When I was a child, there were a number of small computer stores, including quite a few that were authorized retailers for Apple, selling Apple IIs, software, dot matrix printers, and the loud 3.5″ external disk drives. I’d go and window shop, dreaming of being able to afford one. I’d walk by Radio Shack, with their TRS-80s, considering a purchase there instead since my high school used those. Over time, my window shopping evolved to flipping through the massive Computer Shopper, trying to decide which mail order retailer I might trust.
Life has certainly changed, with online retailers dominating many computer hardware sales, though there are still some local stores in that we can visit. I’ve enjoyed wandering through Microcenter in Denver, and even taking my kids to Best Buy for their college machines. I’ve rarely visited an Apple store, though those seem to be quite popular with consumers. I have been to a Microsoft store, and saw recently that there will be fewer Microsoft stores in the future. I wonder if retail computer shopping is becoming a niche market.
There are lots of choices these days for purchasing new hardware. Many organizations have agreements with particular retailers and lots of data professionals never get much choice in what machine they might use at work. Some companies allow limited choice, some just assign a hand me down to new employees. Relatively few give an allowance, though I wish more did.
A computer is a tool that we use, but like any other tool, we all have preferences. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to choose most of my machines. I ask for advice, weigh different costs, options, lead time, and reviews. It’s not an efficient process, but it is a nice break from work for a few hours and usually I find myself content with the end choice. I know there are lots of form factors, choices, and even colors these days. If you have the chance to build your own machine, it’s a very satisfying experience, at least once in your life. Glenn Berry has good information on his site and advice on building machines.
The search for computing hardware can be fun, whether you want to build a machine or purchase something ready to go, it’s one task that I think most technical professionals enjoy.