03.1–The past 50 years: constant replacement by more user friendly technologies-2012/01/09

Brief History

For the new generation who grew up with today’s PCs and smart phones, it can be hard to imagine that the first commercial computers were introduced only 50 years ago. Those who lived this evolution have seen numerous technologies that, at the time, seemed on the cutting edge but are now long gone.

The purpose of this collection documents is to demonstrate that, even if we have trouble imagining what tomorrow’s technology will look like, we must be prepared mentally for radical changes as we have lived during the past 50 years. Over the past ten years, we have all noticed that the latest computer technology you buy often becomes obsolete over a period of about three years and before. Example: many people change their mobile phone almost every year these days.

I have been involved with the computer technology since 1967. At the time, when I joined IBM Canada, we were implementing mainframe computers that only the large enterprises cold afford. Data was entered using punch cards and the magnetic disks that contained 5.4 million characters were as big as a dish washer. In 1967, I programmed a payroll for a client in machine language “Assembler” on a computer that only had 4,000 positions of main memory. We had to make three passes punching the intermediate results of calculations onto punch cards that were used as input for the next pass.

During the ’70s, we witnessed the introduction of minicomputers. They were produced and sold by a number of companies that have since disappeared: Wang, DEC, etc…  It resulted in the introduction of computers into medium size enterprises.

By the late ’70, we saw the introduction of word processing machines: MICOM and others. These devices, dedicated to a rudimentary word processing, were as big as offices desks costing $ 15 000 each.

In the early ’80s, we witnessed the arrival of personal computers and laptops. The first laptops were large (50 cm x 50 cm x 20 cm), with a small screen and weighed over 10 kg. At that time, they used an operating system (that I forgot the name) which was later replaced by MS-DOS when IBM signed an agreement with a small company called Microsoft.

Over the years, PCs have shrunk in size and increased in power and storage capacity both in main memory and hard drives capacity. MS-DOS was replaced by Windows which introduced an Apple developed approach using icons. Before the use of icons, all computer instructions to initiate transactions were entered using codes that had to be learned and memorized.

Meanwhile, during the ’80s, we witnessed the introduction of mobile cell phones. These were large at the beginning and have steadily shrunk in size since and increased in functionality.

In the ’90s, it was the advent of the Internet that changed the world. Meanwhile, since the 90s, we have witnessed the introduction of the GPS, digital cameras, computers in cars and appliances and so on.

All this to demonstrate that the current way of doing things will radically change in the coming years and we must be prepared to follow suit. An example to illustrate this point: in my opinion, one of the first things that will change is the disappearance of the mouse. With the advent of smart phones and tablets operated using your fingers on a touch screen, this approach will spread to the future computers that will replace the current PCs.

Following documents in this collection will guide you as to what to expect in the coming years and how to take full advantage of the new technologies.

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