As IBM Turns 100 Years Old, is the PC Dying at 30?
What a week... IBM turns 100 years old, the desktop PC is just 30 years old as Apple predicts it's demise, and I... well... turn more than 30. I have to own that because I've been fascinated by computers for longer than PC's have been around. Today I read stories about technology on my phone, dig a little deeper from my easy chair on my tablet, and if I'm so inspired make my way to my laptop to type a few notes and thoughts back into the cloud.
As an architect and inhabitant of the cloud, I'm nostalgic for the days when you could actually see computing happen. There was a day when input came from cards and output came in the form of blinking lights. Now calculations happen in my wristwatch on transistors unimaginably small to track the tic of one second and supercomputers compete at 32.4 petaFLOPS. The 1964 EBCDIC Character set, shown on the card at right, was born the same year as me. Time sure does fly.
As a curious young cub scout in the 70's, computing machines drew me in during a tour of a "modern" data center. At one end of a large configuration of machines the tour guide presented a stack of cards with hundreds of holes in them. He fed them into a device and pressed a button. The machine rifled through the cards then displayed words and numbers flying by faster than you could possibly read. I'm sure he explained details about what was going on but what hooked me was the speed.
We then learned how to punch out the correct holes in the cards to spell our names. He read the cards in so we could see our names on the screen. And then something really impressive happened. He saved the data onto magnetic tape (could I read that in my 8track?) and handed us a souvenir. I still have mine, a useless relic of 30ish year old technology, my name in digits. Touching it always directly invokes the priceless passion that has driven my curiosity about these machines for over 30 years. Now I've typed that memory into the cloud and it is just there for me or anyone on the planet to see.
For me, reports of the demise of the PC are greatly exaggerated. It will certainly always live on in my heart, and the truth of the matter is that the bulk of the cloud is built on what PC's have become. The power in todays generation of desktops and laptops is really astonishing. The array of devices that thrilled a young cub scout 30 years ago now occupy a few characters of microcode at the beginning of a universe of computations on my lap, resulting in these words making it from me to you.
The PC is not dying, it is has just grown up and left the house. IBM is alive and well and can do pretty well against humans playing Jeopardy. Do cub scouts now just take a tour of the pack leader's phone for inspiration? If you didn't know my birthday is this week... then you aren't you my friend on facebook. Computers are so fast now, that I'm typing this on my birthday which is still three days away. Have I died and gone to heaven or is this the cloud?