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More on science & technology from The Atlantic Monthly.

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See an base of This Ages in The Atlantic’s History.

From the archives:

“Inside the Leviathan” (February 2000)A abbreviate and aesthetic besom with Microsoft’s accumulated culture. By James Fallows

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“Flying Upside Down” (July 1987)The Hardy Boys and the Microkids body a computer. The aboriginal chapter of a two-part commodity that was afterwards broadcast into the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Body of a New Flying Machine. By Tracy Kidder

“The Ultimate Toy” (August 1987)Debugging the computer “Eagle.” The additional chapter of a two-part commodity that was afterwards broadcast into the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Body of a New Flying Machine. By Tracy Kidder

“The Ability of Martyrdom” (August 1974)During the “computer craze” of the 1950s and 1960s some bodies envisioned the apparatus replacing the animal brain. It hasn’t happened and, says the author, it apparently never will. So we charge still anticipate for ourselves. By Fred Hapgood

From Atlantic Unbound:

Flashbacks: “Prophets of the Computer Age” (October 1997)In ablaze of new breakthroughs, two clear-sighted Atlantic articles—Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think” and Martin Greenberger’s “The Computers of Tomorrow”—seem all the added remarkable.

The Processor Technology SOL-20 came into my activity aback Darlene went out. It was a bleak, frigid day in January of 1979, and I was finishing a continued commodity for this magazine. The final abstract ran for 100 pages, double-spaced. Interminable as it may acquire seemed to those who apprehend it, it seemed far best to me, for through the assorted stages of agreement I had typed the accomplished affair nine or ten times. My arrangement of autograph was to blazon my way through alternating drafts until their amateurishness caliber declined. This captivated abundant agenda and time. In the case of that article, it captivated so abundant time that, as the borderline day drew near, I knew I had no adventitious of retyping a clear archetype to accelerate to the home office.

I angry hopefully to the casework area of our economy. I best a temporary-secretary bureau out of the buzz book and was greeted the abutting morning by a gum-chewing adolescent woman alleged Darlene. I escorted her to my basement appointment and explained the challenge. The arrangement had to leave my abode by 6:30 the afterward evening. No sweat, I thought, now that a able is on hand.

But bristles hours afterwards Darlene’s arrival, I glanced at the artefact of her efforts. Stacked in a accurate accumulation abutting to the typewriter were eight completed pages. This formed out to a accounting bulk of about six and a bisected words per minute. In candor to Darlene, she had arise to a near-total arrest on aboriginal encountering the chat “Brzezinski” and never absolutely regained her stride. Still, at this clip Darlene and I would both be dead—first I’d annihilate her, afresh I’d annihilate myself—before she came abutting to finishing the piece. Hustling her out the aperture at the end of the day, with $49 in accomplishment in her abridged and eleven pages of accomplished arrangement larboard behind, I trudged bench to face the typewriter myself. Twenty-four hours later, I handed the beefy bindle to the Federal Express man and said, “Never again.”

Over the abutting few weeks, my thoughts about drifted to the advertisements I had apparent in airline magazines, in which trim and airy secretaries calmly produced abstracts by accounting in advanced of computer screens. Were these accessories real? I arrested with a salesman for a aggregation alleged Lanier and apparent that while their word-processing system, alleged “No Problem,” was absolutely real, it bulk some $15,000. If I had fatigued a pie blueprint apery my anniversary income, No Botheration would acquire been a actual ample allotment of pie. I alleged Wang, Digital Equipment, and some of the added big-name manufacturers and got about the aforementioned news. If I alleged the aforementioned manufacturers today, I’d apprehend abundant added auspicious news, but my options were to alpha autograph beneath articles, go into hock, or booty my affairs afresh with Darlene.

The way out of my bind came from an abrupt quarter. My father-in-law about dealt with inventors who put calm computer systems to adviser assorted automated processes, and he anticipation that one of them ability acquire the answer. On his advice, I followed a aisle of leads and suggestions that eventually led me to a acclimatized abbey in the farmlands of axial Ohio. There, Bill Cavage, Marv Monroe, and Bill Jones, three adolescent engineers accomplishing business as the Optek Corporation, tinkered with deejay drives, photo-sensors, and added accessories in hopes of authoritative the big sale. Optek’s specialty is authoritative machines like the one they aftermath for biologic companies, which counts pills as they canyon by at a bulk of 24,000 per minute and bliss out any bottles that acquire the amiss cardinal of pills. For men who can do all this, I thought, axis a baby computer into a word-processing arrangement should be a cinch.

For a while, I was a little afraid about what they would arise up with, abnormally afterwards my father-in-law alleged to ask how important it was that I be able to use both upper- and lower-case letters. But finally, for a absolute of about $4,000, Optek gave me the accouterment I acquire acclimated appropriately to this day.

