What surprises do
the future of computers hold for us? We have seen so many changes in the
past year that it is hard to imagine what lies in store for us in the coming
years. The speed of the components is increasing at an unimaginable rate.
Thinking about where we are going to be in the near future made me a little
curious about where computers came from. Let's take a quick look at a little
We have all heard of Charles Babbage who is sometimes referred to as
the Father of Computing. Babbage was an English mathematician who invented
the first successful automatic calculator in 1821. It was called the Difference
Engine No.1. This machine preceded the Analytical Engine of 1956, which
Babbage never succeeded in completing. The Analytical Engine had some of
the characteristics of today's computers. Looking back it is amazing what
he was able to accomplish with the limited resources that were available
to him. You can find much more information about Charles Babbage and his
inventions and work at The Charles
Babbage Institute located at the University of Minnesota.
The Internet is a great research tool. I typed in computer history and
google.com spits out about 1.4 million hits. I wasn't looking for that
much information. The third item on the list is Computer
Industry History. There is not going to be enough time or space for
me to express how amazed I am at the amount of information that is available
on this site. The computer history section is only a small part of what
One of the items that caught my eye was the Chronology
of Events in the History of Microcomputers. This is one of many pages
compiled by Ken Polsson, a computer programmer from British Columbia, Canada.
It is a great start for a timeline for the personal computer. According
to Mr. Polsson's page, May of 1966 was when Steven Gray founded the
Amateur Computer Society. This is considered by some to be the birth-date
of personal computing.
In 1969 Intel designed a 4-bit CPU architecture that could receive instructions
and perform simple functions on data. The CPU becomes the 4004 microprocessor.
Later that year they announced a 1-kilobit RAM chip. This chip had a capacity
that was much larger than any memory that had been previously produced.
In 1972 Intel introduces its 200-KHz 8008 chip, the first commercial 8-bit
microprocessor, part of the MCS-8 product family of chips. It accesses
16 KB of memory. The processor was originally developed for Computer Terminal
Corporation (later called Datapoint). Anyone remember them? The next year
a computer kit was offered for sale in the U.S. It was based on the Intel
8008 chip and sold for $565. That sounds like a lot of money for 1973.
Moving ahead a couple of years to February of 1975, Bill Gates and Paul
Allen license Basic to MITS for use on their new computer, the Altair.
This was the first computer language program that was written for a personal
computer. MITS received about 4000 orders for the computer system by March
of that year. A few months later Micro-soft was founded. The hyphen will
be dropped from the company name later.
In June of 1980, Seagate Technology announced the first Winchester 5.25-inch
hard disk drive. It consisted of four platters and held a whopping 5 MB
of information. It also sold for a pretty sum of $600. Like I have always
said, it is going to cost you to be on the edge of technology. Three years
later, in April of 1983, Microsoft introduces a new software product for
the personal computer called Interface Manager. The name will be changed
to Windows by the time the first copy is shipped in November 1985. You
all can probably remember what has happened to Windows since then.
June of 1996 we saw the introduction of the Intel 200 MHz Pentium processor.
The Pentium II showed up a few years later in January of 1998. In January
of 1999 the Pentium III was announced with the unique identity code that
could be accessed over the Internet. That was a serious black eye for Intel.
And now in the year 2000, we were introduced to the newest member of the
Intel family. The Pentium 4 was announced the middle of this year and is
just now becoming readily available.
Where will we be by the middle of 2001, much less five years
The processors, memory, and bus speed of the new computers are multiplying
incrementally. Intel is selling 1.5-gigahertz processors, which run on
motherboards with a 400 MHz system bus and using PC800 RDRAM. It is almost
unthinkable to even consider a new computer that has less than 256KB of
RAM. A thirty-gigabyte hard drive is small for most high-end systems. There
are video cards that have 64MB of RAM. That is more memory than most of
you have in your computer. Some of these video cards even have their own
power connector and fan. That is serious when your video card needs
a fan. The motherboards are almost to the point now that we don't
have to set any jumpers to configure them to the processors and memory.
The bios senses what is installed on the system and adjusts the settings
to match the hardware. You still have to put all the pieces together so
you will still need to keep me around for a while longer.
What do you think about the software programs that we will be using?
Where will Windows go from here? Bill Gates wants to move the application
software to the Internet. This is only going to make things better for
the end user. In order to have the software available from the Internet,
you are going to have to have a faster connection. The old fashion 56K
modem is being replaced with the super fast cable and DSL broadband connections.
2000kbps is not uncommon for my cable modem and it is pretty easy to justify
if you add the cost of my old Internet service provider and the extra phone
line. We are installing 100MB Ethernet networks for a lot of the consumers
and businesses so that they can connect all of their computers to one broadband
Internet connection. Seems like it was only a few years ago that the companies
were all connected with 2MB coaxial cable. Now the companies are starting
to move to 1000MB connections. It is very uncommon to find even a small
office that does not have their systems networked together. It will be
as common to have Ethernet or even fiber installed in new home construction
as it is to have phone and cable TV lines. Broadband access is where the
market is headed. The slow dial up connection will soon be a thing of the
With the increasing speed of the computer systems, software, and connections,
comes an increase in the speed that viruses can get to your computer. The
past year we have seen a rash of viruses in the wild. It is not uncommon
to have to do three updates to our virus protection software in a week.
As the number of computers increases, so then does the number of hackers
and viruses writers. The software is going to have to get faster and smarter
to be able to stop the spread of new viruses into our system. There is
no way we as users can stop something that we don't even know is happening.
There is no way to know how the next new virus is going to attack us. We
have to rely on the virus protection software to stop new outbreaks before
they can stop our systems. Most of the e-mail viruses that I see are nothing
more than a nuisance. I still see customers that have no virus protection
or protection that has not been updated since they installed it. I cleaned
a customers system this week that had Norton Antivirus installed. Norton
has a great scheduler included with the program that will connect to the
Internet automatically, look for updates, and then install them for you.
The problem is that you have to set them up. You have to read the prompts
that you see on your screen and act upon them.
There is no way that Norton can set their program up to dial up to your
Internet connection automatically without you helping. They don't even
know who you or your Internet connection is. This customer could have saved
himself three hours of billed time if he had read and acted upon the notices
that the Norton Antivirus program had given him.
The virus writers will find new and exciting ways to try to infect us
and the antivirus software vendors will find new and exciting ways to try
to protect us. I hope that we will see antivirus software installed
on new systems as they are built. Then we will only have to implant the
chip into the consumer's brain that will make them stop and act upon the
messages that the programs flash on our screens. The chip in the brain
will never happen but I think that as we educate people about how to take
care of their systems, we will begin to make some headway in combating
the effects that viruses have on our system.
Protecting your system in the future is going to be the same old boring
stuff. You will always have fans to cool the systems down. With the fans
comes the dust that holds the heat on the components in our systems. You
will still have to take the cover off the machine every few months and
blow the dust off. Maybe someone will invent some way to connect the vacuum
cleaner to the front of the computer and suck all the dust out. Clamp the
hose on and leave it running for a few minutes once a week. Sounds like
a good idea to me.
I don't see that there will be much change in the computer systems that
I take care of. People will always neglect their equipment until it fails
them and then bring it to me and tell me how important it is to their life
and business. I will continue to harp on the importance of cleaning your
system and protecting it from viruses. There is no change coming in the
future for PC protection. We will continue to see the same stuff that has
been going on for years, just faster.