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Articles10 Years Ago in BYTE


Jerry Pournelle proclaims Microsoft Excel the business software of 1985

BYTE described how you can build a 16-node supercomputer machine for under $150,000 by lashing together standard 80286 processors. However, that system wasn't quite up to par with a Cray XMP-4, which the authors admitted outperformed the PC supercomputer by a factor of 4. Jerry Pournelle said the business software of 1985 had to be Microsoft Excel, which was originally released for the Mac.


Still popular after all these years...from April 1986 comes Jerry's picks and pans for 1985. Compare them to the current crop of orchids and onions.

Computing At Chaos Manor: Jerry's Best of 1985 Awards

by Jerry Pournelle

December is a busy month at Chaos Manor. Everything happens at once. I've just returned from COMDEX. Christmas is coming. I've caught my customary attack of the fIu. It's time for my 1985 Best of the Year awards; and since this will go in the April issue. it's also time for the Folly of the Year.

COMDEX was hectic. The United States Space Foundation's annual meeting was in Colorado Springs for the first part of the week. overlapping COMDEX by three days. I spent an enjoyable afternoon with faculty and cadets at the Air Force Academy on Wednesday, but of course my luncheon speech to the Space Foundation came on the same day as the Hearst/Pournelle/ Dvorak COMDEX party in Las Vegas. I had things all planned out. but Colorado's weather bollixed things, so I found myself frantically changing planes. Even so, I didn't get to Las Vegas until about 9 p.m. Thursday evening.

I'd been told that the party was to be in the shopping mall of the Las Vegas Neiman-Marcus. This seemed unlikely. but there were no messages at my hotel, so off I went. When I got to the Fashion Mall. I found polite but astounded security guards, no one else, and no pointers to the real location. I was ready to strangle John Dvorak.

Still, one must cope. So at 10:20 p.m., having been escorted out of the Neiman-Marcus plaza, I set out to find the party I was supposed to cohost. An hour later I got to it. As I arrived, some people were leaving: far more showed up than anyone had expected, and they'd run out of drinks. That dire situation was soon remedied by Borland International's Philippe Kahn, who ordered champagne and pizza for all.

I'm told it was the best party of COMDEX. Certainly there were enough interesting people, including Microsoft's Bill Gates, Cap'n Crunch. editors in chief. writers and reporters, hackers, game designers. and Bixen (inhabitants of BIX). It was crowded enough that I never did find Will Hearst, nor a number of others I wanted to see, but certainly it was The Place to be. I guess we'll do it again next year. I'd like to think it will be better organized. but it probably won't.

COMDEX

COMDEX is terribly expensive and getting more so. Every year there are more exhibits -- or at least more square feet of exhibits. It's a bit like display advertising in leading magazines: companies simply can't afford not to be seen lest they be forgotten, not only by customers but by dealers. Most companies don't have anything really new to show. but they have to be at COMDEX. The result is booth after booth distinguished mostly by gimmicks. One outfit has a yacht. Another has dancing girls. Yet another has grown people dressed up as children playing out a mindless skit. It's hard to find the genuine technological innovations among the magicians, vaudeville performers, ventriloquists, silly robots that whistle the theme from Star Wars, bowls of bubble gum, jelly beans. chocolate dollars, coffee cups, buttons, fuzzy animals, stick-ons, plastic back-scratchers, and other paraphernalia of hype. Still, the search must be made. Fortunately, there were some trends to be spotted.

One warning note: show reports describe what I saw at a show and what I concluded from things I was told. I don't make full reports on stuff until it's sitting here in Chaos Manor.

Wonderful World of Color

One thing stood out clearly: the future computer world will definitely be in color. Color has always been preferable to monochrome, but until recently. you couldn't get monitors and color cards to display text with enough sharpness and clarity Now you can, and the best new text-editor software can take advantage of color, so that you can use, say, light-blue letters on a darker-blue background with yellow highlights, instead of white on black or black on amber, or whatever.

