the Hidden Realities of Computer Industry in Japan Japanese

4.3 Relish While It's Fresh

Computer technology progress rapidly. As an example, I compare the performance of a computer I used when I started to use computers and the one we have today (1995). Around 1980, the most advanced computer for technical calculations was VAX-11/780 by DEC. It costed one hundred million yen these days.

We use MIPS as computer performance unit. Since VAX was exactly 1 MIPS, often the word "VAX" was used as the unit. This unit shows how many calculation can be done in 1/1,000,000 second.

In 1995, any poor PC is way faster than VAX. We can purchase a computer over 50 MIPS around 300,000 yen now. Broadly speaking, it costs like 5,000 yen per MIPS. The cost difference is 20,000 times, compareing to 15 years ago. The price of 1 MIPS was reduced by half every year.

On the other hand, the value of one hundred million yen VAX I used 15 years ago is 5,000 yen at the most today. It is nothing but a garbage now.

Once I used VAX at the University of Tokyo. It was highly luxurious thing to possess a VAX in a laboratory. What you do with VAX didn't matter. Using VAX was the "status symbol" for researchers.

However, the improvement of computer reduced its value by half each year. The VAX we longed for became a drag in our lab. It was too huge and needed professional to dump. The expense wasn't negligible. We looked for somebody to take it. We were going to pay for it.

Fortunately, we found a company which already had VAX and wanted another one. They paid 1 million yen for it. We were more than glad.

They are talking about steep appreciation of the yen lately. But I say the change is much smaller from the value reduction of computer. If yen got stronger and doller got weaker as fast as computer value change, the value of one doller would have been less than 1/100 yen by now. It's like having heavy fall every week. Black Monday comes regularly in every Springs and Falls, when new products hit the store shelves.

Because of this rapid price change, forget about fixing a computer after you have used it for 3 years. Maintenance fee will replace it with even better computer. It's just nonsense to think about fixing a computer after some years from purchase date.

If you lease a computer for 5 years, you're going to pay for it even when it's virtually dumped for the half of the leasing period. Since you have to keep on working in that situation, eventually you are going to purchase new computer.

Current taxation system, which considers computers as important long-term assets, doesn't suit with actual situation. Computers become obsolated in few years. Now that their cost is getting lower, they should be counted as expendables.

Since this heavy price-drop keeps on going, it's hard to think about when and how to purchase computers. If you try to budget the computer expense for a fiscal year, you have to collect material, examine and compare material info, ask retailer for discount, make documents, and lay the groundwork. All these works take time, usually months.

But due to the rapid technical advance, gathered information will be useless while studying it. Information in manuscript will be too old when it is published. Information on new products, price, and performance are the fastest one to change. Even magazines can't catch up with it. Computer specialists hardly catch up with the info outside of their own fields.

It's like perishable food. It always needs a tag to tell how long you can perish it. Nonetheless, situation often changes completely with the sudden release of new products.

When you deal with computers, you must remember "their value reduce by half in a year". Asking salesclerk and getting big discount is not a big deal. New products will be old models while you're asking for discount, and they will be sold for an inventory clearance. That happens normally.

If somebody asks me for various information, I never forget to tell them that the information is only good for 3 months. Even if the material is really good, I cannot guarantee the usefulness of it unless people take action right after acquire it. Moreover, at the worst case, you could purchase garbege with useless information.

Copyright 1996, 1999 Hirofumi Fujiwara. Translated by E.I.
No reproduction or republication without written permission.

the Hidden Realities of Computer Industry in Japan Japanese