Tuesday, December 07, 2010

PCs & 63s - Part 2

There is plenty of detailed history of this subject on many sites around the net so all I will try to do is summarize what happened while we were busy raising our families and working. If you were like me during the 1980s, life was a combination of survival mode and running fledgling businesses…there was no time to spend trying to understand all the noise going on in the computer world.

In my mind, it was these two guys, Jobs and Gates, that came to summarize personal computing in our lives, at least since 1980 or thereabouts. In simple terms, it was their drive and their companies that finally won the operating system wars which would pave the way to standardization of software, a struggle much like the video format wars fought a few years earlier to settle whether we would use VHS vs. Beta format. I had a Tandy computer by 1981, but for 2-years or so had little clue what to do with it. About all I recall about computing in the 1980s was that you could write letters and reports with a word processing program; you could fill a spreadsheet with formulas and do a lot of calculating; and you could waste a ton of time playing some rudimentary games, like Pong or Space Invaders.

By 1986, I had a Tandy laptop that had 48K (yes, K) of memory and a small floppy drive. The 48K internal memory on this Tandy could hold about 4 letters, then you had to dump off to the floppy everything over that.  It was running subsets of MS software, which at least provided an introduction of what was to come.  Large companies were paying tons of money for higher power systems but that was out of reach for those of us on smaller budgets.  What, if anything substantial, those larger companies were accomplishing with that high power equipment I couldn't say with any authority.  The lagging piece of the technology puzzle was always we the people not knowing how to make good use of all that stuff.  There were "training" courses, but those that I saw were pretty weak with respect to applying the knowledge.

By 1989, we were using some larger Tandy machines, but still mostly as typewriter replacements.  There was no linkage between them until sometime in the early 1990s when we added a LAN server.  That sure saved a lot of time by not having to save documents to floppies and walking them from one computer to another, or shipping a disk out via FedEx.

After a decade of fussing with incompatible software and no electronic linkage, early versions of Microsoft Office came available about the same time we were able to put in a LAN.  Soon all the internal squabbles regarding what software to standardize with, went away.  Windows 95 ushered in the Internet age and email for us and Windows XP expanded image handling capability along with the arrival of broadband ISP connections which enabled moving a lot more information around by 2003.  Of course upgrading all of our ISP connections was time consuming and expensive.

For us, all this development came in fits and starts, as not only were the computer industry players jockeying with one another for competitive advantage, our company head was a computer illiterate dinosaur who never got beyond thinking of the PCs as typewriter replacements.  To him, Internet, email, and other such technologies seemed to be unobtrusive ways for employees to waste time, so he was difficult to prod along toward advancing our communication capabilities beyond fax and phone.  Most of us simply bought our own computers for the home and kept up with the racing advancements from 1995 onward.

It's been easy to see so many small businesses and professional practices struggle with incorporating the new communications technologies.  Many of those principals are our age and most of them would rather not be bothered with this tedious stuff.  Unfortunately dealing with other companies and agencies has rapidly resulted in the need to update everyones' communication capabilities.  And Mr. Jobs and Mr. Gates started it all for us.


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