People who drive along circuitous backstreet routes to avoid heavy traffic usually take just as long to get where they're going as those stuck on the main roads. The difference is, they feel better because they have a sense of moving ahead.
There's a similar phenomenon involved in using a computer. It isn't how fast the machine is going, it's how fast it SEEMS to be going. For most users, there's nothing worse than waiting while the machine appears to be doing nothing. When we press a button, we want to see something happening.
Tests have shown that we'll even tolerate a longer delay, as long as we have the illusion of progressing. For instance, when a test system responded in two seconds, but without any indication during that time that it was doing something, users said it was slow. When the same system immediately started displaying a dramatic device on the screen to give the impression of something happening, yet the response took 2.5 seconds, users reported this system to be much faster.
Here at the Australian Reseller News office we have generic Pentium machines running Windows 95 on eight megabytes of RAM. Despite what Microsoft tells you, this isn't enough to run the system comfortably, so last week we took advantage of the bargain prices for RAM and doubled the machines to 16 megabytes. The result was simply amazing. Our two main applications (Lotus Notes and Microsoft Word) now run in memory instead of endlessly swapping out to disk.
We didn't have to measure the speed improvement . . . what's important is how much better it FEELS. The last thing you need in your day's work is another frustration.
Oracle and a number of hardware and software companies would like us to believe that the next boom area in computing will be the Network Computer, which has no local storage other than some boot code and enough RAM in which to run programs. Every time the computer is turned on, it downloads the software it needs, then the data.
While that idea has some merit on fast connections such as a network or perhaps even a cable modem, the thought of doing it on a dial-up connection isn't as attractive. We've long since given up the idea of running our software remotely, so why does the idea of storing it remotely suddenly seem sensible? This concept certainly has a place, such as for Internet access at schools, but it won't replace the PC in most existing applications.