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Personal Computers: Evolution or Devolution?

 9:09 pm on Nov 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

I felt like rambling about computers today, enjoy or not, it's here, deal with it! :)

In the beginning:

It was a hodge podge of competing formats but I tried them all.

My first computer was a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model I with a screaming Z80 1Mhz processor, 48K of RAM, 16K of Basic in ROM, 2 64K floppy disk drives, and a 300bps tape cassette backup (we sped it up). Compare these humble beginnings to Ghz CPUs, 8GB Ram, TB hard drives, and memory sticks that hold more than the early hard drives, we've come a long way baby but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Worked on some other computers as well, such as a TEI Super Computer running CP/M, but it was just another 8080 1Mhz 64K machine with 256K 8" floppies, not much of an improvement.

Then there was the Apple II, it was a mixed bag with about the same specs as the Radio Shack box except it had better graphics, color, crappier floppy drives, but color graphics were a step forward. If you wanted to make it a business machine you could plug-in a MS Z80 Softcard and run all the great CP/M business apps which is how I tended to use Apples.

Of course my fave, just because it was much cheaper than the Apple, my good old Commodore-64 and I'll call it minor evolution because the disk drives were smart and the more expensive ones were really fast. I could play games in the software to make the Bizarre-64 BBS I wrote look like it was streaming data at a smooth 2400 bps without staggering when it stopped to access the disk. But I digress, still, smart floppies were cool.


Then there was the Altos business computers running MP/M that I used at work. Those bad boys were multi-user Z80A machines with a whopping 208K of RAM, Z80A CPU, two 8-inch floppy disk drives, six serial and one parallel port, and optional hard drives up to 40MB! Then they came out with dual 5" drives that stored 1MB each, I was in heaven.


Then someone handed me an IBM-PC, and said this was the future.

I think I wept a little.

It wasn't multi-user, the operating system was buggy and slower than snot, it had very little RAM and the floppy was next to useless compared to the 1MB floppy of the Altos, and this is the future?

Kind of a useless lump of hardware compared to the Altos I had at home. At home I could edit on one terminal, compile code on another terminal, link code on the 3rd terminal and spool to the printer in the background. It was the hardware equivalent of having 3 windows open at the same time, it was just individual terminals, but I knew where it was heading. Yes, my spare bedroom was a computer room with gear lined around the perimeter, it looked like Nerdvana, complete with modem :)

Side note: if you wanted lots of nerdy friends in the 80s, just have the coolest computer gear around and you'll never be lonely.


Another machine shoved my way was an Apple III, let's just not discuss that lump of junk and I won't run off screaming in a tirade about the month or two of my life I'll never get back wasted on attempting to program that garbage.

Evolution and Devolution, How can you do both at once?

The original MAC, freaking cool, had one of the first to roll off the assembly line for about a week. Looked more like a toy than a business machine and I was making a living writing business software for CP/M and PCs at the time and nobody wanted it. Worse yet, there was no good Basic or C compiler for it, and they wanted you to learn Pascal to use it if I remember. One major GUI step forward, major programming steps backwards. No thank you. Plus, programming the MAC was a real slow and complicated PITA compared to it's later Windows counterpart, glad I waited :)

Won't even mention the Apple Lisa, oops, too late. We had only had the machine a couple of months and determined it was a boat anchor. We used it to hold the door to the computer lab open on particularly hot days.

Apple eventually came around and fixed the shortcomings I saw in the MAC, almost 20 years later, and now are finally starting to own some market share they originally bungled, but it's better late then never, eh?

IBM and the promise of the OS/2 presentation manager, which MS dropped and ran off and built Windows instead (thanks, whew!) actually saw the light of day in the early 90s, and I knew some people that made lots of money off OS/2 for a year or so until IBM discovered nobody wanted it as Windows 3.x took the market by storm so they flushed it down the drain.


IMO most of the computer revolution was rather boring after the PC came around because it was nothing but faster CPUs, more RAM, bigger hard disks, more resolution, faster graphics, yada yada yawn.

BBSing and Fidonet was my first involvment of what I saw as evolution, from 300bps to 1200bps, then 2400 and 9600, WOW! Communicating with anyone around the world, just like we do today at WebmasterWorld, that was truly game changing IMO. My friends and I were quick to get on the Fidonet bandwagon when it came along and become echo nodes in that original version of what evolved into the internet.

Email echoed for free all the way from Europe, Asia or the Middle East only in 1-2 days?


If you wanted instant delivery, you called the BBS direct and paid the long distance, but if you wanted it for free, you let FidoNet echo it around the planet bypassing many of the telephone tolls and tariffs.

Next came networking and all those wonderful coax cables that now allowed everyone to once again share data like I did with an Altos computer almost 10 years prior. Sure took them long enough to catch up to where I'd already been before, here we go again!

Then I got my fist Internet account, bye bye FidoNet!

Took a while before the old school dial-up BBS's died, but once the internet caught on, it was over for them, they were dinosaurs quickly on the way out.

Now, with local networking linking the office machines all together and the internet linking the entire world together, it's just a matter of time for all the software hackers to make some cool stuff happen.

Still Unsure, Devolution or Evolution?

I'm on the fence here, as things are now evolving to 'the cloud' whether it's a good or bad thing.

