It's easy to forget how fast things are moving and how (relatively) pathetic were the computer and networking systems of yesteryear
Sometimes I get so enthralled by the "now" of technology that I forget how fast things are moving and how (relatively) pathetic were the computer and networking systems of yesteryear.
I've told this story before (and I'll doubtless tell it again), but sometime around 1980/81 I was working at International Computers Limited (ICL) in Manchester, England (about 160 north-north-west of London). At that time, I was a member of a team designing CPUs for mainframe computers.
Those were the days when computers really didn’t talk to each other. It was even hard to pass files back and forth between different processor families from the same manufacturer, so you can only imagine the problems involved when working with multiple computers from different vendors.
I remember one day when we had a mainframe linked to a small personal-computer-type machine via a proprietary network (this was shortly before the introduction of the IBM PC). Even though the two machines were in the same room, the fact that you could access and work on the same ASCII text file from either machine was considered to be so revolutionary that journalists from the national newspapers came up from London on the train to report on this august occasion.
That was a red-letter day for me as a junior engineer because we were served free sandwiches -- the posh ones with the crusts cut off the bread -- along with all the tea one could drink.
The reason for my nostalgic musings is that I just ran across a webpage created by my chum, Michael Dunn, who is Editor in Chief over at EDN.com. As part of this page, Michael presents a chart showing his personal computer history in the form of the machines he's owned, starting in 1979 and ending in 2009 (we'll have to try to persuade him to bring it up to date).
Michael Dunn's Chart of Microcomputer History
(Click Here for a larger image. Source: Michael Dunn)
As Michael notes: "From 1979 to 2011 (32 years, a nice power of 2!), processing power has increased by a factor of about 250,000 (or about 25 million FP)! Typical RAM has increased by a factor of 4 million! Hard drive size has multiplied by about half a million. Physical volume and cost per bit has decreased by a factor of about 4 million! And the ability to distantly communicate has climbed from 300bps to 5Mbps or more, a speed increase of 20,000 times."
This certainly makes you think. When I was a student at university circa the late 1970s, I saw an advert in an electronics hobbyist machine for a single board computer with 1KB or ROM, 1KB of RAM, a hex keyboard, and a few 7-segment displays... and it was way outside my price range. I remember thinking at that time that I would never be able to afford my own computer. (Now I can barely fight my way through all the computers I own to move around my office.)
While I was at university, we captured our programs on paper tape and punched cards using a teletype terminal. When we progressed to command-line interfaces running on 80-character monochrome displays, I thought we had reached the peak of sophistication. If you had told me that I would one day have three 28" high-resolution color monitors forming one giant work surface sitting on my desk, I would have laughed my socks off (I'm almost scared to think what I'll be using in ten years' time).
How about you? Would you care to share your own remembrances of the early technologies you used -- perhaps even your own personal history regarding the evolution of microcomputers?
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting