Every time I sell a server to a client, I always hear him crying about the CDROM reader: “it’s only 24x and it costs 150$”, they say. Yes, that’s true. It’s expensive. It’s slow.

Why? Good question. I do not know a single IT worker who does not wonder the same question.

Most people say Sun, IBM, HP, etc bought those slow CDROM drives in the thousands years ago and now they have a pile of slow drives and they must sell them using any means. Well, sorry, but I don’t buy that hypothesis. Should that be true, the CDROM drive would be 15$ instead of 150$. After all, wasn’t your theory Sun wanted to get rid of those drives? Then they should sell them very cheap, even at a loss! (last week I bought 100 USB Logitech ball mice with the HP logo at 0.74 EUR/piece; that’s exactly what I mean when I say “even at a loss”)

Today I came up with a better hypothesis on why servers ship with slow CDROM drives.: you have to blame the CDROM media (the disk itself).

“WTF!?”, you are thinking now.

Let me explain.

When you buy a CDROM drive for a server, you will usually employ it only twice: when installing the operating system and when installing a driver you need before you have an Internet connection. That’s exactly twice, so you won’t care if it works at 24x or at 52x. In case you didn’t know, 52x is the technology limit for CDROM drives, otherwise you couldn’t read it properly because pitches are too small in the media.

Did you notice the emphasis in “you couldn’t read it properly”? That’s the key for my hypothesis on why servers ship with slow CDROM drives. Our world is loaded with crap CDROM media.

A lot of software vendors and IT people use crappy XinXunXao CDs instead of Verbatim CDs because they are a full cent cheaper! (wow, what a huge savings). Well, the problem is XinXunXao CDs are crap and if you try to read them at, say, 32x they will probably fail and you will be reading a 0 when you should have read a 1.

Now comes the interesting part: Sun, HP, IBM are not responsible for you (or your software vendor) to be using XinXunXao CDs. After all, they did not choose to use XinXunXao instead of Verbatim and their advice would be to use Verbatim! The problem is when the US $4000 IBM server you have just bought does not read that XinXunXao CDs at 32x or 48x, most probably you are going to blame IBM and that’s bad for them.

So what could IBM do? Easy, IBM sells you a 24x CD so you cannot read a CDs faster than 24x. Now IBM can rest sure even those XinXinXao CDs will work flawlessly and you will be happy.

Summary: as you might be using bad-quality CD media, IBM sells you a slow CD for you to be able to read even the worst-quality CD with it. They are fixing a problem they did not cause.

PS: On related news, 90% of the times I sell a server with Windows, clients also complain about the Windows Server license fees. But that’d be another post

You can identify intelligence when you see it:

I think that it’s extraordinarily important that we in computer science keep fun in computing. When it started out, it was an awful lot of fun. Of course, the paying customers got shafted every now and then, and after a while we began to take their complaints seriously. We began to feel as if we really were responsible for the successful, error-free perfect use of these machines. I don’t think we are. I think we’re responsible for stretching them, setting them off in new directions, and keeping fun in the house. I hope the field of computer science never loses its sense of fun. Above all, I hope we don’t become missionaries. Don’t feel as if you’re Bible salesmen. The world has too many of those already. What you know about computing other people will learn. Don’t feel as if the key to successful computing is only in your hands. What’s in your hands, I think and hope, is intelligence: the ability to see the machine as more than when you were first led up to it, that you can make it more.

Alan J. Perlis (April 1, 1922-February 7, 1990)

(from Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, MIT Press)

Update: And wait until you read the Perlis epigrams on programming. Awesome!