Why I'm on the fence is it may be the end of desktop computers as we know them. With all the iPads, netbooks and laptops, all prone to easily suffer catastrophic failure and the owners need to get back online quickly, having all their data on the cloud makes sense. My buddy was in Hawaii when his netbook failed, he got a replacement unit and everything was right where he left it on the cloud, no data loss, no time wasted trying to recover the old machine, it was just there. That is, until you can't connect to the cloud!

Plus, now you've given all your data to a 3rd party, do you trust them not to look, or in some areas of the world, do you trust them not to share it with the government?

I think cloud computing as a convenience for sharing the same data with multiple devices such as the smart phone, iPad or netbook/laptop and even desktop is a huge win, a step forward in computer evolution.

However, it makes the computer user weaker, no longer in control of their own data. If there was a catastrophic event tomorrow, such as a very major earthquake that knocked out a lot of communications and maybe took out some data centers entirely, how would they get mission critical information stored in the cloud? The very things we rely on for our 'paperless office' which was traditionally stored on our local computers are no longer within our grasp if we give it up to the cloud. One step forward and two steps back?

I'm thinking the cloud is good but people should invest in their own personal cloud, such as using your desktop computer to run some cloud software and not some 3rd party company.

Then you get the best of both worlds where you can still share files easily and seamlessly across all your devices yet have full control of your own data and don't have to worry about where it is when you need it most.

Sadly, this won't happen because people are sheeple and don't understand the technology enough to know it's pitfalls and really just want the computer to be an appliance like a toaster.

OK, I'm done rambling, comment if you must.



 9:58 pm on Nov 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

Cool site, The Chronology of Personal Computers [pctimeline.info...]


 10:30 pm on Nov 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

I'm on the fence here, as things are now evolving to 'the cloud' whether it's a good or bad thing.

"The cloud" - that sounds light and easy and harmless. If people would call it what it really is - "the fog" - probably nobody would use it anymore

Because in reality it often just means: I do not have the slightest clue where my data is, if it is stored in the US or Poland, Russia or Iceland, I have no clue who is accessing it and to what purpose, I do not know in which jurisdiction the data is stored, I have no clue who is doing what with it, I have no clue if the data will still be accessible tomorrow.

I like some web based services. I use IMAP for email- on my own server. I use applications like a ticket system for my company - on my own server. I backup important data online - encrypted and on my own server.

I have tried other "cloud services" but I found they were just too slow. For example cloud storage. You come back from a holiday and want to transfer 4GB of pictures to your "cloud drive" - or even worse - actually browse through the pictures and look at them? Forget it.

It all sounds great - have access to everything from everywhere. The problem is: Once you start using it you realize you do not need access to everything from everywhere. I don't need my holiday pictures in my office and I do not need my office documents at home. Actually I do not even need all of my office documents in the office.


 11:18 pm on Nov 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

"The cloud" - that sounds light and easy and harmless.

.... the perfect location for people who have their 'head in the clouds' to store everything and it's probably as safe as if it were stored in their own head ;o)

Those who have their feet, or should I say head, firmly planted on earth have little use for anything in, on or above the cloud(s)


 11:34 pm on Nov 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

all the great CP/M business apps

Aaaack! Not CP/M! I've been trying for a quarter of a century to forget that name! We had to use it for ... uh ... was it called TechWriter? Anyway, the best-ever word processor for math-and-science kinds of things. I typed a solutions manual for a calculus class in that. Nothing but eight-layered differentials as far as the eye could see. I have no idea how I'd produce the same output today.

And I don't care what people say, there's still no equivalent to writing things down on the back of an envelope.


 11:43 pm on Nov 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

The only upside I can see to the cloud is people don't backup, never did, and always whine when they lose all their stuff. The cloud is forced backup, so theoretically for the masses it's probably a good thing.

However, it needs the ability to fully synch instead of always downloading IMO and not just store it in one place as multiple copies are always preferred over just one.

Over the limited resources of 3G and 4G networks I think speed of access will always be an issue until they have bandwidth capabilities on par with the cable companies.

Besides, in a disaster like a hurricane, flood or earthquake when everyone gets on the phone at once you can kiss access g'bye.

I recommend keeping a copy of your important documents and even your website backups in a keychain flash drive like I do as I'm more likely to be separated from my computers in an emergency than the keys I keep in my pocket.


 11:53 pm on Nov 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

I have several thousand closed client files (yes I need them) dating back 20 years on my computer, backup up to an external drive, AND saved on Carbonite just in case of a fire or natural disaster. It took a lot of effort to scan all those files and all the originals were shredded.

One day my harddrive crashed. No problem, we had important data saved on the external drive. OOPS. Person in charge of that never verified that the backups were ever made, and guess what? They weren't.

But Carbonite was set up to work in the background and ALL data, old and new, was saved off site. Whew!

FWIW, downloading all that data from Carbonite was effortless.


 12:18 am on Nov 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

Person in charge of that never verified that the backups were ever made, and guess what? They weren't.

My backups are automatic and verified, I don't trust the person in charge, he's lazy as hell, it's me :)

But Carbonite was set up to work in the background and ALL data, old and new, was saved off site. Whew!

What if you had went to Carbonite and it said "Sorry, we've closed"?

Or worse yet, you find your Carbonite backups are corrupt and they can't restore a valid copy?

One offline backup is insufficient IMO.


 12:26 am on Nov 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

Good thought, Bill.


 4:56 pm on Nov 22, 2011 (gmt 0)

On a related note:


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