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Ten Years Ago

Looking at the Android devices that now litter my house (the Motorola Xoom, the Asus Transformer, my wife's and my Android smartphone, our Nook Tablets, and my latest, the re-purposed Nook Color), I'm reminded what I had 10 years ago.

I had one new computer. It was a Compaq Presario 5WV280 running Windows ME. It had a 900 MHz AMD 32-bit Athlon with 256MB of memory and a 20GB hard drive. It came complete with color CRT monitor and speakers, and set me back some $2,000. I'd purchased it at downtown Circuit City, a store that eventually died seven years later in 2009 along with the entire chain. It was the last major purchase I ever made at a Circuit City.

Circuit City Downtown Orlando 1
Where I purchased my Compaq in 2002

I really used that Presario. I quickly replaced Windows ME with Windows 2000. Soon after I added a second drive and started dual-booting Linux on it, starting with Redhat and later moving to Suse and then to Ubuntu. The other computer I had in the house was an ancient Compaq Presario with a 75MHz 486 and 64MB of memory that dual booted between Windows 95 and Suse. I moved all the pertinent files off of that machine and on to the new machine. I remember that as soon as the backups had been transferred the older 486 system literally shut down and wouldn't restart. Soon after it went to the curbside for garbage pickup.

When I look at what the Nook Color has vs the Compaq, I note the Compaq's AMD Athlon 32-bit processor running at 900MHz vs the Color Nook's ARM Cortex-A8 based 32-bit processor running at 1.1GHz, that the Nook Color has twice as much memory, and the 8GB memory card is the equivalent of an 8GB hard drive that was a tad expensive back in 2002. Hundreds of dollars expensive. I picked the 8GB card/disk for $14.88 at a local Walmart. The maximum screen resolution of the Presario was 2048 x 1536, but the monitor that came with the Presario was hard pressed to display at that resolution, so I kept it at 1600 x 1200. That's the only feature of the Presario that exceeds the Color Nook, the Color Nook's fixed display resolution of 1024 x 600.

The level of software sophistication inherent in Android was only dreamed of in Windows 2000 and equivalent Linux distributions of the time. That WiFi connection I take for granted on the Nook Color was an expensive add-on in 2002. The standards-compliant browser on Android runs rings around IE and Netscape, the two primary browsers I used at the time. And there are Android apps providing capabilities that were unavailable on the operating systems of the time, such as streaming movies and TV shows via Netflix.

But most significantly I can hold the entire computer (the Color Nook) in one hand and have it operate for six continuous hours on battery power alone. The Presario had to be plugged into the wall socket and sat on the floor, with all the cabling running from the back of the main unit up to the heavy CRT monitor and the speakers. And the cost: the Nook Color plus 8BG memory card, at a little less than $180, is an order of magnitude cheaper than the $2,000 Compaq.

Apple speaks of the post-PC era with its iPads and other iDevices. What they mean are a new generation of computers that are hand-holdable (in one hand), have multiple built-in wireless capabilities (cellular, WiFi, and Bluetooth just to name three), use a touch interface as the primary interface, have a display (primarily color) with resolution and color depth that nominally match a desktop system, and have enough computational capability to effectively execute non-trivial applications such as streaming video viewers (Netflix), web browsers, and other application that originally required a desktop or deskside computer.

When I think back 10 years, and even 5 years, ago I can see the increasing evolution of increasing computing capability into ever smaller form factors. The 10 year comparison between my Compaq and my Nook Color is shocking to me primarily because of the radical collapse in size. With all that's happened up until now, I wonder what it will all be like 10 years from now.


  1. particularly like the comparison including that of power


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