The accommodation were the basal four of any word-processing system. Aboriginal was the computer itself, the Processor Technology SOL-20. Its abundant specifications—its 48K of accidental admission memory, its Intel 8080 microprocessing chip—are now of antique interest, aback Processor Technology went out of business several months afterwards I bought my computer.

The additional aspect in my arrangement was the monitor, a twelve-inch TV screen. Some monitors are like black-and-white TVs; mine—which, abnormally enough, was produced by the aforementioned company, Ball Corporation, that makes home-canning supplies, displays light-green belletrist adjoin a accomplishments of aphotic blooming and is declared to be easier on the eyes. Third was the alien accumulator device—the accessories that saves the abstracts you’ve accounting aback the computer is angry off. The accessories I chose, two baby band recorders, was such a complete adversity that I charge altercate it alone afterwards on. Fourth was the printer, a awkward machine, congenital like a battleship, which had been an IBM Selectric typewriter afore it was acclimatized to acquire columnist instructions from a computer.

These four machines, and the yards and yards of multi-strand cable that affiliated them, were the accouterments of my system. The software consisted of a affairs alleged The Electric Pencil, with a chiral acknowledgment the mysteries of “block move,” “home cursor,” and “global chase and replace.”

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I skip accomplished the day during which I anticipation the computer didn’t assignment at all (missing fuse) and the anniversary or two it took me to acquire all the moves The Electric Pencil could make. From that point on, I knew there was a heaven.

HAT WAS so exciting? Alone the abolishment of all drudgery, except for the axiological backbreaker of accession out what to say, from the business of writing. The activity works this way.

When I sit bottomward to abode a letter or alpha the aboriginal abstract of an article, I artlessly blazon on the keyboard and the words arise on the screen. For six months, I activate it awkward to compose aboriginal drafts on the computer. Now I can hardly do it any added way. It is faster to blazon this way than with a accustomed typewriter, because you don’t charge to stop at the end of the band for a carrying acknowledgment (the computer automatically “wraps” the words assimilate the abutting band aback you ability the right-hand margin), and you never arise to the end of the page, because the actual on the awning keeps sliding up to accomplish allowance for anniversary new line. It is additionally added acceptable to the soul, because anniversary bedridden and askew admission can be fabricated to vanish instantly, by the chat or by the paragraph, abrogation a aboriginal blooming acreage on which to accomplish the abutting attempt.

My computer has a 48K memory. Aback anniversary K represents 1,024 bytes of information—each byte apery one actualization or digit—the apparatus can dispense added than 49,000 items of admonition at a time. In practice, afterwards acceptance for the amplitude that The Electric Pencil’s programming instructions absorb in the computer’s memory, the apparatus can handle abstracts 6,500 to 7,500 words long, or a little best than this article. I breach annihilation best into chunks or accommodation and assignment with them one at a time.

When I’ve accomplished with such a chunk, I columnist accession alternation of buttons and abundance what I acquire accounting on my deejay drive. This is a cigar-box-shaped assemblage that sits abutting to my computer, affiliated through a shocking-pink award cable absolute thirty-four abstracted strands. Inside the drive is the billowing disk, which is about alluring recording band apprenticed into the actualization of a baby almanac and afresh amid in a aboveboard agenda envelope, 5 1/4 inches on anniversary side. The arrangement transfers abstracts from the computer to the disk, or carnality versa, at about 1,000 words per second, so it is no nuisance to abeyance afterwards anniversary fifteen or twenty account of autograph to abundance what I’ve aloof done. Anniversary of the disks in my arrangement can authority about 100K of information, or added than alert as abundant as a abounding bulk from the computer memory. If one deejay is full, I cull it out and breeze accession in.

When I accomplishment what I’m alive on, I about-face on my printer. If I’m sending a letter, I bulk the jotter into the printer and beforehand the book button, and afresh angle anniversary allotment of agenda out of the printer aback it is done. There are machines that automatically augment distinct bedding of agenda into the printer, but that takes us aback to big slices of the assets pie. If I am columnist a abstract of an article, I can angle up my tractor feed, beforehand the book button, and go out for a beer. The tractor pulls an amaranthine area of agenda through the printer—and the perforated agenda can be afar into pages aback the columnist is done, so it looks like a accustomed manuscript.

The arrangement prints about thirty characters per second, which agency it takes beneath than a minute per double-spaced page. Aback it has completed its work, I booty the arrangement and alpha alive it over with a pencil, aloof as I did in canicule of old. The aberration is that afterwards I’ve fabricated my changes, I acquire alone to blazon in the changes I acquire fabricated and alpha the printer up again—rather than retype the accomplished mess.

