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Frequent Reboots

Entry 1013, on 2009-05-19 at 22:09:09 (Rating 3, Computers)

A recent poll on Slashdot asked people how often they reboot their main computer. I often ask people this question myself and I'm surprised at the range of answers I get. Even people with similar computers and operating systems seem to have a wide range in the frequency of reboots from some who do it every day to others who do it almost never.

Computer systems are certainly more stable now than they were back in the days of Mac OS 9 and Windows 98. Even Windows is fairly reliable now and Mac OS X is very good as long as it isn't deliberately "sabotaged" by installing inappropriate drivers and other software.

So what were the results of the Slashdot poll? Well at the time I voted these were the results:

1. Many times a day 1%
2. A few times a day 4%
3. Once a day 17%
4. A few times a week 12%
5. A few times a month 33%
6. A few times a year 23%
7. What is this "reboot" you speak of? 10%

So over 20% of people reboot their computer at least once per day! It doesn't explicitly say so but I guess this excludes shutdowns and starts at the end and beginning of the day because many people do shutdown over night. But that's not a reboot.

There are also reboots to install new software but that is either infrequent (about once a month on a Mac) or not counted into the total (is that really a reboot?)

I find it surprising that so many computer users (and these are presumably technically capable people because that is Slashdot's audience) have to reboot every day - presumably to fix stability issues. And the additional 12% who have to reboot several times a week are hardly better off!

I would expect everyone to be in category 5 and 6. Anyone who is in category 7 is perhaps not being totally honest. Surely everyone - Mac, PC and Linux users - need to install updates that require restarts!

So it seems that computers aren't as reliable as they really should be, because if power users reboot this often imagine how often more naive users (who lack the skills to recover from problems using more subtle methods) might need to reboot.

But maybe help is on the way because both Apple and Microsoft are releasing new operating systems this year which are primarily aimed at increasing performance and stability more than the traditional release which is to introduce new features. Maybe the OS developers realise that we have enough features now and that what we really want more of is speed and reliability.

You will notice that I have concentrated on the operating system in this discussion. Many people get crashes from applications - I sort of expect it with Microsoft Word for example. When someone comments that Word has just crashed I act as if they had just said a car has moved or a light has shone. That's just what Word does, isn't it?

We can't all avoid using buggy software (although I do quite well because I don't use anything developed by Microsoft) but if we have a stable OS then application crashes don't necessarily have to cause too much havoc on our computers as a whole.

I must admit that on occasions my MacBook Pro does get into a state where a forced reboot is the easiest (maybe the only) way to recover, but that really is very rare: probably about once every couple of months (and remember I really thrash my main machine by using it for many hours every day from multiple locations with many programs running).

Just to see if we really are progressing with the quest for stability I might research similar polls carried out in the past. It sounds like a job for Wolfram|Alpha except that so far I haven't got it to produce anything useful beyond slight modifications of the demo questions they have made available. It might be back to Google and manual manipulation of the data I'm afraid!


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