Monday, July 05, 2010

Me and Technology: A quick 20 year debug

2003 setup

(edited title since i covered 20 years not just 10, bonus!)

Well, I thought I'd post a less serious and more fun one today.  I, like most that are reading this, have been a big tech geek for most of my life.  As a kid, we did not have netbooks or iPods or heck even free long distance phone service.  No, I grew up fantasizing about such gadgets and technology.  I grew up watching movies about the future and lusting over the then cool devices (now retro, hehe) and hoping we'd see them eventually. Nope, I had my cool game watches (super mario bros and tetris FTW!!), super small FM/AM Radios and of course my dreams of things to come.

I plan to just highlight a few of the more important events from each decade.  Enjoy the trip down memory lane.


The 90s were a fun decade (subjectively speaking that is).  We saw Windows 3.0 released, AT&T trying to make its first big push of video calling, 16mb chip, cloning of first animal, widespread use of mobile phones/expansion of mobile networks and of course...

The introduction of the www internet to the public in 1991.  I remember in 7th grade (fall 1992) going to the library and hopping on an IBM and firing up Netscape Navigator and surfing the web without a single ad anywhere.  I got my first email account at the same time for $1 (cost of the floppy disk) from our school too.  Ah, the joys of sitting in word processing and emailing your buddy sitting next to you; we thought it was funny doing it then but now its a reality and do it at the dinner table, hehe.

Windows 95 and 98 were later released, further expanding the ease of use of computers to an even wider audience and adding further functionality and features; ability to now record tv and radio and also network computers and the introduction of the USB connector format for computer peripherals. Apple also updated hits OS and introduction of color macs and then the power pc lineup. It would also try to enter the pda sect with its over ambitious Newton, which turned out to be complete failure and in turn lead to Apple's near failure and also the return of Steve Jobs to the helm and its then rise back to power.

Around 1996, the cost of an entry level laptop was still about $1500 and a desktop around $1000-1200.  However, that would all change in the next few years; the processor wars between AMD and Intel started to heat up in the late 1990s and in turn would drive down the costs systems dramatically in the early 2000s.  In the late 1990s we saw the introduction of the 200mhz cpu and a few months later the 400mhz and finally hitting the 1ghz in 2000.

However the tech that caught my eye the most was the pda area.  Palm released its first pda the Pilot 1000 in 1996.  It was the only real player in the market until the 2000s and of course dominated the market.  Palm updated the lineup with several other models adding further functionality and connectivity options.

The 1990s were also a GREAT time for gaming.  1991 saw the US release of the Super Nintendo (considered by many one of the greatest gaming systems and libraries to date). I fondly remember going to Target or Kmart with my mom and spending hours playing Street Fighter 2 or Super Mario World. I think I may have almost beat Super Mario World on one occasion. Then there were the games; Secret of Mana, Zelda, Mario Allstars, FF3, and the list goes on.

We also saw tons of manufacturers trying to get into the console hardware game such as: Philips CD-i, Atari Jaguar, 3Do.  Of course, who can forget Sega's botched hardware failures that led them to exit the console hardware world: Sega Saturn and the cult-driven Dreamcast. With the fall of a big player, a new one usually will step in; Sony's entry into gaming would be a big one in the Playstation.  The Sony Playstation was one of the first CD-Rom based consoles to actually take a foothold in the living room.  Cost of CD games vs cartridge was significant and in turn Sony kept games below the $40 mark and helped it take the lead over the N64. Nintendo also released, to many fans/gamers years of requests, the Game Boy Color in 1998.  It was backwards compatible with non color games but also could play the new color ones.  We also saw Microsoft join the gaming console race with the XBOX (competing against the Sony Playstation2, Nintendo Gamecube) and introduce an online gaming component, XBOX Live.


Who can forget the big ole Y2K bug/fear/'end of world' spooks?  Or the burst of the DOT COM bubble?  Investors finally realized that you needed to have an actual business and/or commodity for sale to earn money. :)

Technology again did not stand still or even slow; computer processor technology further accelerated ahead and we saw Intel and AMD race for the 2Ghz barrier.  The dramatic drop in cost for computer components also coincided with this cpu arms race, a great thing for the public/consumer.  We saw the cost of a new computer drop nearly 50%.

I remember learning to build my first desktop pc in 2000.  I read up online and figured out what components are needed, compatibility between components, how to reload an OS (which i had mastered at this point with my laptop and reloading it and playing with custom shells), and how to put it all together.  After building my first computer for about $550, I decided that I needed to get my friends up to speed since computers were not going away and having one early in the game would help you get ahead of the bar.

The next 2 months I built over 13 budget computer systems for my pals and relatives.  That was probably one of the best learning sessions I could have had to get a base of knowledge to build off of.  I was able to build a full system minus monitor for about $450; compared to buying from Dell or Gateway at the time for $1100.

The early 2000s is when we finally saw computers being affordable for most households and the beginings of what we have now w/social networks, flash games, etc.  This influx of non-techie/geek users starting opening up new ways to use the internet and computers and also increased the need for a way to connect with your pals/family on the net. Computer viruses are now a common household term.

Mobile phones and PDAs really start showing us a vision of the future we saw in movies now.  Compaq in 2001 introduces its very sexy and advanced iPaq 3600 series pda.  The design and power it offers is almost out of a Star Trek movie.  It runs a slim downed Windows OS (pocket pc 2000) and can even connect to the internet via a cell phone's data connection.  It packs a 400mhz processor to boot.  We also begin to see the introduction and planning for 3G data networks (speeds up to 1mb and even 7mbs for HSPA+) and internet on your mobile phone starts becoming more and more common.