None of this may complete absorbing to those who acquire fleets of secretaries at their disposal, or to writers who can say absolutely what they beggarly the aboriginal time through. Isaac Asimov afresh complained in Accepted Computing that his word-processor didn’t save him abundant time on revisions, aback he composes at ninety words per minute and “95 per cent of what I abode in the aboriginal abstract stays in the additional [and final] draft.” My first-draft adaptation arrangement is afterpiece to one percent, so for me the age of accessible revisions is a marvel.

You won’t bolt me adage that my apparatus has fabricated me a bigger writer, but I don’t anticipate it has fabricated me any worse. Aback I now absorb beneath time and activity retyping, I acquire added larboard over for alteration and rewriting, There is alike an alteration footfall accessible alone with the machines. Aback I anticipate I’m accomplished with an article, I set the book acceleration to Slow. This runs the printer at about 100 words per minute, or about the clip of account aloud. I actuality my aerial with earplugs and afresh angular over the platen as the columnist begins. Watching the commodity printed at this acceleration is like audition it read; infelicities are added difficult to abstain than aback you are scooting your eye over words on a page.

I acquire not yet angled to the politician’s ambush of programming the computer to abode accepted belletrist of reply. I have, however, apparent a few added base word-processing feats. Suppose you are autograph an commodity in which an abnormal chat appears frequently—let us acquire “Brzezinski” already again. Aback autograph the draft, you artlessly blazon a assertive character, say * or , anniversary time Brzezinski should appear, and afresh aback you’re accessible to book you arresting the computer to admit “Brzezinski” in abode of the character.

In accession to The Electric Pencil, I bought the software for a computer-programming accent accepted as BASIC. The B in BASIC stands for Beginners (the abounding name is Beginners Advantageous Symbolic Instruction Code), but I acquire not yet activate a algebraic activity for which BASIC is inadequate. Aback I appetite to apperceive how abounding prime numbers there are amid one actor and two million, or how bound my mortgage payments would broke me if absorption ante rose to 35 percent—that is, aback I don’t appetite to do my work—I can annihilate ten account autograph programs to acquaint me the answer. Accepting bottomward to business, I use the computer to do my assets tax. My bread-and-butter activity is a blend of $2.75 parking-lot tickets and $13.89 cafeteria receipts, which acclimated to accumulation up like abatement leaves until I spent a anniversary burrowing through them at income-tax time. Now all I do is sit bottomward at the apparatus for bristles account every few nights and blazon in all affairs of absorption to the tax man—so abundant in from my employers, so abundant out to the credit-card company. At the end of the year, I bulk the income-tax affairs into the computer, beforehand the button apparent “Run,” and watch as my tax acknowledgment is prepared. Aback it took me alone about six months to apprentice BASIC (and the tax laws) able-bodied abundant to abode the program, I bulk this admission will save me time by 1993.

O BE SURE, a computer does accompany problems into the home. For one, it creates yet accession acumen to feel accessible to the apparatus of fate.

Shortly afterwards I got my machine, I was accounting abroad in the basement as a summer thunderstorm confused into town. Knowing what I now know, these canicule I anon shut off the apparatus and unplug it from the bank whenever barrage is appear any nearer than West Virginia. But I was not so astute then. I had angry on the printer and gone admiral aback a bolt of lightning addled the house. There was a huge boom, and a white beam alfresco windows on all abandon of our house. Several actor volts coursed through our base and blew out about every electrical apparatus that was acquainted in. The bang austere out a clothes iron, and if it had that aftereffect on a big hunk of steel, you can brainstorm what went on in the computer’s aerial interior. For a ages I was machine-less, befuddled aback on my Smith-Corona, while computer repairmen replaced one silicon dent afterwards accession that had broiled in its casing.

Computers account another, added insidious problem, by consistently distorting your faculty of time. Aback I aboriginal saw the arrangement in the aback allowance at Optek, I was so addled by the direct abatement of sentences and movement of paragraphs that I anticipation I could never appetite annihilation more. Aback the scientists at Optek warned me about assertive bottlenecks, I had to asphyxiate my laughter. In particular, they warned me that I ability abound abrupt with band recorders as a way to abundance data. You acquire to understand, they told me, it can booty bristles or ten account to bulk a continued abstract into the computer from tapes, admitting a deejay drive (which would add a thousand dollars to the cost) could do the job in seconds. Typical vulgarians of the apparatus age, I told myself. How could they brainstorm that I would commodity to bristles or ten minutes, aback I had been absolved Darlene?

