Editorial license. (editorial)
by Peter Scisco
A few months back, magazines and newspapers all over the country ran stories about the tenth anniversary of the IBM personal computer, pausing to look at where PC technology has been and where it's going.
>From the spreadsheet to multimedia, PCs have exploded onto the modern scene like few other phenomena. Yet for all of its whiz-bang promises and electronic pyrotechnics, many of us still wonder where PC technology will lead and whether it will sort itself out in the next decade--at least enough to allow more people to participate in the Information Age.
The debate over where PCs are moving revolves around a larger debate over the shape of that technology. IBM PC clones claim the lion's share of the home market because of their relatively low cost and their compatibility with the largest share of business machines. And, too, software developers have produced tens of thousands of applications, games, and learning programs for PCs.
Amiga and Macintosh still command loyal followings, and even the Commodore 64 has a sizable audience. But it's the IBM PC that defines computing at home, even if some of its best ideas--like graphical interfaces and multitasking--are borrowed from other platforms.
What do you need to participate? What computer should you be running at home to take full advantage of your investment? One thing's for sure: With the price of technology falling rapidly, it pays to look forward. More and more big-name software companies are looking to support the most sophisticated machines, and the trend will continue in this decade.
Toward the end of the nineties, we expect new operating systems and new processors to take the stage from MS-DOS. If the IBM-Apple alliance works, we could see powerful machines with new interfaces that reach across a variety of hardware platforms. If that happens, the search for a computing standard will have taken a great leap forward.
Beyond that, we can expect major consumer electronics companies like Sony, Panasonic, and Philips to develop computerlike devices for the mass market. Certainly compact disc devices are in store, both as PC peripherals and as combination machines for playing videogames and audio CDs.
Be on the lookout for HDTV links by the year 2000 and for telephone companies to enter the arena--with home information services, banking, and shopping, for starters.
None of this will happen immediately, but if you want to take advantage of computing now and still be able to incorporate the advances, set your sights on a PC capable of performing those tasks.
If you're new to computing or getting ready to upgrade to a new machine, the minimum configuration you should look for is an IBM-compatible with an Intel 386SX chip running at 16 MHz, 2MB of memory, DOS 5.0, 16-bit VGA graphics, a sound card that uses an FM synthesizer and digital-to-analog conversion techniques (like the Sound Blaster or new Ad Lib Gold), a 40MB hard disk, and a mouse.
For added value, look for a system that's bundled with GeoWorks Ensemble or Microsoft Windows. If you buy through office superstores and mail order, such a fully configured system, will run in the $1,200-$1,500 range. That's the machine you want. Anything less fails to capitalize on the possibilities.
You may disagree. Good XTs and ATs are available for hundreds of dollars less, but sooner or later, you'll want better graphics. Sooner or later, you'll want more speed. Sooner or later, you'll want applications that require extended memory. And sooner or later, the most innovative software won't run on anything less.
Remember that. When you take a look around the computer stores and electronics dealers this holiday season and you find yourself drawn to the shiny new PCs in the window, remember the future.