I have had some sort of trainer for the past five or six years. As I moved from running to cycling, I spent a little time on the trainer trying to maintain fitness when the winter weather hit. I do enjoy riding my 27.5+ mountain bike in the snow, but that is more for hanging out with buddies or breaking up the monotony.
I started out on my older CycleOps magnetic trainer on TrainerRoad and Sufferfest running on my iPad using an ANT+ dongle. On TR, I usually watched cyclocross races or replays of old Paris-Roubaix classics while I powered through intervals. Sometimes, I watched "Sons of Anarchy" or other things on Netflix.
Sufferfest had nice videos that really put you into the action, but at the time the workouts seemed relatively basic, and used RPE as much as anything. Although I had a power meter, I needed to adjust the trainer and gearing constantly to reach and stay in the zones prescribed by either of the programs.
As I got stronger on the bike, I didn't really know if I was pushing myself as hard as I could or should because the feedback was not a two way street. Neither program tracked progress to my liking (on their sites), and didn't work seamlessly with uploading to TrainingPeaks or Strava. With the magnetic "dumb" trainer, I can only chalk those winters up to being better than not riding at all.
Last winter, I decided that I really wanted to use winter to do more than just maintain fitness. I wanted to use it as a time to BUILD fitness and accomplish some relatively small goals: to be able to hang with faster group rides and to be more competitive in local Cat 5 road and CX races.
In order to do this, I needed some structure and some motivation. I needed to improve my ability to plan and track the workouts, so that I was constantly challenging myself. I wanted to be able to design my own workouts and be able to ride them without a lot of hassle. What I really needed was a laptop and a smart trainer....