What do You Think of When You Hear Computer

Remember what a computer used to look like?

I think it’s fair to say that personal computers have become the most empowering tool we’ve ever created. They’re tools of communication, they’re tools of creativity, and they can be shaped by their user. –Bill Gates

Much has been said about baby boomers and computers. Most of it not true. Our generation has a very strong connection with computers. Just look at the quote above. We all know Bill Gates. No one can argue that he is one of the people most central in making computers and the Internet what they are today. And, of course, he is a baby boomer. Just like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the founders of Apple. More and more studies show that we baby boomers are active computer users and even use social media (Twitter, FaceBook) a lot. But we also know something that the younger generation doesn’t. We know where the computer comes from.

An Apple a Day…

Back in the ’80’s, almost no one had a computer sitting on their desk at home. As a matter of fact when most of us were in school (a little before the ’80’s for most of us), there weren’t even computers there. Maybe the school system had a large mainframe computer system that created and printed out your school schedule. This computer took up a whole room (or a whole floor) in the school board’s central administration building somewhere. If a school counselor or vice principal had a computer on his/her desk, it was connected to the mainframe by telephone. How did that work? They had a modem that did not plug into the phone line, but instead you put the phone receiver into a cradle and it talked to the main computer that way. But then came the Apple. No not  the fruit. I’m pretty sure that’s been around, well since the beginning of time. I’m talking about this amazing computer that took up only about a quarter of your desktop. The first Apple didn’t even have a case.

By the early’80’s, the Apple II let you even have two floppy disk drives. You could play cool games that way. Why was this cool? Because each game came on its own floppy disk. OK, for you younger folk, floppy here has nothing to do with a rabbit’s ears. It was a disk, about 5 and 1/4 inches, and it held a whopping 128-k of memory. You had to put the disk into the drive to get it to work. If your game or program need more than 128-k of memory, you had to swap disks. That is, the program got to a point where it needed the information on the second disk (or the third or fourth) and it asked you to insert the disk into the drive. If you had two drives, the computer found it for you. There were no hard drives. For those of us that looked at the term 128-k and started to scratch our heads, that means that there was 128 kilobytes of memory. Today’s hard drives have 500 gigabytes of memory or even a terabyte. What this means is that a megabyte is 1024 kilobytes and a gigabyte is 1024 megabytes and a terabyte is 1024 gigabytes. So imagine how much more memory we have today.

The Commodore Takes out the Trash

Other  companies began to compete with the Apple, like Commodore Computer, which released the Commodore 64 and the Amiga. The Commodore 64 was one of top selling computers of its day and still has its own place in history. Tandy (Radio Shack) also sold a very popular computer, the TRS 80. This was often referred to as the “Trash 80” although it did not really earn that name. It was one of the better computers. I used a cassette tape to hold its data, although you could also get a floppy drive for it.

And do you remember what the monitors looked like? Some of the early desktop computers attached directly to your television set. I think we may have come full circle on that one because my kids “watch TV” on the computer through the Internet. When the Apple introduced a monitor for its computer, it was a black screen with green letters. No pictures. When the games did have graphics, they were line drawings.You saw these green line people move on the black screen.

Businesses got into  the computer picture when IBM invented DOS. But DOS only let you use a “command line.” You remember, you had to type all of your commands on the keyboard. No mouse, no pictures of folders, no dragging and dropping or cutting and pasting. Not yet.

A New Juicier Apple, the Macintosh

Someone at Apple computer had a favorite apple, the McIntosh. So he helped to invent a new operating system and a new computer, the Macintosh. The Mac was cool. The monitor was built in and it was in black and white. No not color, but not that green and black screen. This one had pictures and a desktop where you could drag stuff around using this cool little thing called a mouse. All the cool people had Macs. And then came Windows. Not to be outdone, by the mid ’80’s, Apples chief competition released Windows another Graphical operating system. And the rest is history. By the mid-’90’s computers where everywhere. In homes and in schools. The personal computer (PC) was king. You went to the store and bought your software, then installed in on your hard drive. A far cry from the days when all the programming was in the big mainframe and you had to be connected to it.

Into the Clouds

Today, our computers are all interconnected. Not through the telephones that we used back in the old days, but through the Internet. We call this the “cloud.” We can play games on the cloud, get productivity tools from the cloud, and find our favorite music. It’s all there. Sometimes we play in the cloud and sometimes we take stuff from the cloud and copy it to our computer. But in a way we have come full circle. We are not all connected to one big computer in a room somewhere, but we are all connected to one central network of computers. For better or worse, we have come a long way.

Keep coming back here for more insights on how you can get the most out of this new “cloud” computing experience. Don’t forget one of the things Bill Gates said about computers in the quote at the top of this post,”…they can be shaped by their user.” Yes they can, because the computer is your tool.

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Photo by: Exsodus / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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Hi, My name is David Goldman and this blog is not about the World Wide Web. It will talk about that, but mostly this blog will talk about how today's technology has changed the way we go about our everyday lives. Technology, especially the World Wide Web, has changed the way we live our everyday lives. I want to empower you with the knowledge of today's technology to compete with vigor in today's world. You can click the link below to find out some more about me and this blog.

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