Thursday, August 31, 2006

Twenty five years since the first PC

I couldn't have been seven years old when my father brought home the first computer. It was more of a toy, some thingamabob he collected from someone at work, and it ran from a floppy disk. It was the size of a modern day nintendo, with an awkward black keyboard that had letter buttons instead of keys. It hooked up to the television like a video game rather than a normal PC.
Aside from typing a few words into the computer, we never really got too far with it. It ran off those ancient floppies, which really were floppy, cardboard-thick and the length and width of a CD case.
After a day or two, the not-so-useful computer got shoved into a drawer. It was brought out every so often on the whim of someone becoming a computer whiz, only to be shoved back into the drawer when the whiz got tired of typing their name and pressing enter.

It would be another year before my father splurged on a new PC. The screen had an orange curser that flashed when we turned it on. "An IBM clone," he called it, sliding a floppy disk into the drive. "It comes with the latest version of MS DOS," he said, his voice filled with all the enthusiasm of a geek with a new toy. "And I copied a word processing program from work," he said, typing various commands with his two fingers. "Six hundred and forty kilobytes of RAM, I mean that's the best you can get these days," he said. "And a fifty megabyte hard drive."
The computer whirred and wheezed like an old man with emphysema, the big green light on the disk drive flashing as the disk spun inside.
Commodore pets with big green cursers on the screens were installed at school. The teachers seemed to be afraid of them, and most of the students weren't interested. Those that were, knew much more than the teachers.

The Coleco vision, with the game Donkey Kong was an early family purchase, and I spent hours in front of the TV moving the little ape around the screen.
The computer world surged forward year after year: faster, more colour, more graphics, more options, more memory, Windows 3.1, Nintendo, Sega, Laptops, the internet, palm PC's.
When I went to university, I had my first computer. A pentium, ninety megahurtz, eight megabyes of RAM, Windows 95.
When I graduated, it was obsolete, and I bought one five times as fast, with, gasp, MMX technology.
Today, it's hard to imagine a world without computers. It's there when I'm up in the morning, the first thing I do is turn it on. Even things we carry on us now are computers more powerful than my family's first clunky machine. Mobile phones, palm pilots, GPS systems, handheld video consoles, blackberries.
And it all started with someone manipulating ones and zeros, putting them into a bulky storage device. They constantly seek to make the storage device smaller and smaller, while manipulating the ones and zeros faster and faster.

Happy twenty fifth birthday PC.

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