Byte Jan 87 retrospective.

From: Paul E Coad <>
Date: Fri May 16 03:12:43 1997

It's been slow the last few days on the list so it is time to send this.
It is another look back at an issue of a magazine. This one is the
January 1987 issue of Byte. There is some interesting stuff. Enjoy.



Once again Sam Ismail beat me to the punch. I've been working on this on
and off for about a week (mostly during long compiles). Most likely it
will be boring to some, but there is some value in looking back occasionally
to see how we got to this point. If the group consensus is that this sort
of stuff does not belong on the list, this will be the last one. A few
more are planned, but they focus more on the happier days of the 70s
and early 80s.


While going through some old magazines I came across the January 1987 issue
of Byte. It is the oldest copy of Byte that I currently own. Over the
years I have pulled this issue out and looked at it several times, not
because it was a particularly good or bad issue, but because it was my
first. Since this list is about collecting computers over 10 years old
and this is a magazine about computers which is over ten years old, it
seems to be on topic.

This is somewhat biased look back to the state of computing 10 years ago
as presented by Byte. As has been noted, the articles in this issue have
an academic flavor so it clearly belongs to the second age.

The cover of this issue features a butterfly whos body is an IC and whos
wings are paper basic listings. The butterfly sits on a leaf with circuit
board traces. The focus of the magazine is programmable hardware. On the
cover is a block of text:

 9 PC AT
   Multifunction Cards
12 EGA Cards
 3 Modula-2s
12 PC AT Clones.

Clearly in 1987 we were in the era of the PC.

Looking through the magazine, there are some interesting threads. There
are quite a few ads for expert systems/AI programs. There is even an
article on the use of intelligent databases which advocates the use of
Prolog to implement databases. Many languages are represented in ads
and articles including several C products, Modula-2 ads and reviews,
as well as ads for Forth, COBOL, Pascal, BASIC, and APL. These are primary
ads focused on selling language products. There are also several ads for
Unix and machines which ran Unix.

It appears that a good machine in 1987 was a 286 with a 9 pin dot matrix
printer, 512K of memory, a 20MB hard disk, and a 2400bps modem. A top of
the line machine was a 386 with either a 24 pin dot matrix printer or a laser
printer, 1MB of memory, a 40MB+ hard disk, and a 9600bps modem.

There are many ads for 1200/2400 bps modems and dot matrix printers. The
state of the art at the time does appear to be 9600 bps modems and 24 pin
printers. One or two ads mention laser printers.

It is obvious that 386 has not been on the scene for a long time. Most
ads for clone machines feature AT class computers. 386's are priced at
a premium. Logicsoft lists only one 386, a Compaq Deskpro with 1MB of
memory, 16MHz maximum clock speed, and a 40MB hard disk for $5,349. A
monitor is available as an option.

Interestingly there is some coverage of the Amiga and Atari ST. There is
not anywhere near the coverage of x86 machines. Several ads mention Amigas,
STs, and even VAXen.

    The dog that didn't bark

There is only one ad by Microsoft, and it is in the form of a "Languages
Newsletter". It features a picture of Bill Gates and pushes their C
compiler and QuickBasic. There are no articles about Microsoft products.
In 1987 they had not yet achieved a strangle hold on the programming and
applications markets.

While there was still some diversity it was definitely being elbowed out
by the beige boxes.


Everything was more expensive then. It is amazing that a box of 360K disks
cost between 8 and 12 dollars. There are several ads in the back of the
magazine in which DSDD disks could be had for as low as $.25 per disk (in
quantities of 500). High end products today still command premium prices.
Received on Fri May 16 1997 - 03:12:43 BST

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