I bought my first PC in late 1982. It was branded IBM, but was mostly put together by a number of other companies in order for IBM to enter the PC market. It certainly was different to now have a machine that you could put on your own desktop instead of having a mainframe in a large air-conditioned room. But in many ways, even though over 15 years had elapsed since I entered the computer field, it was like starting all over again.
Memory – Although mainframes now commonly had millions of bytes, my first PC only had 64K of memory (like the IBM 360 model 30 from 1965). I eventually expanded that to 256K, but that was the limit of the motherboard.
Floppy Disk – These were not unlike the tapes on the mainframe in that there was no initial support for indexed files. I had a choice with my first PC to either go with a single-sided floppy or a new double-sided one. I chose the double-sided drive which supported a floppy with a capacity of 320K (pretty small).
Hard Disk – The following year IBM came out with a hard drive and a new operating system (PC DOS 2.0) to support it. The new disk drive had a capacity of 5M, even less than the old IBM 2311s that I had used back in my early Uniroyal days.
Printer – Unlike the line printers on the IBM mainframes, the PC had a character printer with a print head that printed one character at a time (using an inkjet). I opted for an Okidata 92 that offered “Near Letter Quality” since it had more jets that a regular printer.
So while for many people who had never used computers before the new personal computer was a true wonder, for me, with over 15 years of experience in the field, it was like “déjà vu all over again” as Yogi Berra used to say. It was to be many years, and many upgrades of my home computer setup, before the home computer caught up to the capabilities of the mainframe computers that I was used to working on. It was, however, quite a bit cheaper. My first PC cost me nearly $3000 as I had to pay separately for the processor, the printer, the operating system, the color monitor, and all the various supplies.
I no longer use any mainframe computers (at least not directly, they are still the basis for a lot of the cloud computing and websites that I use). And these days my smart phone has a whole lot more power than I could have dreamed of just a few years ago. But I have never regretted the years I spent in the computer field and the knowledge that I have acquired over the last 50 years.
I hope that this look back gives you at least a little perspective on where we have come from.