Computers are 'cars' of commerce, the Web

Published: Monday, January 12, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 9:46 p.m.
From time to time, I talk about "C" words I point to in presentations to organizations about computers and the Web. Today I'd like to offer my thoughts on how cars and computers are alike in today's business world.
A businessman and friend commented to me a couple of years ago he thought cars and computers had become synonymous in the business world.
His thinking, which reflected some of the same conclusions I'd recently arrived at, was that doing regular preventive and operational maintenance was critical for both his autos and computers, and key to the ongoing success of his businesses.
I see this most often in discussing and working on computers that are two to four years old with Windows 98 or Windows Me as the operating system.
For most businesses handling Internet research, e-mail, word processing and spreadsheets, these computers continue to have the capability to provide good service and several years of potential additional life.
However, in many cases, these computers are being junked for being "too slow" before they are looked at by a competent professional who knows how to retune these computers for better performance.
Think of these computers as cars, and you'll understand what I mean. As computers are used over time, they accumulate programs much like a car's fuel system picks up deposits.
In a car, these deposits slow performance and waste fuel. In a computer, unneeded programs slow performance and waste memory. Getting rid of these deposits/programs is key to restoring performance to the original specifications.
Again, much like a car, there are both facts and myths about what really makes a difference in a computer's performance.
In cars, many people believe switching to a higher-octane premium fuel will automatically improve performance, even when automakers say otherwise.
One of the biggest myths in older PCs is that adding more memory/RAM is a surefire way to improve a system's performance.
In fact, most systems running Windows 98 benefit little from system memory much over 64MB. Studies were conducted some years ago that actually showed performance decreases in running some programs in Windows 98 systems with 128MB vs. 64MB.
Far more important than adding memory is freeing available memory for programs that need to run after the computer loads the Windows desktop.
Another popular myth is that if you're going to "clean up" a PC, you have to remove most of the programs and reinstall Windows.
In most cases, telling Windows not to run certain programs at startup is enough to free up system resources needed to run programs, and the programs are still there when and if needed.
Windows 98 and Windows Me include tools to help with this process, and memory managers (some of which are free) can help maximize free RAM to speed PC performance.
I recently was asked to replace three PCs and set them up for an office at a cost of many thousands of dollars. When I examined the systems in question, I found I could retune the three systems instead.
The only hardware needed was a mouse, and the tune-up cost one-tenth the price of the new systems.
A properly trained technician or consultant can spend a few hours tuning a PC and save thousands of dollars in hardware and lost time by restoring a system to peak performance.
If you're willing to do this kind of maintenance, you can extend the life of your computer by years, much like you can extend the life of a car.
Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant whose column appears on Mondays in WorkLife. He can be reached at or via

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