It was born on 12 August 1981, or at least the concept behind it. The Personal Computer - a machine that can be placed on the top your desk.
Though the core technology has changed - from the 8088 Intel Chip made of 29,000 transistors, at 3.0 micron1 density performing at 5.0 MHz2 using 8/16-bit3 computing to the currently available Intel Core duo made up to nearly 300 million transistors, at 0.065 micron (or 65 nanometres) density performing at 3,000 MHz and above, using 64-bit computing - the abstraction still remains the same. Nano-technology has already arrived, and is sitting on your desktop.
I still remember how I came across my first computer. It wasn't an IBM PC, it was the Apple II.
It was around 1983, I was almost a teen and one of the lucky lads. I was studying in an American school in a communist country. The American teachers missed everything from back home. So much that they decided to ship everything to the small school in Romania. There was American candy, hot chocolate while playing in the winter snow, American movies and TV shows, shiny stickers on papers achieving good grades. It was paradise! But most of all, my fingers touched a computer keyboard.
Several Apple II computers had been imported and some of the teachers were having a wonderful time fiddling around with them. Particularly the computer teacher seemed obsessed. Whenever walked by him in the central library area, where these machines were set up, and he was always there, staring intently at the tiny lights on the screen. After he had learned enough, he introduced us to his hobby.
But what did we do first? We played games. This time it was the Atari. We were each given a turn on the joystick playing PacMan, Frogger and others I can't remember. I was so mesmerised by the sound and vision that I couldn't play the game properly.
Then during the year, each month a different class was given a turn to write the school paper. Here finally we used the Apple computers. We used a Print program to draw up the layout of the page, and add graphics and various fonts. Here I learned, for the first time, the ability to exercise control of technology, and I just loooved the feel of all those buttons on the keyboard. We also learned to write simple programs in BASIC language. It was too late, I was bitten. Computer fever had me.
After our newspaper turn was over, we never touched those computers again, and I would walk pass the computer section always looking longingly at the machines.
Last chance I had was when I joined the chess club. Though there were enough members to play against each other, the teachers also set up 'Battle Chess' game on the computers. Just in case we got bored playing each other.
Then there was the school book fair where I picked up my first programming book on BASIC. Then I flipped through the pages and found out all different things I could have done on the computer. AAArrrggghhh! If only I had a computer now.
I would pester my poor Mum and Dad for the next 5 years. "Mama - Papa, I want computer!" I was too spoilt to realise that the cost of these wonder machines was beyond any reasonable working man's means. Years later, the prices became lower, more people starting buying these and my parents said 'yes'. When we got the machine (Intel x286 PC) set up at home, I immediately locked myself up in the room, installed BASIC, got out my old book and it all started from there.
I remember pestering the local dealer for some 3-D graphics development tools. He gave me a disappointing 'Harvard Graphics'. It took me some time to understand that the machines of that time could not handle that kind of processing power.
Over the years, especially in India, I have noticed a difference in the way various people approach this technology. Whereas for me it was a total joy, others seemed indifferent. People get computer science degrees without having any real interest in computers. It's all for the money.
Over time the desktop computer will probably disappear. It will become part of the media box under the TV or a small portable hand held device. However, as long as it is here, it will play an increasing part in our lives.
Happy B'day PC!
1micron: length equal to 0.000001 of a meter
2MHz: MegaHertz, measure of frequency
3bit: smallest unit of computer memory