Before this, I hadn't seen any affordable color display crisp enough that I could stare at it day after day: but there were several such systems at COMDEX. One of the most interesting was a neat monitor from NEC. It can display the output from the normal IBM PC color board (not really good enough for text), the Extended Graphics Adapter (which is getting there), or the Professional Graphics Adapter (which does have the capability).

NEC (1401 Estes Ave., Elk Grove Village. IL 60007) also has a new PC AT-compatible computer with some of the best color graphics and color text I've ever seen. NEC wasn't alone, of course. In fact, it was hard to find a part of COMDEX that didn't have spiffy text-quality color displays: NEC just happened to be the first one to catch my eye.

One wonderful little gadget was unique, one of the most impressive items in the show. Perma Power Electronics Inc. (5615 West Howard Ave., Chicago. IL 60648). an outfit that you usually think of as making powerguard supplies, displayed a thin color-control box for less than $300. It sits between your computer and your color monitor. Simple controls on the front let you instantly change the colors on your monitor to anything you like. Reds can become blues, greens become greener, or whatever. More to the point, you can change the whole palette from, say, your favorite word processor: different background color, different lettering. different highlight colors. I was really impressed with it at the show. More about it after I've had time to work with it here.

I came away from COMDEX convinced that, within two years, color will dominate the micro industry -- and that includes business people as well as hobbyists, students, game players, and home users. Color is just too nice not to take advantage of.

Atari

The Atari booth was over in West Hall, where crowds don't usually go, which made the ferment around the Atari booth stand out from a long way off. The Atari people brought in a bunch of software developers and set them up in minibooths reminiscent of the West Coast Computer Faire. The result was a bunch of enthusiastic young people showing what they could make the Atari 520ST do. You could get a contact high by just standing there.

I saw databases, text editors. games, accounting systems, languages and compilers, a light-show program, a music-recording program, and all kinds of other stuff. Atari wanted to scotch the rumor that there's no software for the 520ST, and, in my view, they succeeded with a vengeance. I think that the Atari 520ST is here to stay.

Amiga

The Commodore folks were not at COMDEX. They'd reserved space but didn't use it: instead, they held a press conference. The official line was that Commodore is selling all the Amiga computers it can make and thus has all the dealers it needs: it would be silly to spend all that money just to tell potential dealers they can't come aboard.

Atari's comment on that was, "We sell more Atari 520STs than Commodore sells Amigas, and we sure want to sign up more dealers." The rumor in the pressroom was that Commodore's bankers were signing its checks and wouldn't advance the money to pay for COMDEX. I wouldn't know. What I do know is that the Commodore Amiga is one hell of an exciting machine.

Amiga Versus Atari 520ST

I've had an Atari 520ST and an Amiga set up side by side for about a week. One thing is clear: either one of these machines could eat Apple's lunch. Both machines have sharp, crisp color graphics. Neither one has a text editor good enough that I'd use it to write books, but that's a software problem; both the Amiga and the 520ST can display professional-quality text in color. It shouldn't be long before someone writes editors transparent enough for creative writers. Indeed, we already have TDI Modula-2/ST up on the Atari, and it wouldn't take a heck of a long time to write a good text editor.

In addition, both the Atari and the Amiga have versions of EMACS, the popular programming editor written by Richard M. Stallman. I haven't worked with the current versions, but real EMACS can be customized to know what language you're programming in, making the programmer's life much easier.

By the time you read this, both machines will have Lattice C. Lattice also has a bunch of software tools, like Text Utilities and MacLibrary, a collection of C functions compatible with Macintosh OuickDraw. Software developers are enthusiastic about these: they make it easy to convert Macintosh software to the Amiga. Meanwhile, Borland is porting Turbo Pascal to the Amiga, and, as I've already mentioned, we have TDI's Modula-2 for the Atari. The Amiga's Microsoft BASIC is, as I write this, greatly superior to the Atari's present BASIC, but once again things are changing rapidly. Metacomco, a reliable outfit, is working with Atari, and its Personal BASIC ought to be up on the Atari well before you read this. Moreover, Metacomco is also working with Lattice to bring Lattice C and Toolkit to the Atari. There won't be any shortage of programming languages for

either machine.

