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          A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

  Computer - simply explained 2











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Whereas nowadays, 4 to 8 gigabytes are considered normal, in the early 1970s, even in the case of big computers (PDP 11), one would be reckoning with approx. 64 kilobytes, which corresponds to about one 100.000th of today's norm. Memory was valuable and always foremost in the minds of the programmers. In addition, the working memory also had to have sufficient space for the programmes and the data-processing.

For private users, the breakthrough to having their own computers only came around the end of the 1970s in the shape of the Apple II, the Commodore VC 20 and of course, the legendary Commodore C64. What one had, was a keyboard with a built in computer, the Commodore was also nicknamed 'the bread-box'. For those who couldn't afford an Apple with a monitor, they had to buy a Commodore for about the same price as one of today's top of the range laptops and had to use, as best one could, a TV-set as a monitor.

At least the Commodore could produce colour images, indeed, the data-input was still carried out using cassettes and the so-called Datasette. At the time, the 5,25-inch floppy-disk, which was derived from the eight-inch disc used in large computers, was extremely modern, however, the respective disc-drive doubled the price of the computer.

The memory space on these floppy-discs was very small. Taking the less than 100 kilobytes reached by the Datasette, it wasn't the somewhat greater amount of data that made them attractive but rather the considerably better access to the data. One could only dream of owning a so-called 'Winchester', a hard-disk-drive which could save a legendary 10 - 20 megabytes, paying the asking price and getting it to run on your system, was another story altogether.

At that time already, computers were no longer being programmed using the so-called machine-language. It is however possible on any computer which uses Assembler, a machine-language orientated variation, which could fetch incredible results, even from the 1 MHz operating C64. This however, was work only done by specialists or possibly also the first computer-game developers.

At that time, the first step to working with a computer, was a regular course in BASIC. To be able to understand BASIC at all, the C64, together with its operating system, used up almost half its working memory. As a matter of interest, because of the awkward programming language, there were enough course participants who postponed the purchasing of a computer for the time being.

Although the computer freaks took a lot of trouble, it was difficult to convince most people that the computer was a helping-hand in everyday life. The average person was in fact, smart enough to wait until there were computers which were simpler to operate, thus saving themselves a great deal of leisure time. Indeed, it's a fact of life, that the more negative the general public reacts, the greater the pressure to succeed becomes.

People were programming almost everything. Indeed the computers of the time were hardly useable for anything but learning how to program them. Compared with today's word-processing, including spelling correction, their 40 lines, each having 25 characters was similar to the steam-engine era. Then there were the print-outs from the dot-matrix printers, where it could clearly be seen that the letters were made up of single dots.

Programmes could be had in BASIC, an interpreter language. They were copy-typed in BASIC and could be altered at will. The worst thing about BASIC is not the relative slowness, because each line had to be translated into something that the computer could understand before it could carry out the respective command. It was the multitude of possibilities of modifying the code, until it became completely unrecognisable.

It was bad enough that one could solve the problems which appeared in any fairly large programming project, by using the GOTO (jump) command, however through placing several commands of this kind, only the programmer himself could make adjustments, and this in a time that was only relatively close to the original time-plan.

Thus, the limits for the professionals and those for the laymen became that much more clear, because the professionals were now programming in Fortran. In the beginning, this language was very mathematical and still used GOTO-elements, however, it did, bit by bit it became the first higher programming language with a number of extensions taken from other languages. It was considered, rather to have a structure. Something like this even makes it possible for the machine to fill in the programme-code, if the context changes.

The programmes of that time had a beginning, a progression and an end. They were still not event-orientated, All the time, when in use, it was waiting for- and reacting to possible signals. Something like this, is how one should look at the Windows-platform. Indeed, a certain amount of time passes, before the mouse and the graphics can determine the events, this is also the point where the first versions of Windows couldn't get foothold in.

Earlier on, IBM, the giant among the large mainframe computers, later also ventured into the personal computer (PC) market. At the beginning of the 1980s, it was very expensive and didn't even have a disk-drive, it was also rather more limited than being a high performer. It did However, have plug-in cards, which in the course of its increasing sales success, other manufacturers took the opportunity to improve, IBM-compatibility became a marketing argument par excellence.

With the IBM-PC, the back-shed company of Bill Gates and Paul Allen became Microsoft, a company which bought an operating system cheaply then adapted it for use in the new PCs. This was the first coup, that gave Microsoft international standing and, for a long time, made Gates the richest man in the world. IBM and Microsoft are the same as e.g., the VW-Beetle, a perfect example of how an, in the beginning, by no means celebrated construction, can still be guided to a breakthrough into the market.

The only ones who mourn the DOS (Disk Operating System) era are the nostalgics. Having to type in every command from the keyboard, does improve your memory but takes time and is complicated to learn. Only the Norton Commander offered a time-saving and a compounded overview. Two text windows were shown on the left- and right hand side of the monitor, whereby one could oversee, e.g., to where which file was copied. It can justifiably be considered to be a predecessor to the Windows-concept. Still today a number of programmes are structured in this way.

We won't decide at this point, who was the first on market, Digital Research or Microsoft, both with this incredible new user interface. It was to represent a working desk (Desktop) on which one could arrange an almost unlimited amount of files or windows, just by using the mouse. The user could, to a large extent, decide how his working environment should be. He/she then used the computer intuitively.

Indeed, why am I explaining the device that you're probably using right now? What is important, is the upheaval that the using of computers that has taken place since their beginning. If in the past, one had to desperately search for an application, nowadays one simply can't avoid them. If, at that time, jobs that had anything to do with computers were something special, see if you can find one today that has nothing to do with them.

If one had told the motor-mechanic of the 1990s, that pretty soon there would be a computer standing next to his workplace, and possibly even with a direct connection to the manufacturer, he would have laughed at you. A lot of people took up this profession because they didn't want to have anything to do with computers. At that time there was an enormous amount of talent around.


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Translator: Don Leslie - Email: lesdon@t-online.de

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