The IBM PC, IBM’s first personal computer, was introduced today in 1981. If you were to purchase this revolutionary computer on August 12, 1981 you would have paid $1,565 USD (equal to $3,000 USD today) for a basic configuration with 16K RAM (that’s kilobytes . . . not gigabytes!) and no disk drives.
Not only did the IBM PC change the landscape of the business world, it also impacted the home life of millions of Americans as well as people around the globe. The IBM PC also impacted genealogy and the way in which we not only tracked our research, but years later how we found records and information via the Internet.
My First Encounter with the IBM PC: It Changed My Life
In 1984 I was working at the US Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC and one day someone placed this unusual machine on my desk. They said, “Here. You have the first IBM PC in the department. I want you to learn how to use it and then start teaching everyone else in the department how to use it.” That’s how I got started in the emerging Information Technology field – as an “accidental trainer.”
Within a year, I was proficient in not only all the basics of the IBM PC, its DOS operating system, but also programs such as Lotus 1,2,3 and WordPerfect. Here I was with a liberal arts degree from a private university working with computers. It’s funny how life takes a different direction than you had planned!
Primitive Personal Computing – 1980s Style
In recent discussions with colleagues in the genealogy field, I’ve been taking a walk down memory lane thinking about how we used the IBM PC. I’m sure to the Millennials and the younger generation how we worked seemed downright primitive.
- Most IBM PCs had one disk drive, but eventually I worked with version that had two disk drives, allowing you to copy disks.
- Speaking of disks, they were 5 1/4” floppy disks that came 10 to a box and had to be “formatted” in order to be used. Remember the labels you would use to designate what was on the floppy disk?
- We kept floppy disks in large plastic filing containers, some of which had a lock and key.
- Monitors displayed neon green text and in future years, many migrated to the “amber” monitors that were easier on the eyes.
- Speaking of monitors, you tried not to leave the monitor on too long since you could “burn” an image into the screen. Thus we had “screen saver” programs . . . Flying Toasters anyone?
- You had to be proficient in DOS and using the c:/ command prompt in order to run a directory listing and to copy and delete files.
- The first spreadsheet program I used was Lotus 1,2,3 and then I used a program called Symphony which had a separate word processing program. Still, my favorite program was WordPress with its “reveal codes” and simple way of composing documents.
- Software manuals were hundreds of pages, came in boxes with small two or three ring binders and no one seemed to ever use them.
- We printed quite a bit with those early PCs didn’t we? The printers were dot matrix, with paper that came in a box and had holes one each side. And those printers were LOUD . . . so loud that you bought a separate noise cover so you could work in the same room!
What I realize most comparing today’s move towards “virtual” documents and apps is how much “work” it was just to use a computer. There were so many peripherals and things you had to buy. It all seems so wasteful now but that was the generally accepted practice of being on the cutting edge of computing.
And genealogy? My first genealogy software program was Family Tree Maker sold by Banner Blue software! I also remember later using Prodigy, CompuServe, and eventually the Internet to connect with others in genealogy.
What Do You Remember?
So when did you get your first personal computer? Was it an IBM PC? An Apple? Perhaps a Commodore 64 or an Osborne? What programs did you run? And what about genealogy . . . what was the first program you used for tracing your family history and keeping track of information?
©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.