Amiga has one major advantage. Microsoft is emphatic about having no plans whatever to port anything to the Atari; but Microsoft's Excel is still the best spreadsheet on the market. and by a lot. The 520ST with Excel would be a dynamite combination and would practically guarantee Atari's penetration into the business world. Excel is written in C for the 68000-based Macintosh, and both the Atari and the Amiga are 68000 machines; it wouldn't be that hard to get Excel onto either one.

The story I get is that Atari was originally going to run with Microsoft Windows, but when Microsoft didn't have Windows running in time for the 520ST's release, Atari went with Digital Research's GEM, which irritated Microsoft no end. Whatever the story, you're likely to see Excel on the Amiga long before it gets to the Atari 520ST. It'll be a good combination, too. Meanwhile, there's already powerful business software for the Atari, including DB Master and Quickview's Zoomracks.

In my judgment, the Atari and the Amiga between them spell big trouble for Apple. I haven't seen anything you can do with a Macintosh that you can't, at least in theory, do as well with either of these two machines. Hackers assure me that it's much easier to write programs for either than for the Mac -- one chap told me he could get a fancy program running on both the Atari and the Amiga quicker than he could get it going on the Macintosh. There are powerful languages for both machines. Both companies have sensible policies to encourage software developers, and both are really working to be nice to hackers. It shouldn't be long before the floodgates open and the software pours out. There will still be Macintosh loyalists, of course, and Apple is likely to cut Macintosh prices: but the Mac's small and colorless screen, inherent speed limitations, and lack of disk controller will count against it.

Both the Atari and the Amiga will, or at least ought to, do well against the Apple II and the Macintosh. The real question is how they'll compete with each other. I think it's too early to tell. Each machine has strengths and weaknesses. The Amiga has multitasking. Its keyboard definitely feels better, and its color graphics are. I think, aesthetically nicer. The Amiga is also easier to set up. The Atari needs a lot of room, has cables everywhere, and really requires simple but specialized furniture to be useful. However, its color monitor is better than the Amiga's; to get the best from the Amiga, you will want a Sony monitor or something similar. The Atari has good sound quality, but the Amiga has even better and in stereo. And so forth.

I suppose I prefer the Amiga to the Atari; but how much do I prefer it? The price difference between the machines is significant, especially when you consider that the Atari will soon have a $700 20-megabyte hard disk, and many of the Amiga's hardware features can be simulated in the Atari through clever software. The Amiga is, on balance, the "better" machine -- but the Atari 520ST is certainly good enough for a lot more than I originally bought my first computer for. My guess is that the Amiga will appeal more to serious computer users -- professional artists and writers, hackers, dedicated hobbyists, while the Atari will be the machine "for the rest of us," meaning the machine that everyone can afford. I wouldn't be surprised to see a significant portion of U.S. high school students owning Atari 520STs before the end of this decade. The machine is that good, and Atari's policy is ruthlessly to cut costs and prices. The nice part is that the Amiga will keep Atari on its technological toes; the Atari will force Commodore to keep prices down; and both will force Apple and IBM to pay attention to something besides horoscopes and hype. The rest of us can't lose.

At Least One CPU...

I don't believe in multiuser micros. "One user, at least one CPU" is Pournelle's motto. If you want multiple users, get multiple machines and network them. My philosophy seems to be catching on. IBM introduced the PC AT as a multiuser machine, but it isn't often used that way. There probably were some, but I don't remember seeing one multiuser PC AT at COMDEX. On the other hand, I saw a lot of PC AT clones set up to do multitasking for single users.

That doesn't surprise me a lot. I've been using Big Kat, the Kaypro 286i, since last spring, and I would truly hate to go back to a less powerful machine. Big Kat is fast and, barring the hard-disk problem I previously reported, has never had a glitch. Big Kat doesn't have enough memory. That is: the machine is full up with 640K bytes, but that's not enough for everything I want to do, what with SideKick, SuperKey, the Turbo Lightning spelling checker, Symantec's Q&A editor and report generator, and Living Videotext's Ready! outline processor.

