The history and the hope. (Looking toward the future) Ken Uston.
Like many of the contributors to this anniversary issue, I wasn't even aware of personal computers when Creative Computing was founded in 1974. This is not surprising, of course, since the first personal computer didn't appear on the scene until the following year, 1975.
It wasn't until 1982 that I became involved with personal computers--and with Dave Ahl. I was under contract to write a guide to personal computers, which was all well and good, except for one thing: I didn't know a thing about home computers. I had written some books on video games, and the publisher assumed that this made me a computer expert.
I met Dave at the June 1982, Consumer Electronics Show and told him about my dilemma. Dave agreed to help me research the computer book.
I spent the fall of 1982 in a Morris Plains, NJ, motel, commuting to the Creative Computing offices. Dave let me roam through the building trying out various computers and software packages.
1982 was the year--you probably remember--that Time magazine made the computer The Machine of The Year. The press in general played the home computer explosion up big. We saw front page stories in USA Today and The Wall Street Journal stating that everyone would soon have a home computer. Just about everyone--bartenders, taxi drivers, waitresses--seemed convinced that he would soon own a home computer, although no one seemed to know exactly why. It just seemed to be inevitable, The Wave Of The Future.
Then came December 8, 1982 when Atari announced huge losses in their Consumer electronics Division.
Then it hit the fan. Mattel abandoned their Aquarius computer system. Texas Instruments withdrew the ill-fated 99/4A. Media Backlash
Then came the media backlash. Suddenly, home computers were a myth foisted upon an unsuspecting public by greedy computer marketeers. The press predicted a blood-letting industry shake-out.
And the shake-out came, and it's still going on. We read a new chapter in the history of personal computers--Chapter II--and how Osborne, Eagle, Victor, Franklin, Actrix, and many others were using it to "protect" themselves from creditors.
In addition to the sheer economics of over-production, it seems clear that what happened was due to two primary factors:
* The manufacturers were (and are) producing products we didn't really need--products that often were solutions in search of a problem.
* Worse yet, the manufacturers made (and are still making) it so very hard for us to use computers, despite dozens of ads proclaiming "user-friendliness" (in itself a non-userfriendly term). Frustration
I have been writing a series of books to teach how to use computers easily and simply. I've had myraid frustrating experiences trying to get hardware and software to work properly. To cite a few examples:
* I worked with an Actrix computer for six weeks before finding out that it could double space text (the company rep didn't even know that).
* It took me ten hours to tie a Commodore 64 into Compuserve, despite the salesman's assurances that it was a five minute job.
* It took five days and a dozen long distance calls to get a modem to work with an Apple IIe.
* My version of Lotus 1-2-3 (Version 1) didn't work with an IBM PC. No one at Lotus Customer Service could help me. I even called company headquarters and talked to the guy who wrote the manual. The problem was beyond him, too.
* It took five calls to MicroPro to get my WordStar program disk to work. Page 1-3 of the WordStar manual supposedly told how to do this; it didn't. (There are, would you believe, three page 1-3's in the WordStar manual.)
* One software producer designed a simple tutorial on the C64, to make it very simple to use the Commodore 64--a great idea, except that the loading instructions didn't work.
* I tried for three days to get Perfect Calc working and, despite the manual, finally succeeded. On the fourth day, after laboriously constructing a spreadsheet, I inexplicably lost all my data.
There was a bug in the program. I called a customer rep and complained.
Her response: "Ken, welcome to the world of computers!"
The rep's response reflects exactly what is wrong in the industry. The manufacturers rely on us, the consumers, to adapt to the computer. Wrong! The computer must adapt to us.
"O.K.," you're asking, "What do you want computers to do?"
Well, let me tell you about a mythological computer that, if produced, might really be a solution. Let's call it Model Z. Perfection in the Model Z
Model Z will be the size of the Radio Shack 100, weigh 4 pounds, and be carried around like a notebook. Some of its features:
* A durable keyboard with sculpted keys and ten function keys; the keyboard is detachable and works by remote control (no wires).
* 512K RAM--all usable, of course.
* All programs built-into ROM, so you won't need disks or other such troublesome devices to load programs.
* When you turn the computer on, you will see a menu listing: Write, Calc, Draw, File, Play, Teach, Talk, and News.
When you select Write, a blank screen appears, all ready for writing. Search and replace, a spelling checker, and other fancy word processing functions are all at your disposal.
Under the Calc option, you have your choice of built-in, pre-formatted spreadsheets (P & L, cash flow, personal net worth, etc.), which appear on the screen at a press of the Return key.
When you select Draw, the computer automatically creates a chart or graph of the spreadsheet. From the nature of the data it knows whether a bar chart, line chart, or Venn diagram is the most appropriate, and draws accordingly.
The Draw option also offers all the features of MacPaint, with one exception--you have a choice of 256 colors.
When File is selected, the screen displays a menu of all your personal files--income tax returns, bills due, mailing lists, whatever we want.
When you select Play, a menu of your favorite video games appears (my menu lists River Raid, Pogo Joe, PuzzlePanic, and Ms Pac-Man).
When you select Teach, you get another menu, which lists all the subjects you want to learn more about (these were pre-selected when you bought the computer). You could include such subjects as how to speak French, Italian, or Japanese, the history of all the countries in the world, and just about anything else.
When you push Talk, you see a menu of all the other computers with which you can communicate with one press of the Return key. (In my case, I will be able to select from Creative Computing, Prentice-Hall, and Video Review to zap articles or book chapters to them in seconds.) Naturally you can also be connected to the computers of friends across the country. Even if they're not home, you can type messages to them 24 hours a day.
When you hit News, a menu appears listing all the subjects in which you are interested, including the most up-to-date news from around the world (there is a menu of countries), interesting new video games, and what's new in home computer software.
The computer will probably have a 256-bit microprocessor. But you won't know or care; all you will know is that you never have to wait more than two seconds to get anything done.
The monitor is built into the computer. When the computer is turned on, the monitor displays four screens, each with 80 columns across and 24 lines down--in high-resolution color. Thus you can write, calculate, draw graphs, and file things all at the same time. Each function has its own separate window.
You will be amazed that they managed to fit those four screens into a notebook size computer (it is not inflatable). But you won't be concerned with the technical details.
There is a built-in four-color printer, and a buffer is built in, so we can use the computer while something's printing.
The input/output medium is a sturdy cartridge. You never have to worry about touching the shiny parts or spilling ketchup on it. Losing data from a cartridge is not a possibility.
Model Z comes with a mouse. We can also simply touch the screen to select from a menu or move the cursor.
There is a special Fix key on the keyboard. When we see an error message, we press the Fix key, and the error is corrected--no matter what it is.
A revised Model Z (due out in two months) has no Fix key, because error messages won't appear on the screen. The computer fixes its own errors. This upgrade will be free, which, of course, is only fair. After all, it is the computer's fault, not the user, if what it wants him to do is difficult or unclear.
The computer--complete--sells for $399. Now I know that sounds unrealistic. But it is not really that expensive if you consider that several other things are included with the system. There is a 12-hour battery pack, a personal letter from the head of the CAB authorizing you to use Model Z on all commercial airline flights, and a two-year warranty.
And finally, of course, you will get a Wico Command Control joystick as part of the package.