Sometimes the study of history involves rather recent events. For instance, computer history is usually less than 50 years old. Now Computer World has highlighted a number of computer ads from the past forty years or so. Compared to today's technology, they sound even much older than what they are.
For instance, consider the 1977 ad for "this 80MB disk system for less than $12K -- and even better, 300MB for under $20K!" ($20,000 US). Not irresistible today, but apparently this was a bargain back when the ad was published. So good, in fact, that those prices were valid only for resellers buying at least 40 systems. Today you cannot find disk drives as small as 300 megabytes. In fact, you can now purchase half-terabyte drives (that's 500,000 megabytes) for about $130.
I especially enjoyed the ad for electronic mail. First, the advertisement was from my employer of those days, and the address in the ad was for a small office building where I worked at that time. Next, the ad had to explain what electronic mail was because most people were not yet familiar with the term: "Simply put, it means high-speed information transportation. One of the most advanced methods is terminals talking to one another. Your mailbox is the terminal on your desk. Punch a key and today's correspondence and messages are displayed instantly."
Finally, I was amused to see the ad proclaim, "Your mailbox is the terminal on your desk," and yet the man in the picture clearly had no such terminal on his desk. In those days, computer screens and keyboards were only given to clerical workers, never to managers. I obtained my first management position in that building and immediately placed an expensive ($3,000+) computer "dumb terminal" on my desk. My boss advised me to take it out because keyboards were "inappropriate for managers." That's even more amazing when you realize that we worked for one of the larger computer manufacturers of the time!
At the office, we used Penril modems, as shown in another ad. They moved at a "blinding speed" of 1,200 bits per second. If identical modems were in use on both ends, the modem could quadruple its speed to 4,800 bits per second. Today, a "slow" dial-up modem is roughly 45 times as fast at 56,000 baud (roughly 56,000 bits per second although baud rate is not exactly the same as bits per second). The Penril modems were bigger than most of today's PCs and cost several times as much.
One of the more modern ads is from 1987, only twenty years ago. It describes an NEC MultiSpeed laptop computer as "small and lightweight" at only 11.2 pounds. (Today's laptops typically are half that weight or less.) The laptop contained 640K of memory, dual 720K floppy disk drives and five built-in programs. It also ran the OS/2 operating system in order to leap the 640K wall. Of course, installing more than 640K of memory was an extra-cost option.
Does anyone remember OS/2? I used it at the office and on my home computer for several years. (I had a new boss by that time and was allowed to have a PC on my desk. None of the other managers did, however.) Indeed, OS/2 was the first operating system to easily break through the earlier limitation of 640 kilobytes of RAM memory. Today's typical less-than-$500 computer usually contains 500 to 1,000 times that amount of memory.
The ad doesn't mention the fact that the NEC MultiSpeed laptop had a black-and-white screen and no hard drive. That wasn't mentioned because, at that time, the same was true of all laptop computers! None of them had color screens or hard drives; so, potential customers never looked for those features.
Studying computer history is a great way to appreciate today's technology. For many of us, it is also a trip down memory lane.
You can read this great article about computer history at http://tinyurl.com/33g63j.