Monthly Archives: April 2006

The proto-media center PC…

IBM PC jr family

Boingboing points at the Computer History’s collection of old sales brochures for computers, which is a treasure trove of inflated language and not quite so inflated computers. I will refrain from citing the nerdier items such as brochures for mainframes and acoustic modems, but the "Going to work with your Osborne" (at 24 pounds/11kg) brochure and especially the sales brochure for the (even at the time) extremely underwhelming IBM PCjr are great fun.

The PCjr was IBM’s foray into home computing, but in order not to threaten their profitable line of business PCs the PCjr was crippled so severly that it flopped, big time. (Part of the reason may be that it had the worst "chiclet" keyboard in computing history, though, as the picture shows, it was wireless.).

IBM was fairly early into home computing, but hadn’t yet cottoned on to the real market for home computers, which at that time (in the absense of online peer interaction) was based on guilt: Buy your child a computer, or he/she will do poorly in school and go downward from there. Note the picture, which bears an uncanny resemblance to certain home-oriented products I have been thinking about getting for my own living room lately. I know things have moved on, but can’t help getting that uncomfortable feeling that in about 20 years time I will look at these things and wonder what the hell I was thinking….

But it takes a special kind of thinking to produce something as bad as the PCjr. According to a friend of mine, the then-current explanation inside IBM was that the sales force (ever the upper hand at IBM) had boasted "We can sell anything!", whereupon the product development guys handed over the PCjr, saying "Oh yeah? Try this!"

Free shipping preferred

Techdirt has a little article talking about how people prefer free shipping over price discounts, even thought the final price may be higher. I don’t find that so hard to understand – free shipping offers flexibility in that you don’t feel you need to bunch orders together, enables price comparisons with local stored directly, and just makes life easier. The cost of processing may go down, but human information processing – actually having to figure out what the total price might be – becomes relatively more expensive. Free shipping is worth more because it simplifies your life and your shopping.

That’s all. 


perpendicularThe next technological breakthrough to hit the market in hard disk technology is perpendicular recording. As I understand it, this means that the magnetic field is flipped 90 degrees up from the disk surface, increasing the storage capacity per areal unit as much as ten times. This Flash video from Hitachi (which includes ceiling pointing dance steps  from Saturday Night Fever) should give a technically correct, though rather hokey explanation.

The upshot is somewhat thicker but ten times as powerful hard disks. The initial market seems to be iPods and similar devices (where the density premium is higher, I assume, but maybe also because smaller disks vibrate less just because they are smaller), but 3.5 inch disks are already announced. Today’s top-of-the-line disks have about 500GB capacity, so get ready for 5TB on your laptop within a year to three….

That is rather amazing. I like disk technology – not just because it is the perennial example of  continuously disruptive innovation, but also because every time you think it has reached its technological limit and we will finally switch to solid state memory, a new dimension opens up (this time by using an old technology previously thought too complex to be worth it.)

5TB on a laptop…. I used to say that you can never be too rich, too thin, or have too much hard disk space, but now I begin to wonder. This means simple scanning of all your digital content, including music and videos, and carrying all your information with you at all times. Which new applications will we get that will take advantage of, eventually outstrip this capacity and thus drive the technology forward?

Furthermore, were will disks go once the compression-on-a-single layer dimension is exhausted? Following what happened in computer design, I suspect we will see some architectural innovation (a la Seymour Cray creating supercomputers by creatively combining – and packing – known technology) or just techniques for increasing the number of disks attached to each device. Or perhaps increases in communications technology, especially wireless, will allow us to, once more, go back to centralized data storage.

Ahhh, the march of technology. Don’t we love it. 

(Via Engadget.)