“Good Old Days” of Tech

Going through the more ancient regions of the records, I came across credentials from computer expos long ago.

Friends and I still reminisce about the early years of personal computing. It was definitely chaotic. There were countless companies making hardware, software, and accessories—but that was part of the fun, and you had to exercise some judgment to find useful pieces. Dozens of companies had branded “PC Clones,” and scores of others sold generic parts. Dell, for instance, was just another provider of computer parts in a box—you had to insert memory chips yourself, for instance, once it arrived (and those centipede-looking ones, at that).

But the “Wild West” days of most any pursuit are the most interesting. More people are doing more innovative things, and there are several solutions for each problem. At the early PC shows, scores of one- or two-man companies had little more than a card table to show their wares, and software came in hand-packed baggies.

As the industry progressed—and the money poured in—bigger companies appeared. Most attendees inwardly groaned when corporate salespeople started roaming the halls. Once “the suits” appeared, it was all over—the consolidation juggernaut began in earnest. The number of vendors started decreasing rapidly, but the size and “glam” of their exhibitions grew ever larger. We were on the road to “commodities.”

Nowadays the personal computing industry—such as it is—is dominated by a scant handful of companies. They’ve become bloated, non-competitive, and generally unresponsive to the consumers they once strove to “wow.” All the wanna-bes who in the 1980’s laughed at the dinosaur that IBM had become have matched or exceeded that former monopoly’s concretion and arrogance.

Sour grapes? Perhaps. Certainly, one person alone can’t make a product in any reasonable timeframe anymore. But we have stunning graphics. And a Dick Tracy watch. As a programmer who just ASSUMED it would be much easier to make a useful application 30 years on, I’m disappointed that it’s actually much harder.

Progress. Be careful what you wish for….

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