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On Control-S

Summary: That nervous twitch of the left hand to save files may be obsolete.

In the computer world there are a few subjects sure to provoke a flame war. What's the best editor? Where should one put the braces in C code? How many spaces should we indent in C? Agile or plan-driven?

One that seems to have tamped down, at least somewhat, is Microsoft sneering. You know what I mean: computer pros are expected to expect little of value from that company. Linux is the gold standard, Windows the vulture pickings. Office is junk and any knowledgeable person uses an open-source alternative.

And yet.

I have been running Windows 8.1 on some of the machines here for quite a while. It is big. It is complex. It has annoying quirks. My biggest complaint is when it tells me I don't have permission to do something, even when running as administrator. Hey, who owns this machine? It's annoying to have to reboot to complete an installation. It seems silly to have to edit the registry to change program properties.

But it has never crashed. Not once. Nor have any of the Microsoft Office 15 or 365 programs. (We run multiple versions of Office here on different computers).

Some of my Office documents are enormous and very complex with video and other demanding resources. It's not unusual for me to create a 300 page Word file. And Word just works. It's not quirky. Huge Excel files grind through their computations without fuss. Powerpoint has never crashed in any of the seminars I do. Not once.

Video processing used to be a nightmare. The programs crashed often. When they didn't, you had to shut down all other applications to insure they'd render the video and audio in sync. And even then it was a crapshoot. Today I use PowerDirector, which can consume every available CPU cycle on every core in the machine. But it plays nicely, even when working on gigabyte-long files, and coexists with the plethora of other open programs. Unexpected stuff just doesn't happen.

It wasn't always thus. Once upon a time these applications, and the operating system, crashed frequently. It was expected. We learned to save files often in anticipation of a crash. But unexpected shutdowns happened so often that clicking on FILE:SAVE consumed too much time. We learned to left-hand control-s while still typing. For me it became a nervous twitch; I probably hit those keys after writing each sentence. I probably do it in my sleep. Today, though the applications don't crash, the control-s impulse is so ingrained it's still part of my every-few-seconds routine.

I wonder if younger people, those for whom PCs just work, have the habit? Do they know the paranoia of potentially losing a file from a crash?

We developed the control-s habit from bitter experience. Is that experience as irrelevant today as knowing how to develop code on a paper-tape machine is? Or programming a Nova minicomputer?

All of us over 50 suffered from many years of unreliable software from Redmond. On the other hand, since the advent of the PC we've gotten a ton of work done that would have been impossible or hugely expensive without those machines, the vast majority of which were running Windows.

Here we run Windows, OS-X, iOS and Linux. Each has its place. At the risk of being flamed, I have to admit to being very pleased with my current PCs and their software.

Published May 20, 2015