When I first began my career as a professional editor three decades ago, I bought a computer that was “off-the-shelf.” It was a Gateway (remember the cows?). Gateway let me “customize” the computer by giving me a few options in each of several categories, but, like buying a car, some options were available only if you also bought another option — even if you didn’t want that other option.
Over those early years I bought several computers — it was my practice to buy a new computer every 12 to 18 months — because technology was rapidly changing and I increasingly was selling my services as an online editor rather than a hard copy editor. In fact, after the first couple of years, I refused to accept editing projects that weren’t done online. At that time, doing so separated me from most of my colleagues who were resistant to giving up hard copy editing.
Every computer I bought was a problem in the sense that I wasn’t getting what I wanted. They all worked fine in a general sense, but they didn’t contain the components I wanted in the configurations I wanted. This problem of the computer manufacturer knowing better than me what I wanted and needed was even worse with Apple, which not only limited my options with the hardware, but did the same with the software, and wanted to charge me more for the “privilege.”
After my first three computer purchases, I decided I’d had enough. I either would have to learn to build a computer myself or I would have to find someone to do it for me. I chose the latter path because I wanted someone to take responsibility and action when things went wrong. That began my buying only custom-built computers, a practice I continue today (the sole exception being my very rarely used laptop, which I would have had custom built had I had more time before I needed it).
Having your computer custom built is more expensive than buying a preconfigured computer, but not by much. Buying the closest preconfigured computer to what I currently use would have saved me about $275 but it would not have come close to what I got by custom building. For example, two things that always drove me nuts were the noise and internal heat the computer generated from fans and hard drives and other components. By custom building the computer, I was able to choose a high-end case that virtually muffles all computer-related noise and give it oversize silent fans to reduce internal heat. Now I don’t hear even a whisper of noise and internal-heat-related problems have been virtually eliminated.
But the most important feature of my computers are the hot-swappable hard drives (hot-swappable means I can remove a drive and insert a different drive within seconds and without rebooting my computer — just like changing one music CD for another). I have mentioned these before but I cannot emphasize enough how important these are to me. I rely on my computers for my livelihood. If my computers are down or data is lost, I’m in trouble — I do not earn any money when my computers are not working correctly (which is one of the reasons I also avoid free antivirus/antimalware software). Having removable hard drives helps prevent downtime and lost data (I also take other precautions).
I should note that my computers are built with three hard drives. One is the operating system and programs drive (C:), one is my standard work drive (D:), and the third is my miscellaneous drive (E:). The E drive gets most of the swapping these days because it is the drive that I use to image my other two drives and thus use as a portable backup.
The removable drives will be particularly useful to me with the arrival of Windows 8, which will soon be upon us. I want to upgrade to it, but I am not sure how much I will like it. It is a wholly different experience from previous versions of Windows, and from what I am reading, may not be suitable for the way I work. Yet it offers me something that I want: cross-device compatibility.
I have been a holdout as regards going from the telephone-only cell phone to a smart phone. I’m still using a cell phone from 8 years ago. But I plan to make the smart phone upgrade with Windows 8. I want a Windows 8 cell phone with a Windows 8 computer. My hope is that the experiences will be so similar that I won’t have to master multiple methods of doing things. That remains to be seen, but that is my hope and plan.
Which brings me back to my computer. Windows 7 has been by far the best Windows operating system. It works well, never crashes as a system, only occasionally does MS Word crash (but the recovery is quick and excellent in terms of saved data), and has been easy to use. I am somewhat reluctant to give up what clearly is working well. This is where the removable hard drives come to the rescue.
My plan is to duplicate my C: drive on another hard drive, stick it in the slot, and upgrade that drive to Windows 8. That will give me both a Windows 7 drive and a Windows 8 drive. I will be able to “play” with and familiarize myself with Windows 8 without losing any valuable work time. When I’m ready to play with Windows 8, I’ll simply pop out the Windows 7 drive, pop in the Windows 8 drive, and play. When I need to get back to work, I’ll repeat the process in reverse. Each swap will take me a few seconds. Even if I will need to reboot the computer because I am swapping out the operating system, the total procedure time will take me less than 2 minutes.
Should I decide that I do not like Windows 8 for my work operating system, it will be no problem. I just will stop swapping the hard drives — no need to uninstall, reinstall, and reconfigure operating systems and other programs.
I know that many people do not want the hassle of trying to figure out what components they want in a computer, do not want to pay 10¢ more than necessary for a computer, and prefer the comfort of having limited options and buying from a reputable company. Yet designing your own computer isn’t difficult and there usually is a local computer shop that will build and warrant the computer. (My local shop warrants the computers for three years — parts and labor — and so makes sure that he installs only high-quality components.)
If nothing else, having removable hard drives should be enough incentive to having your computer custom built. What do you do now when you travel to protect your business from disaster? With my removable drives I do several things. First, I image my C: and D: drives onto other hard drives. I then store one set of hard drives in a safe deposit box and a second set with my neighbor. If disaster should strike while I’m gone, I can be back in business, everything in proper working order with no program or data loss, as quickly as I can get a new computer shell built — a couple of days at most. More importantly, in case of theft, the thief gets nothing but a computer shell — no data at all.
Removable hard drives give me the best of the computing world for my business’ future. Custom building my computers ensures that they serve my needs for computing power. Custom building also ensures that I have high-quality components that are less likely to fail and disrupt my business (and thus my income flow). Removable hard drives let me try new programs without disrupting what already works.
Buying a limited-option, preconfigured computer means conforming my work style to what someone else thinks it should be, not to what is best and most efficient for me. I prefer to make my own business decisions.