Friday, March 24, 2006

The personal computer and Internet revolutions

In December 1981 I bought my first personal computer, a Radio Shack TRS-80 with a 64-byte black and white screen, for $3700, including an okidata dot-matrix printer. In those days, just having word processing was a big deal, and you spent extra for a letter quality printer. The Apple and IBM (and IBM compatibles) were the top of the line, but other brands like Atari, Commodore and the Osborne would slip off. The DOS of IBM compatibles grew into the modern Microsoft operating systems in a series of steps over twenty years. Database applications became popular in the 80s, starting with dBase III+ which would add SQL to dBase IV, and Microrim’s rBase, which also offered SQL.

Business was definitely getting interested in smaller computers with more user-friendly operating systems. Unix had been around since the 60s and gradually became popular in academic and defense businesses, as did VAX/VMS. There were other experiments, like the MAI Basic 4 (with preloaded insurance systems) and various minis with reduced instruction sets and specified application environments, such as mortgage lending.

I think Compuserve was around with proprietary online content around 1983, but consumer online access really did not take off until the Internet was opened up in 1992, at the end of the first Bush administration. AOL and Prodigy were the major players at first, and I started using AOL in 1994 (by then I owned an IBM PS/2). AOL became dominant, along with MSN, Earthlink, and a few other companies, which by the middle 90s were using mainly html to offer content. Other protocols (like gopher) were dropping off.

By now, the two main PC paradigms were the PC with Microsoft operating systems (going from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95, Windows 98, and finally XP), and the Apple which developed souped up operating systems based on Linux, a flavor originally based on Unix.

In 1996, AOL offered its customers personal publisher, which would allow users to post their own authored content with anyone else with an Internet connection to see. But by around 1994 or so companies were already offering individuals their own domain registration and hosting. By the late 90s, individually owned domains were popular. By the late 1990s, companies realized that they had to include the Web as a major strategy in reaching their customers.

All along, the job market had been growing open-computing models and languages like C, Pascal and Perl. These were still procedural, but they tended to have a less verbose syntax and style than third generation languages used in financial applications. Soon OOP (object oriented programming) would become a new industry standard. C++ was the major OOP, to be partially displaced quickly by java, because of its portability. Java was introduced around 1995, but even by 1999 it was being used widely to develop midtier data access layers as companies merged operations from purchased companies at the presentation rather than application lawyers. The OSI model became important: for example see http://www.webopedia.com/quick_ref/OSI_Layers.asp . Object oriented programming tries to model a system almost as if it were a simulation, with classes, methods, and data objects. Older programmers sometimes have difficulty becoming fluent in it quickly.

The Internet became the “wild west” and the bubble would burst starting in 2001. It did attract all kinds of get-rich-quick schemes and bad actors, which left a whole slew of new issues involving security (the development of firewalls and anti-virus software), dealing with spam, and widespread copyright infringement associated with immature misuse of peer-to-peer computing, which also was developed, partly by teenagers and college students themselves, in the late 1990s. The rapid development of all of these technologies showed technical agility and brilliance by young programmers, who sometimes did not understand or respect the ethical issues that they were creating.

Actually, many of the better jobs tended to involve the standardization of data and passing it among businesses in partition-independent format with XML, and protocols like SOAP. Data from a mainframe computer could be sent to a graphical user interface after database extraction with direct connect and manipulation with XML.

But the most profound changes may be the power that the Internet gives to individuals. The same economic forces that led to old mainframe business operations becoming offshored (through broadband) also enabled individuals not only to set up their own transaction-oriented merchant enterprises but also to self-publish their ideas and outlooks, a socially much more radical innovation. Publication went from low-coast desktop publishing to print-on-demand to Web publishing, and migrated towards video and motion pictures, to the point that business models in the entertainment industry may eventually be affected more by legitimate Internet use from new artists than by piracy.

“Free entry” or at least low barrier to entry can have a major impact on many business models and social values and raises ethical issues of personal accountability that just haven’t been seen before. With the “myspace problem” we are seeing a new iceberg.

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Anonymous said...

Musica per tutti
http://www.umaine.edu/Trauma/_trauma_disc/00000071.htm

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