The first time I ever saw a computer I was shown into a room which had a lot of what I can only describe as large cabinets with large reels of brown magnetic tape attached to them, they were like very large reel to reel tape records and now and again the reels would spin just for a few seconds. There was not a lot to be seen just a few knobs and dials and these spinning wheels and just a couple of men in white coats looking after them. I was working for British Rail Engineering Ltd in there Carriage and Wagon works in Derby at the time and I remember being told these massive computers were looked after by highly trained lab technicians and were no concern of ours.
But just a few years later we were informed that machines connected to these computers were going to be installed within the warehouse where I worked and they wanted to train some of us up to operate these new machines. Back then in the 1980 all of the warehouse staff were males and most of these were definitely not interested in operating these new machines. But being young and curious I volunteered to be trained. They were the size of a large home electric organ and they were basically punch card machines. Each item stocked in your warehouse had its own individual part number. When the works wanted an item they handed in a order form and these were collected up and the operator would select the matching card that displayed the correct part number and place it into the machine, keys were hit that punched holes into the card that showed how many items had gone out, finally a lever was pulled that punched into the card that days date that was reset each day. At the end of the day the reel of paper was removed and taken to the office to be then fed into the main computers. After a few years the punch cards were replaced by cards with bar codes printed onto them and you zapped these cards with a hand held reader that recorded the details onto a tape.
It was in the mid eighties that home computers started becoming affordable, with the likes of Sinclair, Amstrad and Commodore being amongst the market leaders, most of the big names were concentrating on the games side which is why I chose an Atari for my first computer. Atari were increasing expanding into the area of producing software for the home office user, which included, data bases, word processing and spread sheets, I used my computer to catalogue my record collection I recall. Loading software and games into the computer in those days was painfully slow because back then there were no CD ROMs, everything was on cassette discs and it was quiet common for it to take 20 minutes to load a simple game or piece of software ready to use and if you experienced any type of problem whilst loading you would have to start from the beginning again, so it could often take you up to an hour before you were able to start a game up. It often makes me laugh when I see a youngster get frustrated because the game you want to play started up. Graphics in the early days were very primitive and in some cases none existent, I used to enjoy Adventure type games set in lands of fantasy where you followed clues and retrieved keys that would eventually lead you to fame and fortunes, in most of these games you had to type in commands like walk forward or turn left and the computer would then say you were in front of a chest and by typing in search chest you might find a key that would open a door a bit further on in the game there were very few pictures on the screen and it was often left to your own imagination, today’s Adventure games are wonderfully illustrated and the graphics are so realistic so that you can almost believe that you are actually living in the game.
A few years on and the personal computer (PC) started to take shape as we know it today, first using floppy discs and then eventually cds we were able to load more complex software into our computers, but as software got better it took up more and more memory to store and operate, back then memory was very expensive, I can remember it costing me over a £100 for just 32G of Ram memory where as today I can buy a 1000gig for much less than that. My first PC was a 386 memory machine, then at considerable cost I up graded it to a 486. This was before the age of the Intel chip and the Pentium machine. Back then before Windows was introduced our PC operated using a Disk Operating System commonly know as DOS and to get any programme on your PC to work you needed a type in its own individual DOS command and unless you typed the command in using the correct command and in the right sequence there is no way you would be able to get that programme to work, for me it was often a nightmare. Over the years the operating has got simpler the power of the home PC has expanded whilst the actual size of the equipment has decreased, I’m still using a desk top PC but many of the younger generation now use lap tops and a few have gone for the new tablet sized computer. Who would have thought that in my lifetime I would have seen a computer that would have filled a small office now able to fit into someone’s pocket?