Skip to main content

Full text of "Interactive Computing newsletters"

See other formats

f 7 r 



The following articles are reprinted solely as items of interest for the independent evaluation by members of The Association of Time-Sharing Users and The 
Association of Small Computer Users. The opinions, statements of fact, and conclusions expressed herein are not those of either Association. 


The first one, largely unseen, transformed 
big business. The next one is taking place 
in the home, the office and the corner store. 

These tiny modules contain 
programs for a Texas Instruments 
hand-held computer. Other modules 
con be purchased ond programmed 
for a variety of functions, dependent 
only upon the particular needs 
of the individual owner. 

by John Fletcher 

RT HOME, you will hove on eorth sta¬ 
tion on the roof for satellite communi¬ 
cation uuith any other home eorth sta¬ 
tion in the country. Vour television set 
will contoin o pouuerful computer that 
regulotes your house's heating and 
cooling systems, notifies fire deport¬ 

ment or police in on emergency, does 
your taxes ond lets you beat it in o 
gome of chess. Vour telephone uuill be 
a data entry system ond calculator. 

Rt uuork, everything uuill be computer¬ 
ized except the coffee breaks. Letters 
uuill be typed, orders uuill be placed, 
bills uuill be poid ond files uuill be 
searched, all by computer. Rt the 
neighborhood shopping center, the 

Reprinted by permission from MAINLINER , June, 1978, Copyright © 1978, East/West Network, Inc. 

smallest merchant will have more com¬ 
puting power at his fingertips than 
was available in the largest and most 
costly computer of 1960. He will use 
it to keep track of inventory, to auto¬ 
matically reorder, to determine the 
most profitable mix of goods or ser¬ 
vices, to maintain payroll records ond 

— like everyone else — to calculate 
taxes ot the lowest legol amount. 

The timetable for this computer 
revolution is uncleor. It began, in bits 
ond pieces, only within the lost several 
years. Its impact is growing rapidly, 
and by 1988 will have transformed 
most offices and many small busi¬ 
nesses. The effect on home life will 
take longer, but by 2000 it appears 
certain that computerization will be as 
common as indoor plumbing. Indeed, 
computers will control indoor —and 
outdoor —plumbing to conserve ener¬ 
gy in heating water, to regulate auto¬ 
matic dishwashers and clothes wash¬ 
ers, to engage lawn sprinklers at the 
optimum time. 

Today, the technology to do all this 

— and far, far more —exists and is 
widely used by large corporations, 
government agencies and universities. 
They were the benefactors of the first 
computer revolution, a revolution that 
began in 1946 with the construction of 
the first electronic digital computer, a 
revolution so broad and deep that 
these institutions — big business, big 
government and big education — 
could not function as they do today, 
and in some areas perhaps not ot all, 
without computers. Vet thirty-two yeors 
into this revolution, most people re¬ 
main ignorant, distrustful, even fearful 
of computers. The computer remains 
an electronic ghost, a distant servant 
thot cranks out phone bills and credit 
cord statements, on infuriatingly un¬ 
responsive enemy that sends post- 
due notices for $0.00 ond two copies 
of a magazine after you renew your 

"(Everyone has o horror story to tell 
about computers," says Dr. Cgil 
Juliussen. a member of Texas Instru¬ 
ments' technical staff. "Rnd so when 
you throw out the word computer' 
they get scared. But programmable 
video games in the consumer market 
can change that. These games are 
evolving into home computers. Rnd by 
seeing the computer in the home, 
people will become comfortable with 
it. Their fear will go away when they 
see their kids playing with the 

Indeed, in the home computer revo¬ 

lution the initial weapons will be 
games and the shock troops will be 
children. Computerized games that 
utilize the screen of the home TV set 
were introduced by Magnavox six 
years ago and have recently mush¬ 
roomed in popularity. This year, 
according to one estimate, consumers 
will buy 10 million simple video games 
worth $300 million, 200,000 program¬ 
mable games worth $250 million and 
200,000 home computers worth $100 
million. In just two years, sales of 
simple games are expected to climb to 
14 million units, sales of program- 
mables to 8.5 million and sales of 
home computers to 900,000 — 


Li u 2000 it appears cer¬ 
tain that computerization in 
the home will be as com¬ 
mon as indoor plumbing. 

