ISSUE 519: The high-tech office- Oct 5
High tech has come far in a very fast 10 years
Fans of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show
may remember the Wayback Machine, which allowed viewers to jump to some
memorable date in history. Now we are going to put the High Tech Office
into the Wayback Machine and take a little peak back at high tech
history when BIV launched its first edition in 1989.
Ten years ago, when 386-based PCs had been available
for a couple of years, most businesses were still buying 286 models
with perhaps a full meg of RAM and a 40- to 80-meg drive. All were
available for $4,000 or so from an expanding number of clone
The first version of Windows was released way back in
late 1985, to general indifference. The pundits predicted that the
masses would soon be migrating to IBM/Micro-
soft's joint OS/2 (which, in fact, as a now solo IBM project
garnered a mere 0.5 per cent of PC operating environments shipped
worldwide in 1998). Windows' big breakthrough was yet to come, with
Windows 3.0 in 1990 release and Windows 3.1 in 1992 (a version that
still accounted for 1.1 per cent of 1998 sales).
Meanwhile, most business users used DOS software,
learning one set of key combinations for the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet,
while memorizing Shift F7 = Print in Word Perfect. Lots of smaller
companies made a good living selling menuing software to allow DOS
users to avoid the dreaded C:> command prompt as much as possible.
Microsoft was an important company -- most computers
relied on MS-DOS, for example, and products such as MS Word and Excel
were bestsellers on Apple's Macintosh. In the much larger PC
market, they were perennial also-rans. Boy wonder Bill Gates
had made the cover of Time Magazine, but he was far from being
the world's richest man. His company wasn't even the biggest software
company. In one of the few cases of being ahead of its time, Microsoft
was pioneering CD-ROMs -- releasing the Microsoft Bookshelf CD, though
hardly anyone bought it.
Macs had evolved. They retained their ease of use and
managed to avoid the quirks and limitations, such as the 640 kb memory
barrier, that (along with the DOS prompt) made working with PCs so much
fun. A 10-year-old Mac remains a much more modern-seeming machine than
an equally old PC. Still, that era's Macs were more expensive than
contemporary PCs and while they had a corps of devotees, mainly graphic
artists, students and teachers, they were not often seen in business
settings. (Has anything changed in this regard?).
There was an Internet, but it was the private club of
searchers and the U.S. military and anything hinting of commerce was
Big businesses sometimes had
private e-mailing systems, while some forward-thinking individuals
subscribed to online services such as CompuServe, working with
yet another arcane command-line system, while communicating over the
phone lines at 2400 bps. Yet, users got a tantalizing taste of the
coming online world -- e-mail and chat, online games, airline
reservations and even online shopping -- but all in text-only mode.
That was about to change.
In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee was starting a
project that, by 1990, would propose the name "World Wide Web" for a
standard using hypertext to store and transmit information across the
Internet. That, along with the U.S. National Science Foundation
decision to open the Internet for commercial use a few years later was
the stage for the Internet explosion of the mid-'90s.
The pundits of 1989 missed predicting the domination
of Microsoft and its Windows software and were still missing the impact
of the Internet as late as 1994 or 1995.
No one then imagined that the end of the next decade
a problem for software and hardware. There's no way I'd dare to try to
guess what the High Tech Office of 2009 will look like! *