Some 90s computer brands are the same as today, but a lot more companies played in the field than now. Profit margins were higher then, so industry consolidation wasn’t the matter of survival that it is now.
In some ways, 1985 was a really pivotal year for computing. The industry was changing fast, but in 1985, many relics from the past were still present even as we had an eye for the future. Here’s a look back at computers in 1985 and what made that year so interesting.
I think 1985 was interesting in and of itself, but it also made the succeeding years a lot more interesting. A surprising amount of the technology that first appeared in 1985 still has an impact today.
I was selling computers at retail when I heard of Gary Kildall’s death. We had a few copies of Wordstar for Windows and someone asked about it. I said it was easier to remember the keyboard shortcuts in Wordstar than Wordperfect.
“You sound like a CP/M guy,” said someone who overheard me. “Did you hear that Gary Kildall died last month?”
I hadn’t, and he wasn’t surprised. I was curious, so I went to the library and found a whole lot of nothing. A month or two later, I found a mention in a computer magazine column that Kildall had died in a barroom fight but it gave no specifics.
The C64 vs. Apple II was perhaps the most epic battle of the 8-bit era. Both companies sold millions of machines, yet both nearly went out of business in the process.
Comparing the two machines with the largest software libraries of the 8-bit era is a bit difficult, but that’s what makes it fun. The two machines are similar enough that some people ask if the Commodore 64 was an Apple product. The answer is no.
As a weird aside, it was possible, with a Mimic Systems Spartan, to turn a C-64 into an Apple II. Not many did, but the reason why is another story.
A lot of people really dislike Google the way I’ve been known for disliking Apple and Microsoft. It never really occurred to me that all three are related, until I read this piece on Google cofounder Larry Page. Much of what I disliked about Apple and Microsoft were their founders. I found the Bill Gates of the 1980s and 1990s childish (even when I was still a child myself) and a jerk. I didn’t know much about Steve Jobs in the 1980s–back then, people talked about Steve Wozniak more than they talked about Jobs–but as he resurfaced from his exile, I didn’t especially like what I was seeing then, either. Jobs, you see, didn’t come back to Apple as a demigod. He was still a little rough around the edges and, from my outsider perspective, for those first few years at Apple when he was trying to turn Apple around, he was still turning himself around to a degree as well.
I always saw Larry Page as different. He and his classmate, Sergey Brin, developed this great search engine that actually presented the results you were looking for on the front page, and it was fast. And he had this motto that said, “Don’t be evil.” It sounded good to me. And I guess it doesn’t hurt that Page isn’t much older than me. I found him easier to relate to than Gates or Jobs, who literally were getting their start in computers a year or two before I was born. Read more
John Sculley famously fired Steve Jobs in 1985, a move that’s pretty universally panned today. This week, someone asked Sculley about it.
Here’s the money quote:
“He was not a great executive back in those early days. The great Steve Jobs that we know today as maybe the world’s greatest CEO, certainly of our era, he learned a lot in those years in the wilderness.”
Mark Stephens, a.k.a. Robert X. Cringely, wrote last week about his disappointment in Ashton Kutcher’s movie Jobs, about the late Apple co-founder and CEO.
Here’s the most important part of his quasi-review:
[S]omething happened during Steve’s NeXT years (which occupy less than a 60 seconds of this 122 minute film) that turned Jobs from a brat into a leader, but they don’t bother to cover that. In his later years Steve still wasn’t an easy guy to know but he was an easier guy to know. His gut for product was still good but his positions were more considered and thought out. He inspired workers without trying so much to dominate or hypnotize them.
The first version of Windows NT, version 3.1 (to coincide with the then-current 16-bit version of Windows) was released 20 years ago today. It was an insanely ambitious effort for Microsoft that took a while to pay off, though it eventually did in spades. Windows NT was what killed off Novell and OS/2 and turned the proprietary operating system market into a duopoly. Although a user running it wouldn’t see much difference between Windows NT and regular Windows except that it didn’t crash nearly as much, it was the first version of Windows that qualifies as a modern operating system, with pre-emptive multitasking and protected memory.
I saw a question on a vintage computing forum this week: How did the IBM PC become the de facto standard for PCs, and the only desktop computer architecture from the 1980s to survive until today?
It’s a very good question, and I think there were several reasons for it. I also think without all of the reasons, the IBM PC wouldn’t have necessarily won. In some regards, of course, it was a hollow victory. IBM has been out of the PC business for a decade now. Its partners Intel and Microsoft, however, reaped the benefits time and again.