Friday, August 12, 2011

Has It REALLY Been That Long?

The fact the original IBM PC... Model 5150... celebrates its 30th anniversary this month is getting a lot o' play in certain circles, including this charming piece in Wired.  An excerpt:
Introduced 30 years ago, and once embedded in homes and offices across America, the IBM 5150 is the forebear of much of the technology I take for granted – the Mitochondrial Eve that eventually led to the sleek laptop computer on which I live so much of my life. As I sit at the IBM’s 80-column wide display, I half expect my fingers to know what to do with the machine’s clacky keyboard, guided by some subconscious aptitude distilled from living among the 5150’s distant offspring. Instead, the screen and I stare blankly back at each other, separated by decades of technological evolution.

“It has a 16 bit CPU, 8 bit memory bus, and ran at a solid 4.77 megahertz,” says Erik Klein from over my shoulder. “The original one had a motherboard which supported 16 to 64K. And you could put extension cards in it all the way up to 640K!”

I didn't buy my first computer until 1986 so I can't claim to have been on board at the beginning, ignoring the fact that the IBM 5150 PC wasn't even the first personal or home computer.  But it was IBM that opened the floodgates, and it was IBM that first graced MY personal desktop.  I've posted about that old box in the past, sayin' this:
Speaking of our first computer… it was one of these. I bought my XT in early 1986, and it was the model that did NOT come with a hard drive; it had two 5.25” floppies. I bought a 10 megabyte… yes, MEGAbyte… Seagate hard drive from a mail order firm and installed it myself. The drive only cost about 300 Yankee Dollars, if I recall correctly. The XT itself was about $1500.00, if memory serves. As far as connectivity went, I had a 9600 bps outboard modem to access BBSes and the like. You cannot imagine how impressed I was when I upgraded to a 19.2 Kbps modem. Oh, the power and the glory!

We’ve come a long way, Bay-bee. But ya know what? I miss those clickety old IBM keyboards. Those things were built to last, in addition to having the best feel of any keyboard I've ever used. They were heavy enough to have made damned good weapons, too... and I'm sure someone, somewhere, beat the snot out of another person using one. I wouldn't take odds on anyone surviving a determined attack with that keyboard.
I still miss those keyboards... there has NEVER been a better keyboard made, ever... but that's about all.  I like Windows and its graphical user interface, I like having gigabytes of RAM, and hundreds of gigabytes of hard drive space.  I like my fast internet connection as opposed to that old 9600 bps modem.  But Hey!  All that went before started what we enjoy today and it began... for me and millions of others... with the 5150 and its descendants. 

Illustration snagged from Wired.


  1. Oh, the good ol' days of cutting a notch in the floppy disk so ya could flip it over and use the back.

  2. Inno: I'd completely forgotten about that, assuming I ever even KNEW about that.

    Darryl: No... Peachtext. ;-)

  3. I heard a couple of days ago that it was the 20th anniversary of the first website. WOW!

    It boggles the mind that this thing could have come so far in just 20 years. Kinda like Kennedy's vision to put a man on the moon, and all.

    Whodathunk that a mere 20 years would see such change?

  4. Andy: I read that thing about the 20th anniversary of the web, too. Short, short war story: Back around '95 I led a consulting gig for a big British-based re-insurer firm, the second largest in the world. Our charter was recommend an improved IT infrastructure for their world-wide operations and our NUMBER ONE recommendation was to move a great majority of their operations to the web. I went to a lot of trouble to get my company's Number One web guru to brief our solution to the CIO and his regional managers (i.e., North America, Australia, Europe, etc.). Long story short: they rejected our solution, saying the web was... no shit... "a fad." The company went belly-up and was acquired about 18 months later; the entire corporate IT staff was fired. I laughed my ass off when I heard that...

  5. Buck, that is hilarious! In a geeky sort of way...

    I am trying to remember the details of this...seems that an adviser came to President Nixon, and laid out a vision for improving productivity in gubmit. It involved computerizing operations. If memory serves, Nixon sent him packing with much the same, "Computers will never amount to anything...they're fine for geniuses, but the common worker won't be able to operate them, etc."


    Well, the adviser may have been right...and Nixon wrong about how it would evolve so that the common worker would be able to operate them. But, I guess comprutuhs didn't solve the problem of gubmit employees being non productive.

    Just sayin'...

  6. Gub'mint will always be gub'mint, which is say wholly populated with bureaucrats and featherbedders who don't know their asses from their elbows, computers or no. That's a good story, though.

    Further to my story... I happened to run into my project counterpart on that '95 outing a few years later, a chance meeting on the street in Amsterdam's pub quarter during 1998's Great European Divorce Tour. No shit, really... on the street. In Amsterdam. I hear this big, deep, booming Scots voice yell from about 150 feet away "Hey... BUCK! BUCK PENNINGTON!" I was dumbfounded.

    So... we went and had a couple o' few beers and he caught me up on who went where after the merger and acquisition of his former company... he landed well, becoming the CIO of some Eurocrat IT org in Brussels. That was a whole helluva lot better than he deserved, from a professional POV, but I liked the guy, he was fun to drink with.

  7. Correction: 1999's Great Divorce Tour. Not that it makes a whole lotta difference...

  8. Buck, it seems I remember reading that story on EIP. Maybe not...but I think I did.

    Life is funny...but I don't believe in "coincidence." Heck, "coincidence" can't be broad enough to explain all of the "chance meetings" we all have.

    Oh shit! WV: cantknow Well, I guess I can't know.

    When did they schedule September this year?

  9. I may have told that Amsterdam story before coz it's one of my favorites. And you KNOW how us Old Farts are with our stories.

    When did they schedule September this year?

    I'm pretty sure it's immediately following this month. ;-)

  10. I'm pretty sure it's immediately following this month. ;-)

    Merciful Jesus...I surely hope so!


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