The Mutual Respect Between Hardware And Software

On: October 28, 2011
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About Marnick van der Zee
Ever since I was young I could work my way around VCR and install TV's. I started studying Chemistry but quit after I got my Propedeuse. I followed the New Media BA course @ the UvA. My BA thesis was about the content filter of YouTube and their strategy to keep their primary source of entertainment online (copyrighted content) without risking lawsuits. My main interest are new media subjects related to economic circumstances


When computers were invented they were just giant electronic calculators, connected to each other with wires. You had to put the data in manually and then it would give a calculation. If there was anything wrong with the input data, the computer would state an error. One of the key evolutions of the computer was memory increase. The change in memory storage capacity and the size has had great effects on programming. When automatic programming came up it helped software to be made for computers. The programs written could be re-used. The hierarchy in the beginning of the computer age was hardware and then software. This is changing into the favour of software. The technology required to make hardware has been de-monopolized and this has affected prices and producers. Creating a general operating system (Windows, Mac OS X) is getting harder to be created. This is because of the many layers needed to please the users. During the years the mayor OS have been updated and tweaked. This has lead to hardware being modified for software sake. An example is the Qwerty keyboard getting an Apple key or a windows key. If software developers begin noticing the increase of particular area of software, it might adjust the hardware to suit them. Software has had great effect on society and continues to change the computer experience.

Software studies are studying the effects of software on a social, economic and political level. An example is that software skills with text editors are taught to children on schools. The theories developed in software studies have tried to trace these influences. Pioneers in software studies are Lev Manovich, Friedrich Kittler, Alexander Galloway and Wendy Chun

A leading debate is about the influence of software that has been non-visual. Big operating system providers have shaped the experience of a user. Windows, Apple and Linux are the market leaders and make up for almost 95% of operating systems on computers. The different versions have developed over the years and a lot of progress has been made with the help of user feedback and experience. But do these companies use an ideology within there systems or create a neutral system. Norbert Wiener called computer ‘slaves’. He referred to the fact that computers can only follow orders. But when you experience an operating system. You encounter a couple of places, where there is a blockade for the user. This is a protective part of software, designed to protect the user from distorting the system. Or is it a form of hierarchy and ideology? Chun and Galloway discuss this debate in their papers On Software, or the Persistence of Visual Knowledge and Language Wants to be Overlooked.

“Operating systems also create users more literally, for users are an OS construction. User logins emerged with time-sharing operating systems, like UNIX, which encourages users to believe that the machines they are working on are their own machines (before this, computers mainly used batch processing; before that, one really did run the computer, so there was no need for operating systems—one had human operators)”(Chun 44)

The difference between Linux and the other operating systems are its essence. Linux is open source and can be constantly changed by any user. You only need to develop programming skills to have an understanding of this platform. So to discuss this shift in the hierarchy I will try and explain my own experiences with two operating systems. My experiences have been with the Windows operating system from Windows 1995 till Windows 7 and with Apple OSX 10.1 and Snow Leopard. One of the differences between Apple and Windows is the costs for an operating system. Windows 7 costs about €179 and Snow Leopard is just €34.99. Is this a difference between the reliance of software? The hardware accessories of Apple are more expensive then those of Windows. The second difference between them is that Windows doesn’t sell hardware on it’s own. It is always a partner with a hardware developer. So this just shows their different strategies. Positive user experiences are the benchmark for good software. According to Chun in her article ‘On Software’, These points are important in judging a operating system.

– Mastery of the system

– Competence in the performance of their task

– Ease in learning the system originally and in assimilating advanced features

– Confidence in their capacity to retain mastery over time

– Enjoyment in using the system

– Eagerness to show it off to novices, and

– Desire to explore more powerful aspects of the system

“Instead of presenting a packaged political message, it gives us data and the tools to analyze it. It knows that we are intelligent enough to draw the right conclusion. This is the new rhetoric of interactivity: we get convinced not by listening/watching a pre- pared message but by actively working with the data: reorganizing it, uncovering the connections, becoming aware of correlations.” (Chun 42)

This is just a blog post about trying to form an idea for my master thesis. The choice of an operating system is a very personal one. Apple users tend to be more creative and Windows users are more mathematically.   The overview in Windows has a better ‘feeling’ to it then Apple’s. This could be because I grew up using a Windows operating system. When I try and find my way around Apple I tend to look at it from a Windows point of view and this brings some problems. I have experienced a lot of problems with a Windows designed personal computers. From an overload in the cooler to the graphics card just stopping its progress and ‘dying on the spot’. The experiences with my Apple Macbook Pro have been great, for five years it has been working and I never once had a hardware problem with it. Is this a difference because of Apple choosing to develop its on suitable hardware for its software? Or is the difference in my usage of the computer and my choices in hardware parts.

In his biography, Steve Jobs tells that he was inspired by the house he grew up in. they were build for the ‘everyday’ American man by the design of Frank Lloyd Wright. These houses were smart, cheap and good. This was one of the reasons He wants to provide a durable product. Microsoft has always been a software developer and doesn’t really build its own personal computers. This difference in philosophy is valuable by understanding the software ideology. My goal now is to read more about these different approaches on software studies and develop a viewpoint in this field.

Interesting video about a ‘moral operating system’


Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, ʻOn Software, or the Persistence of Visual Knowledgeʼ, Grey Room 18 (Winter 2004): 26-51.

Alexander R. Galloway, ʻLanguage Wants to be Overlooked: On Software and Ideologyʼ, Journal of Visual Culture 5.3 (2006): 315–331.

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