Love of Technology at First Sight

After seeing the Retina display I’ve been thinking about the computer products that I’ve immediately desired. Here is the list of the ones I can still remember:

  1. My first computer which was the TEC-1 [1], in 1982 or 1983.
  2. A computer with a full keyboard and a monitor (Microbee), in about 1984. A hex-only keypad is very limiting.
  3. Unix, initially SunOS 4.0 in 1991. Primarily the benefits of this were TCP/IP networking, fast email (no multi-day delay for Fidonet mail), IRC, and file transfer from anywhere in the world. Not inherent benefits to Unix, but at the time only Unix systems did TCP/IP at all well.
  4. OS/2 2.0 in 1992. At the time OS/2 had the best GUI of any system available (IMHO) and clearly the best multitasking of DOS and Windows programs.
  5. Linux in 1992. I started with the TAMU and “MCC Interim” distributions and then moved to SLS when it was released. The first kernel I compiled was about 0.52. At the time the main use of Linux for almost everyone was to learn about Unix and compile kernels. In 1993 I started running a public access Linux server.
  6. Trinitron monitors in 1996. I first saw an IBM Trinitron monitor when working on an IBM project and had to buy one for home use, at the time a 17″ Trinitron monitor beat the hell out of any other display device that one could reasonably afford. A bigger screen allowed me to display more code at once which allowed easier debugging.
  7. Thinkpad laptops from 1998 until now. They just keep working well and seem to be better than other products every time I compare them. I also like the TrackPoint. 1998 was when a Thinkpad dropped to a mere $3,800 for a system that could run with 96M of RAM, enough compute power for the biggest compiles and it cost less than most cars!
  8. The KDE desktop environment in 1998. In 1998 I switched my primary workstation from a PC running OS/2 to a Thinkpad running Linux because of KDE. Prior to KDE nothing on Linux was user-friendly enough.
  9. The iPaQ hand-held PC. I got one in 2002 and ran the Familiar distribution of Linux on it. I had it running SE Linux and used it for writing an article for Linux Journal. Being able to get a computer out on public transport to do some work really saved some time. In some ways the iPaQ hardware and the Familiar OS beat modern Android systems.
  10. The EeePC 701 which I bought in 2008 [2]. In the last 4 years someone has probably released a system that’s no larger or heavier and has the same amount of compute power (enough for web browsing, email, and ssh). But most Netbooks that I’ve seen don’t compete. The EeePC allowed me to take laptops to places where it previously wasn’t convenient.
  11. Android, before using Android I never had a smart phone that I used for anything other than taking photos. The other smart phone OSs are either locked down or don’t have the app support that Android has. I listed lots of problems with my first phone the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10, but I still really enjoyed using it a lot [3]. Since getting an Android phone I’ve read a lot of email while on the go, this means I can respond faster when necessary and use time that might otherwise be wasted. The ssh client means that I don’t need to carry a laptop with me when there’s a risk that emergency sysadmin work may be required.
  12. Cheap rented servers, Amazon defined cloud computing with EC2, Linode offers great deals for small virtual servers, and Hetzner offers amazing deals on renting entire servers. Getting your own Internet connection or running your own physical server in someone’s data-center is a lot of effort and expense. Being able to just rent servers is so much easier and allows so many new projects. I can’t remember when I first started using such services, maybe 5 years ago.
  13. The Apple Retina Display [4] a few days ago.

For the period between 1998 and 2008 I can’t think of anything that really excited me apart from the iPaQ. Computers became a lot smaller, faster, cheaper, etc. But it was never a big exciting change. The AMD64 architecture wasn’t particularly exciting as most systems didn’t need more than 4G of RAM and the ones that did could use PAE.

What are the most exciting computer products you have seen?

5 comments to Love of Technology at First Sight

  • iMKenny

    1. The Apple IIe – my first experience of using and programming a computer. At first, I didn’t realise that you could buy programs, I just thought you wrote everything you needed. So I did – I was bitten, and smitten, by the programming bug – even if it was just Applesoft Basic.

    2. The MicroBee – a whole 64Kb and WordStar. Did my 15,000 word thesis without any support for footnotes. And learned Assembly language, along with using MicroBee’s version of Basic.

    3. Fujitsu mainframes, with JCL. Wrote number-crunching programs that ran on the beefiest hardware I will ever use.

    4. The Xt running DOS. Learned to pull out the CPU, put in a specially mounted 286, and transform my system into a dual 8088/286 system. Learned all sorts of programming things – sorting routines, writing my own music ntation software, graphics.

    5. 386s and Windows 3 – learned C (MS QuickC) and a smattering of lots of other languages (Fortran, Pl/1, X86 assembler, …). Came across a Unix mini-computer and wrote the odd C utility for it. So I have worked on PCs, minis, and mainframes.

    6. 486s and Linux – first downloaded a kernel in 1993 – but couldn’t work out how to install it. Then bought Debian install disks in 1997 – started using it a little, then more, then a lot, and then all the time. Windows died for me with 98SE – I never migrated to ME or 2K .. I was hooked on Linux by that time.

    7. Around this time? the web – AltaVista and the old Mozilla browsers. Started developing web applications.

    8. The 2000s – Linux and networking got more and more pervasive. All the work servers ported to Linux, WIndows only left on users’ desktops – not IT staff desktops nor any servers. Home machine was now single-boot Linux. Windows was simply not needed, not missed.

    9. The eeepad – great little netbook. Still have it.

    10. The 7 inch Android tablet, running 1.6. Small, weak, but sold me on getting a better one…

    11. the Asus Transformer (TF101) – the perfect tablet/netbook with a Linux kernel, great apps, a terminal environment to write and run Java programs (Terminal IDE in the Play Store).

    Yeah, hardware wasn’t racing along in the early 2000s, but web technology kept changing: from FidoNet in the 1990s, then dial-up, next ADSL, now ADSL2+

  • Brendan Scott

    +1 on the eeepc 701. I still use mine regularly – the ready availability of software for it makes it much more useful than the eeePad Slider I got for Christmas last year.

  • Anonymous

    The first Intel SSD: twice as fast as any spinning drive, no seek time. Paid full price for one at launch, worth every penny, and still the single best upgrade I’ve ever put in a system.

  • andreas

    Most exiting thing is probably the odroid-x from hardkernel. It offers a credit card sized computer with 4 x 1,4 GHz ARM CPU at $129. When ordering directly in Korea, you have to add $ 30 for shipping and handling.
    It uses 10 W of electrical power and probably outperforms many desktop systems currently in use.
    Debian was not ported to it yet and it is not affordable to me at the moment either, but it seems to be quite cutting edge.

  • Shannon

    Oculus Rift. Biggest nerd boner ever, and it’s not even out yet.