A few months ago, I came across a project that made my interest grow in Computer History. I browsed through archives, memoirs and dossiers of various people who wrote about how computers and internet have evolved around us, in the last two decades. As I dug deeper, I felt a lot more nostalgic. At the same time it sent a chill, down my spine and I felt like I am gazing at a filmstrip with flashing images of my past two decades. I felt, I was a part of the history, I was a part of it, when it was still The Beginning.
So, here I am with the tale of my love-affair with Computers, which started when when I was just 10 yrs old. Computers, what we know today, were not too old either ;-)
Year 1995: Computer Room/Lab were more sacred than temples. Computers were *GAWK*worthy. Web was still owned by spiders.
My courtship with Computers & Programming kicked in the year 1995, with the inclusion of Computer Sciences in my school curriculum. They made us play PacMan and Space Fighters on 386 machines, but I wasn’t a gamer-guy ever. My dad owned this ZX Spectrum 128K, which I still feel was the best machine I have ever owned. It had only command Line to work on,with a preloaded BASIC interpreter burned on ROM. No, it did not have internet, Windows, DOS, GUI or anything remotely familiar to most of the users today. For storage, it used a mono audio-cassette – the true sequential storage. All it could do, was let me write code on it. I LOVED IT!!!
Year 1996: DOS was OSome! BASIC gave me the basics. The monochrome monitor gave me hues of my life.
We began with studying BASIC in school on a 386 processor with no Hard Drive; this 386 machine can be termed as an ancestor to most of the x86 machines we use today. The lab was sanctimoniously secured against dust and other evils that came along with humans intruding the altar. You had to take off your footwear before entering the ‘air-conditioned room’ and the computers were supposed to be always covered with cloth; like a burqah dictated by a Taliban Fatavah, which we would lift only to see the screen. Yes! the keyboard always remained covered with rubber/plastic. even while in-use Mouse? They were same as rats and we didn’t let them inside our lab.
DOS was all command line, and OS had to be loaded from a 5½” Floppy Disk. The initial dash of games and BASIC programming was like an adrenaline rush for my fingers. I was all fascinated by that black-and-white monochrome screen, running my bits of code accepting and adding numbers or printing my name 10 times on the screen. The same screen has today grown up to take all forms from display of my wrist-watch to the Plasma Billboards at Times Square to that thin air displaying the holographic projections in Avatar.
That was when, I started learning the Algorithms & Flowcharts, Variables & Constants, Conditions & Loops, Sub-routines and the endless power of this mumbo-jumbo Jargon!!
Year 1997: BASIC was getting cooler. I, (ok… My Dad), now owned a PC. Pentium I 200 MHz with MMX technology!
My PC initially had Windows 3.11 that came in 11 Floppies. Yes, Floppy Disks; and it worked. It was soon replaced by Windows 95 which seemed like the best thing ever.
I and my dad, we both started learning how-to-use it. My dad had some initial headstart, he knew how to do a ‘Safe Shutdown’ and that was the first learning, I ever got. He told me, as long I shut it down safely, I can do ‘anything’ on it. He has always been an electronic greasemonkey – and there I got the first learning, “As long as you are not banging the keyboard against your monitor, there is a very very rare chance that you can do any damage to the hardware”. Software – re-installable. Data - recoverable.
I began just the way, we as Indians, begin with anything. Just switch it on and play around. I was sure – It won’t bite :p As a matter of fact, I learned ‘How-to-use-MS Paint’ from a book The Big Basics Book of Windows 95. The same book taught me many other niche skills as well, like changing wallpapers, screensavers, type in notepad and hiding folders ;-)
Those days, there were application that changed you wallpaper every day or even every hour and trust me, that was one of the coolest apps you could have, apart from MS Paint. Yes, we could watch movies and listen to music but virtually store none. MP3 had not arrived yet and I had a HDD of size 2.1 GB. (Yes, I know you have a larger Pen Drive today – but at that time I did not even dream about having space, more than 8 GBs)
Year 1998: Internet, Modem & Email were an addition to my vocabulary. Spiders lost their monopoly.
I got an external Modem, as a birthday gift, from my dad – after I made him realise its due significance(?) for my future and the genius it will make out of me. Yeah like all of you – I did use it more for porn and chatrooms than the educational bliss, my dad intended it to be for me.
Connecting to internet was no easy task either. The 56 Kbps modem over the 14.4 Kbps phone lines had the most jittery connection you can imagine. After the screeching sounds of the 3-way handshake, which were music to the ears, the Post Dial Terminal Screen would appear. It was the prize one would get for his patience where I would proudly type PPP, press enter and there I was – hooked on the World Wide Web.
Sidenote: I was completely shattered when, last year, Yahoo decided to pull Geocities down. It was like, someone ripping off something very close to me, taking away my memories — like someone breaking the tree house you used to play in…! (sigh)
Year 2000: Windows 98 SE was jazzy. Visual Basic 6 was the best thing to flaunt. C/C++ was the language of the people, I was to become.
By the end of the previous decade, I had a Windows 98 SE, which looked all so jazzy and was much more stable but CTRL+ALT+DEL were still the most worn out keys on my keyboard. I had started picking up VB6 and by now, I was sure – Computers will push the world perpendicularly forward in the next decade. I was sure, this is where I belong and I was going to stay here, for a very very long time…. I was in love!