In "Costly Cure for Y2K Myopia" [op-ed, Jan. 4], Robert Kuttner proves once again that C. P. Snow's "Two Cultures" are alive and well. Kuttner sees the PC on his desk as the essential core of information technology, when in fact it's only (and just barely) the tip of the iceberg.
As anyone in the computer business will tell you, Microsoft was hardly the culprit behind the Y2K problem. Y2K was about digital microprocessors--embedded digital process controllers, programmable logic arrays, robotics, appliances, all sorts of complex automated systems--along with large-scale transactional database applications and SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems.
In terms of numbers, embedded digital processors dwarf PC microprocessors by a factor of, say, 50 to 1 at least.
In the PC world, most Y2K problems were trivial, and given the pace of system renewal among desktop computer users, the number of noncompliant systems was shrinking rapidly well before the millennium rollover.
If you want to blame anyone for ignoring the problem and generating exorbitant Y2K costs, blame Motorola, Intel and other chip manufacturers. Blame programmers who made sensible, cost-effective decisions about the two-digit vs. four-digit year field back in the 1960s when computer memory and storage costs were prohibitive. Blame generations of program managers who deferred remediation and upgrading long past the point when storage costs had come down to reasonable levels, because the applications still worked well.
And since he brought it up, let me take issue with Kuttner on "path dependence." The 1984 Apple Macintosh, with its graphical user interface (GUI) may have represented superior technology, but it was superior in the GUI area only.
At its basic price point, it was decidedly inferior to contemporary DOS PCs in terms of memory, storage and access to an open architecture.
Kuttner (who I'll bet is a Mac user) may not have been able to see beyond the interface, but most of us put equal or greater weight on other factors when deciding which computer to buy. To equal a DOS PC in these categories you had to pay more than a 100 percent premium for your enhanced Mac.
Bill Gates did not ram anything down our collective throats. DOS, and later Windows, did not need superior marketing to displace the Mac (and in any case Microsoft and the PC manufacturers couldn't hold a candle to Apple on the advertising front).
From its inception until the late 1990s, Apple saw the Macintosh as the Mercedes of the PC market and kept profit margins high. People voted with their wallets, and the rest is history.