10 obsolete technologies to kill in 2010

By Mike Elgan

 — Computerworld —

Some old-and-busted technologies die
gracefully of natural causes. Pagers,
PDAs, floppy disks -- they're gone, and good riddance.

But other obsolete tech lingers on, even though
better alternatives abound that are easier,
cheaper, higher quality and much more efficient.

1. Fax Machines

The fax machine was obsolete 15 years ago.
When someone says "fax it to me," I always feel like
I'm being punk'd. A fax machine is nothing more
than a printer, scanner and an obsolete analog
mode that work together to waste time,
money, paper and electricity.

Documents that are faxed usually start out
in digital format. So, to send a digital document digitally,
it must be converted into a paper format.
You insert the document, and the fax machine scans
it back into a digital format. It then uses an analog modem
from 1993 to convert the digital image into sounds!

The modem plays the noise over the phone line.
At the other end, another fax machine also
has a modem, which listens to the sounds,
and converts them yet again into a digital document,
just before it prints it out on paper.
Now the data in the document has to be
converted somehow into a digital format
 -- either scanned or typed in by hand.

The document almost always begins and ends
in digital format. But during this epic journey,
the document is digital four times,
paper twice and sound once.

The mass delusion that perpetuates this
obscenely inefficient technology is that
paper "hard copy" is somehow more legitimate.
In fact, gluing a copy of someone's stolen
signature to a document, then faxing it, i
s the easiest way mask a forgery
because of the low quality of fax output.

People, let's stop the madness. Just e-mail it.

2. 'Cigar lighter receptacle' plugs in cars

The idea of building cigar/cigarette lighters
into car dashboards originated in the 1920s.
The technology was perfected in the 1950s.
Decades later, the automobile industry is still
building these weird sockets into cars,
but now usually without the actual lighter.

As electrical outlets, dashboard lighter ports
are dangerous, unreliable, underpowered,
inconvenient, unsightly and expensive.
They require that you purchase a special plug
and/or adapters, which add clutter to your car.

All cars should have standard household
electrical outlets, with the converter built in.
Or USB ports that can charge gadgets. Or both.

Almost nobody smokes in their cars.
Almost everybody carries phones and gadgets
that need power in the cars.
Sheesh. How obsolete can you get?

3. WWW

The original idea with Internet addresses is
that a prefix would identify the type of service provided.
So, for example, www.apple.com identifies
Apple's "World-Wide Web" servers, and
ftp.apple.com points to the company's offerings
available via the "File Transfer Protocol."

Network administrators get to choose whether
an address technically requires a
"www." But browsers fill it in
for you even when you don't type it.

That's why saying "www" as part of an address, printing it
on business cards or typing it into your
browser address box is always unnecessary.
We stopped using "http://" years ago,
and it's time to stop using "www" as well.

4. Business cards

Speaking of business cards, why do we still
carry around 19th-century "calling cards"?
When someone gives you a business card,
they're giving you a tedious data entry job,
one that most people never complete.

There are several alternatives to business cards,
all superior. If the meeting is arranged by e-mail,
include contact information in the invitation and
reply as e-mail signatures, attached vCards,
links to contact Web pages or some other electronic form.

Besides, you should always learn in advance
what you can about people you're going to meet,
and that's a good time to enter their contact information.
And if you just run into someone, and exchange
contact information, it's best to do it by e-mail
or some other means on the spot, with cell phones.

Adding someone to your contacts should involve
double clicking or, at most, copying
and pasting -- not data entry.

5. Movie rental stores

We're now two revolutions away from the
heyday of driving to Blockbuster (BBI), standing
in line, renting a video and driving home.
Movies are nothing more than digital files.
You can download them, or get them
on disk by mail. Driving?
Standing in line?
For an electronic file?
Come on!

6. Home entertainment remotes

Just about every component to
a home entertainment system comes
with its own overly-complex remote control.
The TV's got one. So does the TiVo.
The Blu-ray player has its own remote.
Even the sound system has one.
Some people have multiple TVs, disc players,
stereos and other remotely controllable electronics,
and end up with a dozen or
more remotes in the house.
Each one has to be programmed,
refreshed with toxic batteries and
kept track of (they tend to disappear).

Hardly anyone takes the time to properly manage,
consolidate or program their remotes.
Enough! It's time to replace
remote controls with mobile phone apps.

Mobile phones make superior remote controls
because they have better user interfaces,
rechargeable batteries and we tend
not to lose them.
Phone apps are more easily programmed and upgraded.

A few cool apps exist for iPhone and
other devices, which control TiVos,
and other devices. Apple (AAPL)
makes a really simple app for
controlling media on iTunes from an iPhone.

TV makers need to improve the functionality
for controlling settings on the TV itself, then join
the smart phone app revolution and
build simple remote-control apps that
can be universalized, so all devices
can be controlled from single apps.

7. Landline phones

The number of people in the US who have
ditched their home landline phones in favor
of cell phones doubled between 2006 and 2009,
according to a recently released
federal report. Now, one-quarter
of US households have no landline.

What are the other three-quarters waiting for?
Landline phones are redundant, annoying and
waste time (because chances are the person
who answers isn't the caller's target).
Landline phones either have
no way to take messages, or they
have some obsolete answering machine.
It's time to make the call and
get rid of that landline.

8. Music CDs

Music CDs work fine. It's just that
they have no significant advantages
over downloadable media, such
as MP3 files.
CDs are environmentally unfriendly,
fragile and inconvenient to carry around.

We should move to an all-digital,
file-based library, which can be
searched, backed up and carried everywhere.

9. Satellite radio

Sirius XM programming is great stuff.
But you don't need rockets and
orbiting satellites to deliver
noise to radios. Sirius XM itself demonstrated
this by offering its content on
the Internet, and via an iPhone app.

There are some cases in which
satellite has an advantage. For example,
when you're driving outside
a mobile broadband coverage area and
are listening to timely content, such as news.
But most of us rarely venture into
the wilds, and most Sirius XM content isn't
all that timely. Besides, you can't listen if
you travel outside North America,
or into covered parking. Or near buildings.
Or in tunnels that don't have costly repeaters.

Since the whole satellite radio idea was
dreamed up years ago, MP3-based music, podcasts,
audio books and other sound content
has been mainstreamed.
Car audio equipment now has
a jack for plugging in a media player or cell phone.
If you're going to pay a costly subscription
for something, pay for a mobile broadband
data subscription, which can bring you
the whole Internet, not just sound files.
Sirius XM should keep the programming
and the content, but drop the satellite delivery
and the subscription price, and continue
to serve their audience via the Internet.

10. Redundant registration

Click here to find out more!Many Web sites offer some form of registration,
which typically ask you to add your personal
contact information and
specify a username and password.
Why do some sites require me
to enter my e-mail address or
my password twice?
They're going to verify all this anyway.
Why do I have to enter city, state
and ZIP code, when the ZIP code
already knows the city and
state, and vice versa.
Bad, redundant and obsolete technologies
make life needlessly complex,
expensive, irritating and ugly.
Let's get rid of them.
Mike Elgan writes about technology and
global tech culture.
Contact Mike at mike.elgan@elgan.com,
follow him on Twitteror his blog, The Raw Feed.
Link here

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