Three weeks later, I was bitching consistently about the tapes and scanning the pages of Byte magazine, attractive for a acceptable accord on a deejay drive. Ten account was intolerable aback aggregate abroad happened in a flash. Worse, the tapes had the baleful birthmark of unreliability; alike afterwards cat-and-mouse ten minutes, you were never absolutely abiding that the admonition was cautiously stored. The alone way to acquaint was to try to augment the abstracts aback from the tapes into the computer, which took accession ten account and about led to the infuriating bulletin “Tape Error.” Afterwards one commodity abolished consistently abaft a bracken of Band Errors, I aching up $800 for a arrangement deejay drive. Now my depression is alive alone aback I apprehend belief about the new disks—larger ones that authority alert as abundant abstracts as mine, and double-density models that authority alert as abundant as that.

CAN HARDLY BRING myself to acknowledgment the accurate disadvantage of computers, which is that I acquire become hopelessly absorbed to them. To the alfresco world, I present myself as a man with a business charge for a word-processing machine. Sure, I acquire a computer: I’d acquire a assignment columnist if I were in the machine-tool business. This is the altercation I accomplish frequently to my wife. The truth, which she has no agnosticism guessed, is that I adulation to see them work.

I about destroyed my health, to say annihilation of my marriage, during the months aback I switched off The Electric Pencil at ten or eleven at night-and afresh switched on BASIC and spent a few hours adorning a tax-and-accounting system. At aboriginal my ambition was alone to architecture a affairs that would work, that wouldn’t book “Syntax Error in Band 2140” aback I approved to run it. Afresh I started arena around, seeing if I could assignment out a arrangement for banking projections that would booty affliction of estimated tax payments to the IRS. Would it acquire been easier to mail in the $150 anniversary division and afresh aboveboard accounts with the IRS at the end of the year? Of course—but that was not the point. Eventually, I aspired alike to affected programming, designing the matrices and the nested loops in a way that added the adorableness of artlessness to the scheme.

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When I contemplate my approaching with computers, my affections are mixed. Because time and beforehand acquire anesthetized my apparatus by, I artlessly can’t buy any new programs for the SOL. They don’t exist. This is a antecedent of amaranthine frustration: how I’d adulation to use a new word-processing program, one that could admit footnotes at the basal of the able folio or automatically adapt an base for a book. How I’d adulation to get VisiCalc or SuperCalc or one of the added accounting systems that can about-face a home computer into a miniature adaptation of the National Bureau of Bread-and-butter Research. How beggared I feel as I apprehend the fliers for CompuServe and The Source, the over-the-phone casework that accredit you to accomplish airline reservations, alarm up old bi-weekly articles, and accelerate computer mail, all from the aloofness of your home. How I ambition my administration would install computers in their headquarters, so I could abide accessories over the telephone, one computer to another, instead of angry the crowds at the Express Mail window.

Yet alike as I anticipate these thoughts, I abhorrence their fulfillment. My computer already competes with wife and accouchement for my affection: can our ancestors angle annihilation more? The catechism will abide arguable until the bulk of backup computers comes bottomward a little more—or until I accomplish in acceptable my wife that she, too, needs a computer, so I can accord her abundance and blitz out to buy a new one for myself (for business purposes, of course).

Y NOW YOU apparently appetite to be like me. Your aboriginal footfall is to abstain several of the aloft mistakes. Aback I fabricated them, I apperceive what they are.

1. Guessing wrong. The affairs are that you acquire already abhorred this, my best cher mistake. The microcomputer industry these canicule is like the auto business in 1910, with a thousand little hustlers aggravating to affirmation a allotment of the action. The abutting time you feel depressed about the ability of the American economy, aces up a archetype of Byte—or Claimed Computing, or Accepted Computing, or Interface Age, or InfoWorld —and attending at the columns aloft columns of ads from bush companies with new articles to sell.

Still, some genitalia of the industry acquire calmed down, at atomic compared with the anarchy of three or four years ago. To extend the allegory with the auto industry, it was as if altered models ran on hardly altered kinds of fuel, and no one could be abiding which would be the accepted aback the attempt for adaptation sorted itself out. Aback I bought my computer, abounding programs were advised for one archetypal of computer only, aback the protocols and disk-operating systems assorted from one cast to another.

If I had estimated right, my brand, the Processor Technology SOL, would acquire bent on, and today I’d acquire the agnate of a Mercedes-Benz instead of a Hupmobile. I’d be able to buy new programs at the computer store, and I’d be able to bung in to all the over-the-phone services. But I estimated wrong, and I’m larboard with a case of an abolished breed. Aback I charge new programs, I try to abode them myself, and aback I acquire a breakdown, I alarm the adjacency craftsman, Leland Mull, who acquiescently tends the abbreviating bounded citizenry of SOL-20s.

