The Connected Typewriter

The first wave of desktop computers looked very much like a typewriter connected to a small TV set. These first PCs (personal computers) sometimes did actually use a TV instead of a dedicated monitor, later models would need a purpose-made computer monitor in order to support the growing sophistication of the text and graphical displays. Below is one of the first commercially marketed personal computers, the Tandy TRS-80, sold through Radio Shack store.

The TRS-80, with cassette storage
Prior to the PC existing as a dedicated piece of hardware, many times businesses that needed a computer would use one or more large mainframe computers, and would interact with them through one or more dumb terminals. A dumb terminal did not really have any computing power on it's own, it was just a keyboard and a display that allowed you to "talk" to the mainframe via a wired connection.

As the computing power available on PCs increased, the relationship between the large mainframe and the individual worker computers changed. We went through a long period where the typical setup in many businesses would be that each employee would have a PC with the software programs they need for their work, and there would be some more powerful server computers that would take care of things like email, web services and storing the employees data safely.

On the home front, many families might have one or more PCs in their household, each storing and using their own data. Some folk may even use a home server - somewhere to store movies and music perhaps, so that everyone could access them.

The trend in the last few years, of course, has been The Cloud. The cloud is really just the Internet rebranded, but the way in which Internet connectivity is used has changed. We now have the ability to stay connected virtually all the time, both with home broadband which avoids the need to dial-up for many people, and with the cell data networks providing connectivity away from home on mobile devices.

Cloud storage and even cloud-based software allows us to use smaller, more mobile devices to get things done - almost a renaissance of the old mainframe/dumb terminal configuration, where the cloud takes the place of the old mainframe in the analogy.

The cloud still has computer hardware behind it, of course, but we consumers don't need to worry about that; it's just The Cloud. Smartphones and tablets are definitely not dumb, either. A modern smartphone has more computing power than a desktop computer from the 1990s.

Going back to the connected typewriter idea - are these small devices still PCs (personal computers) then? I would say "yes"; they are computing devices used by an individual to work and play on. They are different certainly -  but a Ford Model T looks a lot different to a Toyota Prius, and they are both still cars. Things change, they just change more quickly these days.

So what's next? The move to mobile will continue. What is also likely is that with the move to touch-based devices, and the increase in on-board (and cloud enhanced) computing power, voice interaction will be a big player. Did you realize that Apple's Siri personal assistant actually lives on Apple servers and not on the iPhone? Most of the horsepower required is offloaded to the cloud.

It seems like we are going from the connected typewriter to a virtual buddy in your pocket. Oh, and stay tuned for connected fridges, houses and so on - that Jetson-like idea is on the way too, courtesy of the Internet of Things.

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