Thursday, September 01, 2005


My two main computers are down with various ailments, and my home system has been reduced from a 2.7Ghz machine to a 500Mhx machine. That's an order of magnitude drop, yet the older system was top of the line just a few years ago. It amazes me how quickly computers have evolved.

I can remember when my dad first brought the Atari "Pong" game home. It was a small black and brown console, and it didn't look like much. He plugged it into the TV, and we played the very first ever home video game. "Pong" had no amazing graphics, no 3D animation, video cut scenes, sophisticated AI engines, and only 3 colors: a pink padle, a blue paddle, and a white ball. That's it. But the fact that we could actually interact with our TV, that instead of passively watching we could affect what happened kept us glued to that game for hours at a time. There were a couple of variations built into the console, but "Pong" was the only game it played.

My first computer was a Commodore VIC-20 I bought while in high school, around 1979 or 1980. The VIC-20 was an 8 bit computer that carried a whopping 20Kbytes of RAM, of which about 8K was available for programs. Yes, that's a K there, not an M. Hard drives were for mainfromaes back then, and floppies were still in their infancy, so program storage was either on a cartridge, or on a cassette tape. If I remember right, the VIC could display as many colors as you wanted, as long as you only wanted 8 colors. Sound was limited to beeps, boops, and the occasional buzz. But it was a real by-god computer, and you could program it in machine code, or basic with an optional module.

My next computer was a Commodore 128 that I bought while in the Navy, around 1987 or so. It was already a couple of years old at the time, but it was a huge advance over the VIC. It came with a floppy drive standard, and had room for another one. You could attach an external hard drive if you wanted to, and it had 128K of RAM available. There were modems available for it, 300 baud being the most common, although if you were independently wealthy, you could splurge and get a 1200 baud modem, but who would ever need that kind of data transfer speeds? It would be a waste!

Next came my favorite for years, the Amiga 2000, which I bought in 1988 or 89. An overwhelming 1Mbyte of Ram available, multitasking, 2 floppies with room for an internal hard drive, a 2400 baud modem built in, voice synthesis, 4096 colors, stereo sound, and all for under $2000.00! What a bargain! I decided to upgrade eventually and added a hard drive. I searched for a while and finally found a good bargain: 50M hard drive for $450.00.

I stuck with the Commodores as long as I could. They were great machines that were far ahead of any PC or Apple product in capability, flexibility, and ease of use. Unfortunately, their marketing sucked, and I found myself owning orphan machines. Let that be a lesson to you. You can make a better mousetrap, but it takes marketing to get the world to beat a path to your door.

I've now sold out and joined the Wintel army, owning several PC's, culminating in my current machine, a 2.7Ghz machine with 512Mbytes of Ram and a 160Gbyte HD, CD burner, DVD player, 56K modem, and so on, and for several hundred dollars less than my old Amiga. In just over 20 years I've seen home computers go from glorified calculators to machines with more computing power than the first couple generations of mainframes, accompanied by a slow but steady price drop. The price of everything else goes up, but computers keep comng down. Pretty soon we'll have computers of infinite power which cost next to nothing.

But the software will cost an arm and a leg, and you'll have to give your first born in order to get technical support.