You won’t acquire this problem, because the war of acclimation for claimed computers is aloof about over. The crucial, bitterly contested area was the disk-operating system, the coded instructions that accredit computers to interface (the chat cannot be able in this business) with the deejay drives. My arrangement uses the North Star Deejay Operating System, abbreviated DOS and arresting doss, but North Star didn’t win. The champ was a DOS alleged CP/M (for Ascendancy Affairs for Microcomputers), which has become the industry accepted and is earning millions for a aforetime baby aggregation accepted as Digital Research. About any affectionate of computer you buy these canicule will be accordant with CP/M, and about any affectionate of software will arise in CP/M versions. To put it accession way, you should be alert of any apparatus or any affairs that won’t run CP/M.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. For instance, the Tandy Corporation sells assorted models of its TRS-80 computers, at Radio Shack stores. These can be configured to acquire CP/M, but they’re advised for the company’s own operating system, accepted as TRSDOS, arresting trissdoss. Radio Shack offers so abounding TRSDOS programs and such an all-encompassing repair-and-support arrangement that you are hardly abrogation the boilerplate by affairs one of their machines.

Another important barring is IBM, which has aloof admission assimilate the home bazaar with its Claimed Computer. For those who are abysmal into the apple of gigantic mainframe computers—engineers, for example, who appetite a home computer so that they can draw over the buzz from the capital abstracts banks at the office—it offers accessible advantages, aback it is accordant with added IBM products. But it is additionally allotment of accession war for DOS dominance. The Claimed Computer’s microprocessor—the dent that operates the computer’s logic—is a “16-bit” microprocessor, as adjoin to the “8-bit” chips of best added baby computers. (A bit is a basal yes-or-no, 0-or-1 assemblage of computer information. The IBM dent can handle alert as abounding $.25 at a time.) The aberration amid 16- and 8-bit chips is of no activated acceptation at the moment for best home-computer systems, although the 16-bit chips should abutment faster-operating and added able computer programs, aback the software industry catches up with this beforehand in hardware. The new machines will crave altered disk-operating systems, and may accordingly affect accession DOS war. Digital Analysis has produced a adaptation alleged CP/ M-86, which will assignment on the Claimed Computer and added 16-bit systems, such as the Victor 9000, but abounding bodies doubtable that IBM will allowance a counteroffensive with a DOS of its own.

2. Scrimping on storage. Computers are now extensive the “commodity” stage. With a few audacious exceptions, to be mentioned in a moment, they’re all added or beneath the same. Not so the accumulator devices—the disks or tapes on which you abundance admonition aback the apparatus is angry off. Tapes are acutely a abhorrent idea, but the amiss affectionate of deejay can be about as bad.

The activated absolute on what a computer can do is not the anamnesis congenital into the apparatus itself, although any austere computer should acquire at atomic 48 and finer 64K of accidental admission memory, but rather how abundant admonition it can bound draw from its disks. Actuality afresh I allege from the angle of the sadder-but-wiser man. In affective up from tapes to a deejay drive, I took the arrangement route. I bought one rather than two, acclimated baby disks (5 1/4″ diameter) rather than ample (8″), and chose single- rather than double-density storage. I adored a brace of hundred dollars but bought myself a antecedent of frustration, aback anniversary deejay fills up too bound and I acquire to accumulate alternating altered disks in and out of the drive. (Again, this may not complete like abundant to you, but alive with it for a year or two and you’ll see what I mean.) I anticipate you’re cheating yourself if you get annihilation beneath than two double-density 5 1/4″ drives, which calm should be able to abundance 400K or added of data. The exact accommodation varies absolutely a lot, depending on the agreement a architect chooses. A two-drive arrangement of 5 1/4″ disks for the Apple III, for instance, can abundance as little as 280K, while Heath-Zenith and Victor anniversary activity two-drive 5 1/4″ systems that authority added than 1,000K, or one megabyte. In some cases, you may do bigger to get two 8″ drives, depending on the specific prices and configurations altered manufacturers offer.

The top of the band amid accumulator systems is the adamantine disk, best about accessible in the anatomy alleged the Winchester. (This is not a cast but a nickname, activated by acquaintance in the computer apple because the archetypal cardinal on one of the ancient drives was 3030, evocative of a rifle.) The added disks, accepted as floppies, get pulled in and out of their drives like band cassettes, but a Winchester is assuredly closed in its case. You don’t charge to abolish the adamantine disks because anniversary one food a biggy bulk of data, from two or three on up to several dozen megabytes. With alike a baby Winchester, you can abundance some 2,000 pages of abstracts at once—enough, for example, to accommodate all the addendum for a book, forth with drafts of all chapters, or a almanac of all your accord over a aeon of years. Winchesters are expensive; arrangement models go for about $2,000, and some of them bulk at atomic alert that much. But you shouldn’t buy one adapted now anyhow They’re aloof entering the aeon of aerial aggregate and falling prices and will be cheaper in a year.

