As we were. (Reminiscence - technology and hardware) Diane Asher Leyland.
When consumers complain about the unfriendly nature of current computer technology I have to smile. My mind drifts back in time to the "old days" which is to say to less than a decade ago.
In the old days, your computer arrived in 157 pieces, and if you were lucky, the assembly instruction manual came three weeks later. Most of my customers had the computer assembled by then and were calling with more questions. These questions were never easy. Anyone who could figure out how to assemble a computer had already mastered the simple stuff. They were hungry for more memory (not happy with 4K?). They needed information on how to address that memory (See the bank of switches on the board?) and how to attach the computer to a printer (Send $700 and I'll send you an interface). Marketing
In the old days, computer companies were different. They were small, and most of them were in business to have a good time. Webster, founder of Company X, had designed the very latest in whizzo bango technology, and the company was sure to make billions. Nothing was as much fun as talking to the customers about what they were doing with Whizzo Bango. That way you could figure out how to market the product.
The usual method of marketing a product was to talk to a users group about the product and let word of mouth take over from there. For faster exposure you could place an ad in either national computer publication and wait for the orders to roll in. The fastest way to market a product was to swear everyone to secrecy, let them in on a secret, and wait for the dollars to roll in. Checks arrived daily in the mail for products which might not yet exist. I spent two years telling customers that their disk drives would be available in two weeks. The customers were remarkably patient. After they determined that there really was no way I could ship the product, some called just to hear me say "two weeks." It got to be a standard. Any product would be available two weeks from any given date.
Things were different for the magazines back then. Writers frequently received incomplete or unassembled products to review. Technical articles were incomprehensible. Advertising was technical. Companies would run their spec sheets as advertising. There was little competition for the advertising dollar. Both industry publications carried everyone's advertising.
In the old days, there was less money in the industry, but it was spent in a more creative manner. While money was spent on advertising, the best promoters were the users of the product. The budget often included a trip to a user's group somewhere to show the product and collect more orders. Under intense questioning (whaddya working on?) the representative from the manufacture might let something slip about a new product. If you insisted on ordering it, you might be able to convince him to take your money. There seemed to be an endless supply of money to be spent on computers. It was more expensive than keeping a race horse.
People bought every new device that came out for their computer. And it wasn't cheap. Most interface cards cost over $700, and that didn't include the price of the device to which it was being connected. Yet anyone who released a product had more than enough customers. Expenses were low, how much did it cost to keep a company in your garage?
The old days were filled with characters. You had to be, what my grandma called, one brick short of a load to be involved in an industry which was changing, complicated, and expensive. The people involved were people with vision, people who stubbornly clung to the idea that computers could offer individuals advantages previously available only to large corporations. They married their jobs, considered products their children, and would eat, breathe and dream their work. They were all entrepreneurs, people who had left respectable jobs to involve themselves in an industry of a somewhat questionable nature. Product Development
The old days also offered thousands of dollars of undelivered products. In all fairness, there was usually no intention to defraud. It worked something like this. Engineer says to marketer "Hey, we've just figured out how to make the Whizzo Bango communicate with a disk drive. Why don't we sell those." The advertising department asks "How long will it take to make that abailable to our customers?" "Not more than a month" replies the hopelessly optimistic engineer. "Okay, well the magazines have a three-month lead time, so I guess I'll place the ad right away," says the hopelessly naive advertising department. And off to Creative Computing go the artwork, the instructions, and the check.
Hopelessly optimistic engineer is then stunned to discover that the chip needed for the disk system is no longer available, the plastics manufacturer has a four-month lead time, and the drive manufacturer hasn't quite finished the technology needed to make the drive faster than a tape reader.
"Oh well," says the CEO, "we'll see how many people send money. If enough people send money, we'll offer the product."
Everyone was always instructed to return money to customers who became impatient for their devices, but no one wanted his money back. They wanted their equipment. Some of them waited years for a delivery. After a while we begged them to take their money back, but they wanted none of that. They wanted the product. Shows
Computer shows were different then, too. There were plenty of hotel rooms to accommodate a convention of 13,000 people. Traveling there was a breeze. The airlines had plenty of flights, but they often assumed you were a drug smuggler when you begged baggage security not to x-ray your diskettes. Booths were filled with innovative products. Everything was new. It was the debut of the microcomputer-based word processor, game, and finally--the spreadsheet. Everyone wore jeans to shows. Jim Warren also wore roller skates to his shows. Computer shows also gave people a place to do what came naturally--to party.
We have always been an industry that loves to party. Anywhere more than three people gathered was a party. Parties were a great place to gossip. It was an industry that lived on gossip. Advances occurred too quickly for any other media to assimilate. Competitors gossipped--about each other and to each other. They swapped ideas, bragged about future products, and debated the future of the industry.
It was a time of opportunity. Everyone started on an equal footing--Ph.D. and high school dropout worked together. Technological advances moved faster than the school system could teach, so everyone learned as the action unfolded. All you needed was a quick mind. It helped if you had a sense of humor. Software
In the old days, you had a complete collection of software if you had a Basic, an assembler, and the game of Life. Forget canned programs, you had to use a toggle switch to get your program in. Things went uphill when keyboard input became available, and you could enter your programs letter by letter. Luckily there wasn't too much typing you could do before filling all 4K.
So the next time you are cussing at the manual, congratulate yourself. Riding the leading edge of technology is never safe, let alone easy. It is probably precious little comfort to you, but the hardware and the software have actually become more friendly, your system didn't cost you an arm and leg, and you didn't have to assemble it yourself. If you want more than that, you are just plain greedy.