When was the last time that you came across a printer with only a parallel port? Have you ever used one of those two serial ports on the back of your PC?

Personally I don’t think I’ve used a parallel port for over five years and I don’t recall ever having used a serial port despite using computers for over twenty years. So why do many PC manufacturers still include them on new PCs? Would they not be better using the same space for more USB ports, a Firewire socket or even to save a few pounds by simply not including it?

I finally realised why they are there when I read “Heavier Than Air.” It, of course, has nothing to do with their utility — almost no-one has used either port for years — and everything to do with feature matrices.

Imagine the scene. The purchasing department1 of a big company is defining what the corporate standard for PCs for the next year is going to be. How do they go about it? Do they sit down and exhaustively analyse the requirements for new PCs across the whole company? Do they talk to users, book meetings with the IT guys and negotiate with the facilities team?

Or do they just copy last years spec sheet and hope for the best?

It doesn’t take too many years of this to get back to the point where dedicated printer ports and serial lines were kind of useful for many users. But now they’re just left there on the check-list not because anyone needs them but because no-one has thought to remove them.

You’ll see this in action at the various manufacturer web sites. The business oriented machines, those intended to be purchased in their thousands by blue chips, have those superfluous ports but the consumer machines are more likely to have only USB.

In the grand scheme of things maybe it doesn’t matter why you get a few extra ports on every PC you buy but I do think that it’s interesting to discover why they keep giving us stuff that we don’t want.

  1. I am reminded of a story I heard while working at a large telecoms company. My department ordered an upgraded CPU for one of the Macs used for DTP. The card they asked for would have nearly doubled the performance. The purchasing department, in an attempt to save money, instead ordered a cache card. Unfortunately this cost nearly as much as the replacement CPU but only increased performance by about 10%. It proved to be a waste of money rather than a wise investment. []