There are solutions. Wayne Holder, whose Oasis Software brought you The Word Plus, has developed a new spelling checker and thesaurus program that works with Q&A. Symantec continues to work to reduce the program's memory requirements. Ready! will currently run on an expanded-memory board, and Gordon Eubanks assures me that Symantec is working hard to get Q&A to do the same. Meanwhile, a number of companies offer expanded-memory boards for the PC AT and its clones.

There are enough outside sources of both hardware and software for the AT to reach a critical mass. Indeed, I think it has already happened. The AT and its clones have become the new "standard" small business computer, and, from here on, more and more programs will take advantage of the power of the AT's 80286 chip. It can't happen too soon for me. Eventually, I suppose, the 80386 will become the "new standard," but that's going to take a while. Maybe not as long as I thought; developers are reporting that the first batch of 386s are excellent. Meanwhile, the 286 has its day.

The Information Revolution

We've seen it coming for a long time, but now the CD-ROM is here. CD-ROM is the name agreed on for using compact disks as read-only storage for computer information. The CD-ROM disk drive is about the size and price of a good floppy-disk drive. Each CD-ROM disk can hold hundreds of megabytes of information; programs, data, text files, music and speech, animation and motion pictures -- all can be put onto the disk and accessed.

Phillips has CD-ROM drives for sale, and there are already a number of commercially available CD-ROM disks, along with software to access the data. Activenture, Gary Kildall's new company has Grolier's Academic American Encyclopedia with a really neat indexing system; in a few seconds to tens of seconds, you can search through the whole encyclopedia. It took less than a minute to find all the references to science fiction (about a dozen) and all references to science fiction with the name Pournelle in the same article (alas, none).

The Phillips people tell me there are about 40 databases on CD-ROMs. These include back issues of newspapers, stock-market histories, all kinds of financial data, technical manuals, math handbooks, you name it. Many haven't been announced yet, but Phillips is aware of them. Meanwhile, software to access these databases is either in preparation or, like Kildall's, already available.

CD-ROM disks can be manufactured for about $5 each in quantity and contain all the text information in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. A single CD-ROM disk can contain more text than the best industrial-quality line printer will print over its useful lifetime. A set of 20 of those disks would make an encyclopedia like nothing that ever existed; illustrations could include motion pictures and stereo. The article on space could include shots of Apollo 11 taking off, and so forth.

It can't be long before this technology changes the way we look at and use information. Couple a CD-ROM disk drive to an Atari, and you have the potential for a powerful educational system; the greatest teachers and lecturers in the world complete with every demonstration tool they ever wanted. Want to explain the solar system? You can be a talking head for a while, then switch to color animated models, first of the planets in their orbits. with speedup at perigee and slowdown at apogee; color bars to show that the planets sweep out equal areas in equal times; and actual Voyager photographs of the planets themselves. Moreover, a section on integral calculus could use the planetary orbital animation to illustrate just what an integral is.

Now true, the educational lobby will try its best to hang on to "credentialism" and will continue to insist that no fundamental changes be made in our present educational system. But no matter how hard educators drag their feet, this new technology can't be stopped. Not only the Library of the Month Club but the College Course of the Month Club have just become realities.

CD-ROMs will change the whole nature of scholarship. Even after all these years, only a handful of scholars have had access to the original text of the Dead Sea Scrolls; now, everything known about them, including video copies of not only the scrolls themselves but every word of commentary ever written about them, can be put onto a single CD-ROM disk and still have room for everything known about, say the archaeology of Jericho. CD-ROMs don't become profitable until you can sell thousands of copies; but there's so much room on them that you can keep adding topics until the customer pool is large enough. It costs no more to manufacture a full CD-ROM disk than a partially full one. It shouldn't be long before even the smallest university can give its scholars access to primary sources previously available only in a few places.

