added to these products each year without increasing the price. A desire to do ever more elaborate things with computers—in particular, to supply and consume growing volumes of information over the internet—kept people and companies upgrading. Each time they bought a new machine, it cost around the same as the previous one, but did a lot more. But now things are changing, partly because the industry is maturing, and partly because of the recession. Suddenly there is much more interest in products that apply the flip side of Moore’s law: instead of providing ever-increasing performance at a particular price, they provide a particular level of performance at an ever-lower price.

I’m not sure that I agree.

Sure, our current computers are “good enough” for what we use them for.  Office applications, net surfing, watching a movie when on the move, etc. but we still want more.

We want new features.  Most features in an office package we will never use, but all those that are there are there because someone needed them, and when you want a feature, you want it there.

The features we want are probably more specialised.  The basic features that everyone uses have been around for ages.  So a new feature that you would love to see, would probably only benefit a few, but it would be great for those few.

I think that what is changing is that we only want the features we need and not those features that everyone else needs.

We don’t want to pay for an upgrade that adds 100 features where we only need one of them.  We just want the one feature we need.

So our approach to computing changes.  We move online.

We are happy to get features from Internet services that gives us what we need, but we don’t want to have all those features we don’t need installed on our local machine.  Slowing everything down and confusing our use experience.

The reason “net books” are hot is not that they are cheaper as such.  Sure, it helps on the sales that they are cheap, but they also provide the services we need and are likely to provide more and more services over time.

It is just an interface to the Net, and the services there keep getting better.

We are not demanding less, we have just realised that the computations doesn’t have to run on our desktop.  They can run somewhere else.  In the “cloud”.

It’s grid computing, baby.  Cloud computing.

Your interface to it might be getting cheaper — and why not? — but you still want more and more.

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Money, money, money…

I’ve just found out that I have DKK 100,000 left on the grant I am funded by until Feb 1st next year (where I move to a different grant but roughly the same research project).That’s a lot of money left to spend in a month and a half.The reason I have that much left is twofold: 1) in the budget I added a salary increase one year into the project that I didn’t get until half a year later (apparently I was too young after one year to move from assistant professor to associate professor level) and 2) I never used the travel budget because most of my travelling instead was paid for by the PolyGene project.Now I’m looking for ways to spend that money.I’ve ordered a new iMac with as high a spec as I can reasonably get, but that only costs about 20,000.For the rest I am thinking about either adding machines to our Linux cluster at BiRC or — if possible through some clever bookkeeping — find a way to use the money over the next year on a student programmer.The later is the nicer solution, ’cause I really have all the computer power I need through Brian Vinter’s grid if only I finish the framework for accessing it, so I will get more use out of a programmer to help with that (and all the other software development we need in the association mapping group) that I would get out of buying more computers.Not that getting more computers for our cluster would be wasted — we are pushing the limit of our system on a weekly basis and using our own cluster has some benefits that are missing on Brian’s grid — I just think I can get more out of a programmer.Of course, getting a programmer requries permission to spend the money over the next year rather than before the end of the grant, so I am not sure how to go about achieving that, but I’ll talk to our accountants to see if it is possible.