Apple releases its first MP3 player (not the first to market but that didn't really matter), the iPod and over night corners the mp3 player market to date.  Apple also refreshes its laptop and desktop lineups and releases the much touted OS X Tiger upgrades that set the bar for most GUIs to date.   The iPhone is later released by Apple in 2007 and was a total success; iPhone dominates touchscreen phone market.

Microsoft releases Vista and the users revolt and Vista fails as an OS, however Windows 7 is released ahead of schedule and gains much praise from the industry and redeems Microsoft for its Vista blunder.

Linux starts to gain traction as a consumer OS with more user friendly versions such as Ubuntu being reworked with a more user friendly GUI in mind.  Open Source projects become a very popular way to release code to the public and to better help the overall computing world.

Gaming saw the 'next-gen' systems become the now gen.  Microsoft launched its Xbox 360 first among the big 3 console makers (Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony).  Nintendo introduces the Wii and has a runaway hit from the get go.  It leads the console race by millions with its motion based play and blue ocean marketing strategy.  Sony on the other hand releases its PS3 for a shocking $600 and sees the PS3 sales numbers hit bottom.  As time progresses, Sony is able to finally turn around the PS3 and reduces costs and re-introduces a newer Slim revision (in turn cutting costs to produce to equal retail cost) and ends its sales droughts.


Well, my younger self would be proud of what we have and thus why I am still a gadget addict.  We are finally starting to see true integration of the previous systems into a larger, conglomerated system.

An example, as I sit here typing this post i have: a minimized window of the local weather tv channel playing (bad weather today), pandora streaming via a desktop widget, tweetdeck chilling on my 2nd monitor.  Radio = Pandora, TV = tv tuner/pc, Newspaper = tweetdeck/rss feeds.

Hardware and manufacturing processes and time-to-production have greatly been accelerate with the advances in technology.  Its actually possible to go from concept to production in a year; previously such processes in the last 10 years were in the 2 to 3 year ranges or so it seemed.  This time line will of course be reduced even more as we move forward to most likely replicator-type design to production turn around.

The Internet though really is one of the most powerful changing forces of the last ten years.  One could argue that the Internet freed knowledge from its gatekeepers.  Yes as 'hippy' as that sounds it really is true.  We can see the affects that this freedom has had on the previous systems / businesses / models.  News no longer can be hoarded by a single source or kept 'exclusive' as previously with printed media.  News in that of itself is no longer of value but is considered to be a free to all piece of life.  Charging for access to such content will never work and is against the workings of the internet and its idea / purpose.  We are also seeing older models of business trying to dictate its model unto our free way of net life; watch out!

Media companies have been doing a better job than printed media but still they are definitely a good 5 years behind where the users are.  Double dipping is not fair; Hulu we're looking at you.  I believe this problem is again related to older models of business at play and those in power not understanding the new way of the world.  Why isn't internet advertising for specific TV shows/episodes not more valuable than a networks slot on OTA TV?  THIS IS DIRECTED MARKETING AT ITS FINEST! Hulu saying they need to augment the paid service with ads seems very nickel and dime; if us consumers are willing to pay for this we are just opening up the doors for even further nickel and diming and back to our same situation with tons of commercials between our shows.

Mobile phones; wow! Its hard for me to think back that 10 years ago my desktop pc barely ran a 1Ghz cpu and 512mb of ram and now my phone does? Mobile technology is in its golden period right now.  Its rate of advancement is moving like the CPU ghz wars in the early 2000s.  Android is a big proponent of this trend and Google in turn accelerated this rate by releasing its Nexus One.  Most view this phone as a complete failure but that is only when you look at the phone in a sales view and not a larger, bigger picture look.

The Nexus One was not intended to be a big seller or hit.  Google introduced this device as a platform bar setter.  This is the combination of hardware that Google wanted manufacterers to use a base specs for the premium Android handset.  We have heard about Android fragmentation for a while and after reading several articles online about this, I agree with those saying that Google is going to handle this in a two tier form.

Standard and Premium Android devices.  Standard devices would be able to run Froyo 2.2 and keep getting updates/security patches but no extra functionality and Premium devices would get Gingerbread 3.0 and get updated features/functions since the hardware would be able to support it and have enough horsepower to run it.  The Nexus One will get Gingerbread since again it is the min spec'd machine to run 3.0 and Google gave ALL of their employees versions of it.  ALL OF THEIR EMPLOYEES, ie Nexus One will most likely get Gingerbread first since it will be the lead hardware platform to develop on (my opinion only on this).  So the Nexus One bought me not just a very nice phone but also a VIP ticket to get Android updates first.

Apple is treading on shaky water in regards to phone innovation; their iPhone release cycles are becoming too slow for the rate of the industry.  The iPhone 4 was by hardware standards already out done by several handsets released weeks before it.  It will be interesting to see what Apple does next; it doesn't have to worry about its place but just its perception as a leader in technology vs becoming the next big company to become complacent in its spot in the industry (ie nokia, palm).

So looking back I just have to say is WOW! We are living the future that we imagined as kids and then some.  Can't wait to see where we are in 10 years.  What were some of your fave tech items from the 90s, 2000s? Post up in the comments!