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October 12, 2017
In the world of IT, old habits can die hard. Here’s a look at practices — like restarting a misbehaving computer, or downloading Adobe Acrobat to read PDFs — that used to be necessary, but no longer are (even though some people still cling to them).
Breaking old habits is challenging with any kind of technology.
For example, lots of people still change their cars’ oil every three months, even though that frequency is not necessary with most modern vehicles.
For another example, we still typically wire houses so that refrigerators are on their own circuits.
But modern fridges consume much less energy than their predecessors, making this practice overkill in most applications today.
You can find plenty of examples of similar outdated practices that still persist today in some corners of the IT world, including the following.
Restarting Your Computer
Back in the days of Windows 95, it felt like you were constantly restarting your computer.
Just applied an update? Restart.
Laggy performance? Restart.
Blue screen of death? Definitely restart.
Today, however, restarting your computer is no longer necessary in most situations.
Sure, if it freezes entirely, a hard reboot is usually the only fix. (On Linux, you should try the magic REISUB trick before doing a fully hard reboot.)
But most modern operating systems don’t freeze as frequently as they used to.
They can also usually install updates without requiring a reboot.
And if your computer is feeling slow, you’re better off trying to figure out which process or application is slowing it down, then killing just that process, rather than rebooting the whole system.
Relying on Passwords Alone
In practice, most of us probably still rely just on passwords to protect access to the applications and services we use.
But increasingly, passwords are not enough.
Two-factor authentication is becoming the norm with high-security applications.
Two-factor authentication means that you not only have to supply a password, but also verify your identity in a secondary way — such as by entering a code you receive in a text to your phone — before you can log in.
Two-factor authentication is not required by most services, but when it is an option, you should use it in order to avoid relying on passwords alone.
Downloading Adobe Acrobat
If I had a nickel for every time I visit a website, go to download a PDF and see a warning telling me to install Adobe Acrobat in order to view said PDF, I’d have almost enough money to buy a copy of Acrobat Pro.
I have always thought warnings like this are silly because in 99 percent of cases, you don’t actually need Adobe Acrobat to open a PDF.
You just need a PDF reader of some kind.
Most operating systems come with a PDF reader preinstalled, and it will open your PDF just fine.
Telling people they have to download Acrobat is a holdover from the days when alternative PDF readers were few and far between.
There are exceptions.
Some special PDFs include proprietary extensions and can only be opened with Acrobat. (Here’s my personal store of woe about dealing with one such file.)
But in general, telling people they have to download Acrobat to open a PDF is like saying you have to buy a Samsung oven to bake a cake.
Sure, that’s one option, but it’s only one of many.
“This Website is Best Viewed in IE”
Once upon a time, it was common for websites to recommend that users view them in a certain browser — most often Internet Explorer.
Today, thanks to stronger adherence to open standards in Web development, as well as better testing practices, most sites work equally well in any modern browser.
Still, you occasionally see recommendations about using a different browser.
Remember when email storage space was precious and you had to pick and choose which emails to save?
I recall having a mere 10 megabytes of storage in one of my first accounts. That would be barely enough to handle a single attachment in many of today’s messages.
I don’t know about you, but for me, those days are a distant memory.
It has been about twelve years since I have deleted an email (not counting spam).
Although only a fraction of the emails I write and receive are ones that I’ll ever want to read again, I get so much free email storage (and buying additional space is so cheap) that I just don’t see a reason to delete any emails.
You never know when you might need to revisit the vacation itinerary you wrote eight years ago, or figure out when you last interacted with a former colleague whom you suddenly encounter out of the blue.
Yet it’s not uncommon for people to ask me to resend them an email because they deleted the original.
The practice of removing email messages in order to save space is not going away, it seems.
Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.
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