Apples, Pears, Does It Matter?

James Huffaker
3 min readJan 5, 2021

Does anyone still buy computers to get work done?

I go way back, before Personal Computers from any source decimated our sleep with beeps and green screens scrolling. One of the first Personal Computers I had hands experience with was the Atair 8080/Z80 system running at a blazing 1Mhz. I signed a personal loan paper with my boss for the 48K memory upgrade, over $2,000 but I don’t remember the exact amount.

During that time I was installing and programming a small business computer called the VDP-80. The VDP-80 was a nicely housed computer, very similar to the hobby computers, that came with large floppy disks, a tape loader, ability to connect to certain peripherals such as one line printer. Computers changed every three months for several years. Radio Shack presented their offering. Apple came out with one in a plastic shell very quickly. Then came the IBM. Who can get that ad out of your mind once you have seen it. Unfortunately, people with money to buy a computer such as that expected some results for their money.

Apple hit back in rapid succession with the Apple II, IIe and Apple IIc. Yes there was software for these that did some business functions, not powerful, but interesting. The Apple III was the first computer by Apple that a real programming language was adapted for it. It was called NPL for Non-Procedural-Language. It would allow a programmer to manipulate large databases for any function. Primarily it was a direct mail manager and worked well as that. Also some accounting software was ported over to the IIe and the III with good success.

IBM still held all the cards with the dBase group of database managers. Computers had to do something useful to warrant the prices charged. Data bases and data manipulation had long been the sole property of the mainframes. A big reason for that was storage. Storage was a problem for small computers. Floppy drives died and turned into mini plastic floppy drives. They were not much better, but offered some protection to a disk left on a desk. Hard drives were the problem. Any size of a hard drive was extremely expensive at the beginning. The hard drive Winchester with a 5 Mbyte capacity was over $2,500 and the Apple version for the Apple III and short lived Lisa was close to $10,000 for ten Mbytes. It was more than anyone could ever fill certainly.

Mainframes had large drives called DASD Direct Access Storage Device and the mainframe IT departments wanted to keep everything hooked up to the mainframes as long as possible. Finally Ethernet® superseded some of the heavy cable connection mediums and hard drives in small business computers rivaled the storage of some mainframes. The dedicated terminals on managers desks started going away. Microsoft made certain to step in and not miss a beat on being the de-facto standard to connect the personal computer to the mainframe. Exactly the same thing we were doing with the dumb terminals we could now do at ten times the price, but we had a PC on our desk. The IBM chipped pcs had a full time upgrade or replace going on. every time someone wrote a better text processor, everything needed a new CPU or a whole new box. It was amazing.

Next Installment still in process. Bear with me, you can tell I am no longer young.

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James Huffaker

aka Ben Moreland, retired. Interested in science, technology and future of earthlings. Sometimes I see things a bit different.