A Look Back At What Computers Used To Be

It wasn’t that long ago that computers were incredibly slow and just not very good.  But at the time, they were amazing.  It’s incredibly to see just how far we’ve come.

Macintosh’s bang is changing too. It took a year, but an adequate library of software has finally accumulated, and it’s accelerating. One after another, bottlenecks in the hardware are being solved. You can get a second disk drive ($500 list; $435 street), and 512K memory (upgrade from 128K, $700 list), and good on-board hard-disk storage with a Hyperdrive (for 512K Mac, $2200 list; for 128K Mac, $2800 list), and a good trac-ball (Assimilation, $129 list) for mouse-haters. The maddening slowness of disk access can be solved on a 512K Mac with Assimilation’s RAM disk ($29 list) — with it MACWRITE, for example, loads in 3 seconds instead of 27 seconds. Other accelerators coming from Apple are an improved Finder to keep up with the hard disk and a “switcher” designed by Andy Hertzfeld that shifts in a blink between applications.

The hardware environment around the Macintosh is also being enriched. Most dramatic is Apple’s $7,000 laser printer, which enables flat-out self-publishing. The Thunderscanner is a cheap ($299 list) and dazzling digitizer of images, opening up new graphic vistas. The “Mac Office” linking of computers by wire adds to Mac’s corporate credibility. And the formidable old Lisa has been rejiggered (and renamed “Macintosh XL,” sigh, $3995 list) to fully accomodate the Mac software library — I wonder if it might become the serious business or writing machine that Mac never quite settles down to.

IBM’s MS-DOS machines are refining too, though more evolutionary than revolutionary. The major advance, the IBM PC-AT ($5800 list; $5400 street), with vastly more memory and storage and good design than the PC, is stumbling onto the market with technical and compatibility and supply prblems that are taking the usual months to work through. It’ll take a year for software to catch up fully with its capabilities, just as when the PC first came out. But it is a rich new computing environment; early owners are reveling as well as bitching.

The question is, at what point does maturing design and the lowering cost of memory and storage give the image-intensive 32-bit Macintosh and Mac-alikes the edge over 16-bit character-intensive MS-DOS computers for ordinary use? If “Jackintosh” jacks the price of Macintosh down, I’d say later this year.

~Brand, Stewart, Richard Dalton, and Louis Jaffe. “Bright new boxes: watch and wait before pouncing.” Whole Earth Review (1985): 81+.

It will be curious to see how the next 25 years will treat the computer industry.  I think Star Wars type holograms are just around the corner.