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Peter Jackson column.

Byline: By Peter Jackson

Computers are becoming more reliable, with the failure rates of both desktop and portable notebook computers improving this year compared to the one before.

I strongly suspect that that statement will provoke a harsh and sarcastic laugh from a number of you. After all are not computers always failing, prey to viruses, software glitches and other little-understood gremlins too numerous to mention?

I should make clear that the computer reliability survey released this week by market research group Gartner seems to be looking at hardware rather than software.

It found that 5% of desktop computers need to have a component replaced within the first year, compared with 7% two years ago. And, four years after purchase, the chance that a desktop computer needs to be repaired is 12% compared with 15% in 2003/2004.

This is, I would suggest, believable and, in my experience, mirrors the increased reliability of most machinery from televisions to motor cars. A notable exception is, of course, the photocopier which persists in a near-permanent state of inoperability.

And this seems to me to be a minor miracle, particularly in the light of the laws of theoretical probability. The chances of throwing a six on one die are one in six, but this increases the more times you throw the die, so that when you throw it six times, you can expect at least one six.

If you substitute components in a machine for the dice, and component failure for shaking a six and consider the hundreds of components in a machine such as a car, you begin to wonder how it ever reaches the end of the road.

There are probably a number of factors to explain why machines are becoming more reliable, from more sophisticated testing techniques to more efficient production methods.

But I suspect that a large part of it is more demanding and more discerning consumers who have both greater choice and greater rights in law for redress when machines do go wrong.

In other words, manufacturers are making the effort to make products more reliable because they are more likely to suffer bad consequences if they don't. I just cannot wait for the day when this applies to photocopiers and to software.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 29, 2006
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