Uhotopruph Intel Cor purest ion 

altogether, about $ 1.2 billion worth of This Intel microcomputer chip 
computerized wizardry. is QS powerful as the large computers 

Perhaps more important than video produced durin 9 the 1950s. 
games is that children are learning 
about computers in school and are 
eagerly embracing them as port of 
modern life. Most colleges and many 
high schools have courses in computer 
programming. Then, too, children and 
young odults ore buying computer kits 
and assembling their own data pro¬ 
cessing systems at home. The build-it- 
yourself programmable electronic 
computer is becoming to this genera¬ 
tion of youngsters what the R.C. 

Gilbert chemistry set was to their 
parents' generation. UUhereas the 
smelly world of chemistry was the 
old scientific frontier, the silent world 
of electronics is the new one. 

The early kits were sold largely 
through mail-order. But soon special¬ 
ized retail stores opened ond began 
selling kits and fully assembled com¬ 
puters: Computerland in northern Cali¬ 
fornia, The Computer Store in Massa¬ 
chusetts, Computer Power & Light in 

southern Colifornio, plus countless 
others. Initial soles uuere to computer 
operators and programmers uuho 
uuanted their ouun computers ot home. 
Soon, smoll businessmen, profes¬ 
sionals and young hobbYists become 

I @t the touch of a button, 
people will be able to pro¬ 
duce Prom their television a 
printed copy oP "Hamlet" 
or o rerun oP "The Gong 

o port of the clientele. "The parents 
who come in ore real I y flabbergasted 
ot uuhat o computer con do," soys 
L oren Moore, manager of Computer 
Pouuer & Light's Studio City store in 
Los Angeles. "But the kids aren't. TheY 
sit right douun and start uuorkmg uuith it. 
The parents try to slouu them douun, 
SQYing, 'Don't touch the keYS, it might 
blouu up.' But the kids soy, ’No, it 
uuon't,' ond start banging away. So 
uue believe that the young genera¬ 
tion uuon't be fearful of computers 
ot oil." 

Although virtualI y oil the experts 
agree that computerization to one 
degree or another uuill eventually 
come to the average American home, 
there are differences in opinion as to 
uuhen and houu. Some believe the 
computer uuill take tuuentY or thirty 
years to make significant inroads, 
while others see this happening uuith¬ 
in ten years. Then, too, some experts 
believe that this computerization uuill 
take the form of a single pouuerful 
unit, just as most homes have a single 
centralized heating system. Others, 
using electrical motors as their anal¬ 
ogy, believe that the home uuill have 
many small computers. 

"The people uuho uuill undertake 
real computer programming them¬ 
selves for home and personal use are 
relatively small in number," soys 
Frederic G. UUithington, a senior staff 
member of Arthur D. Little, Inc., the 
Boston-based consulting firm. "The 
big market in the home is uuhen the 
computer disappears into other prod¬ 
ucts that do things people uuant, 
such as control the home heating sys¬ 
tem, its hot uuater system and so on. 
And that is going to be long in coming 
because you can't put it into present 
homes very uuell. Vou hove to hove the 
basic systems designed to be con¬ 

trolled by computer, ond that hos to 
happen before the house is built." 

In the view of Lorry UUells, president 
of Creative Strategies, Inc., a Son Jose 
consulting firm, "There are really not 
that many things that a consumer 
needs to do in the home uuhere a 
programmable computer can be a 
really big help to. him. And very feuu 
people knouu houu to program. So I 
don't see the true home computer 
being that close. But in micro¬ 
processors—nonprogrammable com¬ 
puters—it's o different story. UUe're 
getting microprocessors in more ond 
more consumer products—uuoshers, 
dryers, automobiles, ovens, security 
systems, television sets, o lot of dif¬ 
ferent places." UUells, too, believes 
that home computer programming uuill 
hove to wait until the present young¬ 
er generation is well-established in 
homes of its ouun. "It uuill take o gen¬ 
eration to change," he soys. "Tuuenty 
or thirty years from nouu, computers 
uuill permeate the home, but not ten 
years from nouu." 

Horry Edelson, o research vice presi¬ 
dent uuith the brokerage firm of Drexel 
Burnham Lambert in New Vork, sees 
the change being sooner and deeper. 
"Some smart home builder is going 
to start uuiring his neuu houses for o 
centralized computer to turn on and 
off lights automatically, to call the 
police deportment in cose of a break- 
in ond so on. And the idea uuill catch 
on very fast. It certainly didn't take 
long for calculators or video games 
to catch on, and a home computer 
makes a lot more sense. So I think 
over the next ten years or so, the 
computer uuill have a major influence 
in the home. 

