Today we hardly think about buying a new PC, or about what’s new in them. Once or twice a year there’s a major operating system upgrade. You generally don’t notice the improvements. In fact, nothing about your computer tends to change a lot. And, we like it that way for the most part. Computers are productivity machines, and big changes cut down on our productivity.
It wasn’t always like that
There was a time when PCs were exciting. They were avant-garde. And because of that, there was a lot to learn. There was new hardware out there all the time, new software and things to do, and an ongoing deathmatch between Mac lovers and PC lovers.
Ah, the good old days.
The 1990s: the front lines in the PC revolution
For my money, the 1990s were the best time to be a PC hobbyist. The 1970s up until about 1985 were all about small, home computers that couldn’t do much. The rest of the 1980s centered around business upgrades, because PCs were so expensive.
In the 1990s, there was an explosion of large and small companies building PCs. Some, like Compaq, were established large companies. Others were “white boxers,” average folks who bought parts and assembled PCs on demand.
These were the days when there was a new processor model a few times a year, when people were just getting into Windows, and when the choice of which sound card to use really made a difference in your life.
And of course, the coming of the internet changed everything. All of a sudden if you couldn’t get online, you had nothing. Not that you could do anything very quickly, but you still had a choice between several different modem speeds that promised to make a real difference.
Computer Chronicles was there
There was a popular show from 1983 – 2002 called Computer Chronicles. It ran, if I recall, on PBS stations. Honestly, real computer geeks like me never watched it. It was too simple, too pedestrian, and too slow. But it turned out to be a great way to document what was going on in the world of computers at the time. Here’s a prime example from 1993:
In this episode, you’ll learn why a 486 was the way to go, and how you could add the ability to play video for a mere $1,000 (about $3,500 in today’s dollars.) You also learned that spending $5,000 (about $17,000 today) was the right choice if you wanted a laptop.
Thank the Internet Archive
Thanks to the free Internet Archive, hundreds of Computer Chronicles have been saved. They’re a real hoot to watch, and I encourage you, on this Fun Friday, to take a few hours choosing your favorites. You’ll find the entire index here.