3. Scrimping on the printer. The aforementioned bearded avarice that directed me adjoin band recorders additionally tempted me to anticipate that my acclimatized Selectric printer was a abundant deal. True, I could acquire fabricated an alike worse mistake. I could acquire bought a dot cast printer, which is fast and arrangement but which leaves you with a arrangement akin a grocery receipt. If eyes added than your own are activity to see the things you print, you’re absurd to get annihilation except a letter-quality printer. This agency either a acclimatized Selectric, like my aboriginal printer, or one of the systems accepted as daisy auto or thimbles. These acquire baby auto or drums that circuit beyond the folio and book at a astounding rate. They bulk added than the Selectric to activate with, but they’re a arrangement in the continued run. The absolute bulk of the Selectric is the headaches of adjustment and breakdown. In operation, it is a becloud of rods and connectors, one of which is consistently about to go awry. But daisy-wheel printers acquire alone one capital affective part. A year ago, I gave in and bought a daisy wheel, the Anderson-Jacobson 830 model, which bulk about $1,400. In a year of abiding use, it has burst once, which is about one tenth as about as the Selectric. You should get one from the start.

OW THAT YOU apperceive what not to do, you’re accessible for added absolute advice. If I were a shrewder man, I would debris to accord it. One of the perils of dispensing specific admonition is that it may be anachronous by the time the anniversary is in your hands. The articles that are available—and their about values—are alteration about day by day. Fortunately for the consumer, all the change seems to be in the administration of added amount for beneath money. This spring, Radio Shack agape $400 off the bulk of its baby business computer, the Archetypal II—which articulate absorbing until Digital Accessories Corporation agape $3,500 off the bulk of its DECmate. The Archetypal II with 64K of anamnesis and one 8″ drive went from $3,899 to $3,499, and it can be bought from mail-order firms for about $400 less. The DECmate, with the aforementioned anamnesis and two drives, went from $6,595 to $3,095. Meanwhile, several added companies brought baby computers assimilate the market, and there is no end in sight.

Yet accession hazard is that advising the adapted computer is a little like advising the “right”‘ religion. Bodies tend to like the arrangement they’ve concluded up with. The best important point about computers, added so than about religions, is that the aberration amid a acceptable one and a bad one is tiny compared with the aberration amid accepting one and not.

Finally, a computer will be added or beneath adapted depending on what you appetite to do with it. If you are mainly absorbed in arena chess adjoin a computer, you may be absolutely blessed with some of the arrangement computers that Atari, Commodore, and Radio Shack acquire put out for beneath $400. (All three companies additionally activity acceptable business systems.) If video amateur are your absolute interest, you’d apparently do bigger to buy a $150 TV adapter from Atari—although you’d afresh be shutting yourself off from all the wonders I acquire described. If accepting the feel of a computer is your goal, you could buy a Sinclair ZX81 for $149.95 or $99.95 as a kit. But if you’re additionally absorbed in business uses for your computer, you ability anticipate of systems and programs like the ones mentioned below.

Hardware: Already you move aloft the arrangement machines, to the bank area the computer memories are 48K or beyond and the bulk is $2,000 and up, about any computer you acquisition will do the job. Over the accomplished few months, in the interests of absolute research, I acquire approved computers by Apple and Zenith, Victor and Vector, Digital and Wang, Superbrain and Radio Shack, Atari and North Star, to name aloof a few. Despite their differences in detail, the machines seemed to abatement into two big accepted categories.

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One is computers per se, which will bulk amid $1,500 and $4,000 for the apparatus itself, additional (for some machines) up to $1,500 for an able accompaniment of deejay drives. Best acceptable letter-quality printers will bulk $1,500 or more, which agency the bulk of a complete word-processing arrangement is amid $5,000 and $6,000. These computers are not distinctively advised for word-processing, or for annihilation else. They will run whatever affairs you augment into them.

In the added class are the committed word-processors, which are advised for one purpose only. The IBM Displaywriter is one such machine, and the Wangwriter is another. NBI and Exxon aftermath agnate systems. These bulk a lot added than the advantageous computers—the Displaywriter with a acceptable printer was quoted at $11,350 by my bounded IBM dealer. They’re additionally easier to use, aback they acquire keys for such things as “delete para” which isn’t achievable for added able machines. (When I appetite to annul a branch with my machine, I charge abode a brand at the alpha of the paragraph, abode accession brand at the end, and afresh columnist both the ascendancy button and the U key, which is the arresting to abolish the actual amid the markers. Easier than scissors and paste, but harder than the Displaywriter.) These single-purpose machines are about awash not to individuals but to organizations, which apparently would rather pay the bulk for calmly accepted machines than alternation typists in complicated computer routines.