"In addition," he continues, "very 
closely tied to the use of the computer 
in the home uuill be the use of com¬ 
munications. Instead of uuiring each 
city for cable TV, which is very costly, 
uue uuill leapfrog that and send infor¬ 
mation via satellite to each home. I 
expect that each home uuill have an 
earth station on its roof or in the yard, 
uuhich uuill enable the people to re¬ 
ceive programming and to communi¬ 
cate uuith anyone else in the country." 

Beyond that, some experts see the 
day —perhaps uuell into the twenty- 
first .century— uuhen the computer, 
satellite communications and other 
modern technology uuill be joined 
in a system that uuill make each tele¬ 
vision set a printing plant. People uuill 
have neuuspapers, magazines, even 
personal letters printed almost in¬ 

stantly ond in full color. A modest 
apartment uuith a table top set uuill 
hove the information storage capacity 
of today's neighborhood library; a 
house in the suburbs uuith o console 
model uuill rival the Library of Con¬ 
gress. At the touch of a button, people 
uuill be able to produce a printed copy 
of "Hamlet" or o rerun of "The Gong 

Houuever huge ond exotic the home 
market may prove to be, at the mo¬ 
ment it is far smaller and grouuing less 
rapidly than the small business mar¬ 
ket. During the lost feuu years, smoll 
businessmen, independent merchants 
and professionals on the one hand, 
and computer manufacturers and mar¬ 
keters on the other have discovered 
each other. The field was pioneered 
by smoll companies, notably Basic/ 
Four, plus such others os Imsoi, LUang 
Laboratories, Lomac, Qantei ond In¬ 
telligent Systems Corporation. Then, 
too, the retail computer stores have 
been selling mainly to smoll busi¬ 
nesses. Nouu, uuith the market esti¬ 
mated ot $2 billion or more o year, the 
gionts ore moving in: General Electric, 
IBM, Burroughs, Hewlett-Packard, NCR, 
TRUU and, through its Qyx division, 
even Exxon, the oil company. As a re¬ 
sult, the traditional lines of division 
within the industry are blurring. Until 
recently, big companies uuith exten¬ 
sive marketing and softuuare capa¬ 
bility—companies like IBM —built 
"main-frame" computers: big, super¬ 
fast machines that took three to five 
years to develop and cost from 
$100,000 to $5 million or, in special- 
purpose configuration, $25 million. 
Smaller companies like Digital Equip-, 
ment and Data General dominated 
the field of minicomputers, uuhich 
uuere small computers that typically 
required only tuuo years of develop¬ 
ment time ond cost under $100,000. 
The semiconductor manufacturers like 
Intel, uuhich marketed the first micro¬ 
processor, and such others as Nation¬ 
al Semiconductor, Texas Instruments 
ond Fairchild Eamero S Equipment, 
had the microprocessor/microcomput¬ 
er market to themselves. 

The microprocessor/microcomputer, 
uuhich further cut the size ond cost of 
electronic data processing, changed 
all that. The microprocessor is a com- 
puter-on-o-chip that cannot be pro¬ 
grammed uuhereas the microcomputer 
is o chip that con be programmed. 
They both opened neuu markets and 
spauuned increased competition. 
Makers of minicomputers used micro 

technology to upgrade their products 
to compete with mainframe models. 
Companies whoso products utilized 
micro technology began invading the 
mini market. And mainframe makers 

computer is today's 
version of the Old LUest's 
Colt .45. It is the great 

expanded downward into minis, again 
vio micro technology. "The original use 
of microcomputers was in controlling 
industrial machinery," soys Juliussen 
of Texas Instruments. “Nouu, they ore 
in controls of home appliances like 
microuuave ovens ond dishuuashers. 
And they ore moving into the smoll 
business area, for use in uuord proces¬ 
sing, accounting, inventory control 
ond so on." 

