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The future of computers
January 2001

Russell James is Operations Manager at BJ Associates of San Antonio. They are an authorized service center for Toshiba and Sony systems. They are the laptop specialist and also handle system builds and parts for desktops. They can take care of any IBM compatible hardware or software problem that you have.


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 history.

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 is available.

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 from now?

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 past.

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.


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