Within anniversary category, your best of apparatus depends mainly on taste. You’ll absorb a lot of time with the keyboard: does it feel right? The Xerox 820 archetypal and my own SOL-20 are my favorites on this score; I admired the Apple least. Screens arise in altered colors, sizes, and angles-to-the-horizon. Sometimes the adviser comes absorbed to the computer, sometimes you buy it separately; you acquire to try them to apperceive your own taste. Of the ones I’ve seen, a green-tinted adviser by NEC (model JB 1201M) seemed the best bargain, at $210; but patriots should booty agenda that NEC stands for Nippon Electric Company. Abounding computers now activity a advertisement keyboard, which you can authority on your lap while accounting or lay abutting to a certificate while you are artful abstracts or text. Those who acquire them say they are wonderful; aback my SOL doesn’t acquire one, I accede them silly.

Your best should apparently about-face on the best accord you can make, in this beatific era of coast prices. As of columnist time, some of the systems that addled me as actuality acceptable for business uses, and additionally acceptable values, were (in no accurate order) the Xerox 820 ($3,795 with a 64K anamnesis and two 8″ drives), the Heath-Zenith 89 ($2,895), and the North Star Advantage ($3,125). The Atari 800 uses your home TV for its monitor, which makes it beneath adorable for business purposes, but at $1,700 for a 48K arrangement it’s a actual acceptable buy. The Atari additionally offers added absorbing graphics—for example, color- coded bar graphs for a ancestors budget—than abounding added systems. The DECmate—at $3,095, as explained above—is a amusement to use, with a array of keys usually activate alone on committed word-processors. Its disadvantages are that its software is overpriced—$500 for word-processing,, $800 for a algebraic amalgamation including BASIC and FORTRAN—and that, at atomic for now, it is not accordant with CP/M. The TRS-80 Archetypal II from Radio Shack is added big-ticket than some others—about $4,100 with two 8″ drives—but it is the alone apparatus that can accomplish the word-processing affairs I adopt aloft all others, Scripsit 2.0. Both IBM’s Claimed Computer and the Victor 9000 use a 16-bit microprocessor; both are handsomer than usual; but the Victor has a bigger screen, added centralized memory, and beyond alien storage, so all in all it gives bigger amount for money ($4,995 for the Victor 9000 with a 128K anamnesis and 1.2 megabytes of storage; IBM offers alone a third as abundant accumulator for $4,000). The IBM ability be the safer abiding choice, however, aback manufacturers are already alms accessories advised accurately for it. Both of these machines are, for the moment, bent in a software drought, because the accustomed CP/M programs for 8-bit machines acquire not been acclimatized to 16-bit operation. This bearings will acutely actual itself, not atomic because IBM is accepted to advertise added than 100,000 Claimed Computers this year.

The best-known baby computer is apparently the Apple. Because there are so abounding Apples in circulation, and because the aggregation has pushed software so aggressively, you can get a added array of programs and accessories for an Apple than for any added system. The Apple II, which costs $1,350 with a 48K memory, is acceptable for games, simple graphics, and added home uses, and with about a thousand dollars’ account of added circuitboard it can accomplish a acceptable word-processor. But for business purposes, you’d apparently do bigger to attending instead at the Apple III. It costs added than alert as abundant to activate with, but now that the antecedent bugs acquire been formed out, it is accessible to do the job after added attachments.

One of the best absorbing new computers, both as a allotment of accouterment and as a case of commercialism in action, is the Osborne I. Its architect is Adam Osborne, an columnist of computer books who absitively to breach the bulk on-computers. The Osborne I is a actual strange-looking allotment of equipment. Aback bankrupt up, it resembles a beefy white briefcase; it is advertised as the alone computer that will fit beneath an airline seat. Aback unfolded, it looks like an anachronous aggressive radio. It comes with a full-sized keyboard, a 64K memory, two deejay drives, and software for word-processing and accounting that would bulk added than $1,000 if bought separately. Osborne offers the accomplished amalgamation for $1,795, which makes it the best arrangement on computer ability in the business. The bolt is that the congenital awning is about the admeasurement of a postcard, although it is abundant easier to apprehend than that would suggest. For an added $300, you can buy a normal-sized adviser and attach it to the Osborne.

In a absolute world, anybody who had a home computer would additionally acquire an Osborne to biking with. According to dealers, Osbornes are affairs so fast that abounding bodies charge acquire absitively that it makes faculty not aloof as their additional computer but as their first.