The applications in smoll business 
appear endless. An attorney's office 
con file information on a complex cose 
ond retrieve ond categorize it within 
seconds. A mail-order house con auto¬ 
matically prepare individually typed 
letters from basic formats stored in 
its computer. Small contractors can 
speedily compile bids. A physician or 
dentist can keep hts office's business 
records up-to-date by computer. "No¬ 
body has yet dreamed of all the appli- 
cations that are possible,'' says 
Bdolson of Drexel Burnham Lambert. 

€delson looks to the day when 
small retailers will be computerized 
by their distributors, who would hope 
to lock-in a customer by providing 
him with computerized inventory 
control and ordering capabilities. 

Already some distributors hove done 
this forrelatively large retail customers, 
and Gdelson believes the practice will 
eventually reach the level of the corner 
store. "For example," he soys, "take 
a pharmacy, which hos thousands of 
items. Let's say the druggist stocks 
ten units of a certain item ond wants 
to reorder whenever he gets down to 
three. UUithout o computer, he has to 
constantly monitor his shelves. But if 
his cosh register were on electronic 
point-of-sale terminal and kept track 
of each sale by code number, then at 
the end of the day the druggist could 

get a printout that would tell him 
which items he has to reorder. If the 
system were really sophisticated, it 
could automatically reorder directly 
from the distributor." 

In the professions, the impact could 
be egually great. If medical books 
were converted to computerized infor¬ 
mation, a young doctor could have at 
his fingertips the same store of case 
histories that his older colleagues took 
years to acquire. An architect, working 
alone with o graphic display and 
stress simulator, could dash off varia¬ 
tions of a design far faster than a 
battery of draftsmen and engineers 
using manual methods. And a small 
law office using a computer could have, 
in many respects, the same manpower 
of a much larger competitor. Instead 
of hiring law clerks to search a case 
file, an attorney could query his com¬ 
puter. Or, as at least one attorney 
already does, use it in liability suits 
to compute stress and failpoints in 
machinery. "The computer is often 
referred to as today's version of the 
Old UUest's Colt .45," says computer 
retailer Loren Moore. "It is the great 

Still, businessmen and profession¬ 

als ore wary of computer systems. 
Price is one reason. A version of the 
IBM Series/1 sells for $29,000; so 
does Bosic/Four's Model 200; Pertec 
Computer's MITS 300/50 is priced at 
$16,000, while its 300/25 model is 
$11,500; and Computer P&L sells a 
system for $8,000. These systems are 
not directly comparable to one another,,, 
are all priced for lower than equivalent - 
systems of one or two years ago and 
are hardly impulse items. Another 
problem, and one that is expected to 
prove more thorny, is that of program¬ 
ming. No computer works until it is told 
? precisely whot to do ond how to do it. 

I Vet small businessmen and profes- 
i sionals, just like almost everyone else, 
T know virtually nothing about computer 
- programming. "The problem is always 
5 programming the small business 
/ machine,'' explains UUithington of 
Arthur D. Little. "Cven though the areas 
are the same from one company to 
another — receivables, payroll, in¬ 
ventory and so on — each guy wants 
to do his own thing, has his own 
particular gimmick that he wants to 

Some manufacturers are accom¬ 
modating this by making it easier 
and easier for a novice to write his 
own program. "As the product evolves," 
says UUithington, "you will be able to 
sit down in front of the screen and 
push a button and the screen will say, 
'Hello, let's write o program. And 
it will lead you through all the options 
available and pretty soon, after an 
hour or so of talking to the machine, 
you have your program ready." 

Regardless of how the program¬ 
ming situation is resolved, it is clear 
that computers in small businesses, 
in the professions ond in the home 
will grow in use, decline in price and 
increase in impact. "People's lifestyles 
will change," predicts Gordon Bell, a 
vice president of Digital Computer 
Corporation. "Computers will be in 
every telephone, in every typewriter, 
in every copying machine, in every 
mechanism." Like the electric light 
bulb, automobiles, airplanes and 
television, computers will change the 
way people live and earn'a living, 
the way they relate to one another 
and to themselves. The computer revo¬ 
lution, like the industrial revolution, 
is likely to have far more impact than 
those living through it can imagine, o 

John Fletcher is a Los Angeles-based free¬ 
lance business writer whose work hos 
appeared in a number of notional 

By focusing a light wand upon a selected code, o malfunctioning computer is cataloged and its 
problem analyzed instantly, fl similar technique can be applied to inventory control where, for 
example, the sale and the reduced number in stock of a purchased product is recorded automatically.