The Past Is Another Country

Clearing out some old papers, I came across an old copy of Byte magazine from 1990, celebrating 15 years of Byte, looking back to the birth of the microcomputer revolution, and on into the future. 

At the time, Windows 3.0 was starting to erode DOS as the OS of choice for PCs, and IBM’s OS/2 was making its attempt for the title too.  It was also the time of word processor wars, spreadsheet wars and development tool wars, all categories where Microsoft was the eventual winner.

TCP/IP had yet to make its mark.  Hard to remember now, but Novell were the kings of the enterprise LAN, with their proprietary IPX protocol.  Banyan Vines and IBM’s Netbios were alternatives, but whichever way you looked, you found companies reluctant to bring in the IP alternative.  One of the news stories in this Byte was the release of an add-on TCP/IP for OS/2.  I remember myself the struggles adding the optional TCP/IP stack to Windows 3.0 instead of the default IPX and Netbios.  Although email was well established within enterprises, the idea of routinely exchanging emails with just anyone was alien.  Some thought that X.400 was going to interconnect the world, before SMTP and POP jumped up to take centre stage. 

In the Byte Summit, they gathered a panel of experts to guess at the future of computer systems.  Names like Bill Gates, Chuck Peddle, Tony Hoare, Grace Hopper, Danny Hillis and Philippe Kahn.  They came out with some great predictions, including flat panel displays and CD-ROMs on all machines.  They underestimated the pace of change, of course, imagining a minimum hard disk requirement of only 100 Mb. 

The significance of networks attracted less comment, but I guess the idea of a universal Internet was too big a step of the imagination at that point.  The Internet idea was too distant, so Voice over IP was inconceivable.  As the saying goes “The past is another country, they do things differently there”, and by the same token, the future is so different we cannot imagine how things will be done there.  Anyone care to make some predictions for the computers of 2020?

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