The Otrona Corporation additionally makes a carriageable computer, alleged the Attache. It is abate and lighter than the Osborne (less than twenty pounds, against the Osborne’s twenty-three), it has dual-density deejay drives, and its higher-resolution awning displays a abounding eighty-character line, instead of the Osborne’s fifty-two. Its alone check is that, at $3,995, it costs added than alert as abundant as the Osborne.

One added tip on hardware: If you alive in a altitude beneath boiling than Panama’s, you charge advance $100 in an anti-static mat to abode beneath your desk. If you don’t, in algidity you’ll get shocks of changeless electricity aback you blow your machine. There is consistently the achievability that this will abolish what you’re alive on at the time.

Software: If you were a analytic creature, you would alpha actuality rather than with accouterments in authoritative your decision, aback assertive programs run bigger on assertive machines. Unfortunately, you will acquisition this adamantine to do. It takes weeks or months of use to apperceive a affairs able-bodied abundant to adjudicator it, and to get that abundant acquaintance you usually acquire to own a machine. But don’t worry: best bodies assume blessed with whatever affairs they use. I anticipation my adaptation of The Electric Pencil was the greatest affair invented until I advised the newest word-processing programs and accomplished I was ashore with commodity anachronous and crude.

The basal best actuality is amid artlessness and complication. Any word-processing affairs will do the basal jobs—adding and deleting copy, affective actual from one abode to another, analytic for a chat or byword and replacing it with another. What you get with the adherent versions is mainly refinements in formatting—for example, the automated adjustment of footnotes at the basal of the adapted pages. There is a cost, however, which is a added bulky operation. You acquire to bite added keys to get things done, and you acquire to sit best and delay for the disks to stop whirring and the after-effects to actualization on the screen.

My program, The Electric Pencil, is a stripped-down model. It’s actual fast and accessible to operate, but there are a lot of things it aloof can’t do—for example, automatically centermost a line, or stop the printer at the end of anniversary folio so you can augment in a new sheet. Today’s best accepted word-processing affairs is WordStar. Its users affirm by it. It does accomplish a array of complicated formatting chores, but to me, on the base of several hours’ account of demonstration, it seems to acquire the allowances of neither artlessness nor complexity. It’s apathetic and clumsy to operate, at atomic in the adaptation I saw on an Apple, after the adaptability of the best adult programs.

If I were attractive for a simple program, I’d stick with The Electric Pencil—which I am affected to do in any case, aback annihilation new on the bazaar will run in my poor aged SOL. Or I ability acquire Magic Wand, which is simpler to use than abounding of today’s complicated programs. If you’re attractive for sophistication, I’d advance you canyon by WordStar to acquire amid two added programs. One of them, Absolute Writer, is accessible by mail from Absolute Software, Inc., 865 Conger Street, Eugene,Oregon 97402. (The added programs are accessible from computer food for prices amid $200 an ‘ d $400.) It is so adult that one ability as able-bodied be operating a nuclear reactor, but it does things I’ve apparent boilerplate else. For example, it allows you to bisect the awning with a accumbent line, affectation one certificate in the top bisected and accession in the bottom, and move actual from one certificate to the other. It additionally has a bigger array of columnist formats than best added programs.

The added best would be Scripsit 2. 0, which is put out by Radio Shack and runs on its TRS-80 Archetypal II computer. (Confusing nomenclature: the TRS-80 Models I and III are the arrangement versions, while the Archetypal II is the austere business machine.) I had snobbishly resisted Radio Shack because of the low-rent actualization of its products, but I was affected to the cessation that, all in all, Scripsit is the best affairs on the market. To accord one example, it allows you to affairs up to twenty keys with your own commands. If you columnist one key, it ability book your acknowledgment abode in the high bend of the page; columnist another, and it can accomplish a search-and-replace accepted you about use. Like abounding added programs, Scripsit can additionally accommodate a spelling-checker, which proofreads abstracts and is a advantage to the absent-minded typist.

My Picks: If money were no object, I’d buy an IBM Displaywriter, which is the prettiest of all the models and has the simplest commands.

Money actuality an object, I would vacillate helplessly amid the TRS-80 Archetypal II with an added 8″ disk-drive and Scripsit 2.0, the Xerox 820 with two 8″ drives and Absolute Writer, and the DECmate. And yet, a year from now, aback its software has bent up with it, I’d apprehend to be allotment the IBM Claimed Computer. If I accustomed a baby bequest, I’d additionally buy an Osborne I—if the bequeathal were large, an Otrona—to booty on the road. For any of these systems (not including the Osborne), I’d absorb no added than $6, 000, or bisected as abundant as for the Displaywriter.

Godspeed as you chase this advice; meanwhile, I’ll be spending nothing, afraid with SOL and The Electric Pencil, and acquisitive for a apple in which my sons can abound up to acquire a bigger computer than their ancestor had.

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