As I was writing this, Dr. Paul Bohannan, dean of social sciences at USC, came over. It took him about 30 seconds to imagine new uses for CD-ROMs. Ethnographic data on cultures takes up enormous space. Much of it is irreplaceable, but it is also too expensive to be published in journals. The new computer memory-storage technology will change all that, and soon.

A few years ago. I said that by the year 2000, anyone in a Western nation who seriously wanted to would be able to get the answer to any answerable question. I'm now more than confident that I was right -- except that it may happen much sooner than I thought.

Faster Than Light

The best software item I discovered at COMDEX wasn't in a booth. Barry Workman had his Australian friend, Dave Moore, in tow. Both were eager to tell me about Moore's new Modula-2 compiler.

When we got back to Los Angeles, I understood why. They're calling it, FTL Modula-2, and it's to every other Z80 Modula-2 what Turbo Pascal is to every other Pascal. FTL Modula-2 is fast; compiles to tight, fast-running code; and has an integral text editor. There are installation procedures for putting it onto every terminal Dave and Barry could get hold of; they even set it up to run on Zeke with his memory-mapped VDM board. They also have it running on the big Compupro 2 86/Z80. and I am amazed to find that FTL Modula-2 on the Z80 compiles about as fast as Logitech Modula-2 on the 286.

FTL Modula-2 is reasonably priced; is not copy-protected; has a simple and sane licensing agreement; comes with good, clearly written, well-indexed documentation; and works. It wouldn't hurt to have a couple of other books, but you certainly can begin to write Modula-2 programs with nothing but the compiler and its documents; there are all kinds of source-code examples included.

FTL Modula-2 should do for the Modula-2 language what Turbo Pascal did for Pascal. If you have a Z80 machine and you're at all interested in languages, get FTL Modula-2. You won't regret it. Meanwhile, Dave Moore went back to Australia to write code generators to get FTL Modula-2 running on 68000, 8088, and 80286 machines. Watch for new developments.

Turbo!

Borland's Philippe Kahn has done it again. The new Turbo Editor Toolbox is the Turbo Pascal source code to just about anything you ever wanted a PCompatible text editor to do, along with a really excellent book of instructions on what text editors are and how to use the Toolbox to build a custom text editor.

This is the best deal for hackers since Turbo Pascal (which you must have to make the Turbo Editor Toolbox useful). If you're tired of text editors that don't do what you want; if you want features you can't get in a commercial editor; if you're at all curious about text editors, pull-down commands, and the like; you can't afford to be without this.

Do note that this is a product for programmers. I'm tempted to say advanced programmers, but that wouldn't be true. You do need to know Pascal in general and Turbo Pascal in particular, but, given interest and study, beginners can start with Turbo Pascal and the Turbo Tutor and work through the Turbo Editor Toolbox; at which point, they'll be advanced programmers.

Incidentally, Borland has a boxed set of Turbo tools that includes Turbo Pascal, Turbo Tutor, DataBase Toolbox, Editor Toolbox, Graphix Toolbox, and GameWorks. All together, this is the perfect present for the hacker in your life, and you don't need to wait until graduation.

The Turbo boxed set is useful for Modula-2 programmers. too. With Richard Gleaves's book Modula-2 for Pascal Programmers (Springer-Verlag, 1984), you can rather quickly translate much of the Borland source code into Logitech Modula-2 modules that run quite nicely on PCompatibles.

I've said this before, but I want to nail it down; Borland International is a public benefactor. The company continues to pour out good, well-documented products at reasonable prices. Philippe Kahn has proved that giving customers a better deal is not only fun, it's good business. I wish the rest of the industry would catch on.

Of course, Workman did catch on: the source code to the FTL Modula-2 compiler editor is included with FTL Modula-2, doing for CP/M what Turbo Editor Toolbox does for IBM PC systems.

Best of 1985

Everyone else gives out Product of the Year awards, so I thought I'd do it too. The ground rule is that no matter how long it has been around, it's the year I started using it that counts. As to how I choose them: it's purely subjective. Generally, my Products of the Year have to be useful to me in something I do; but I also look for products that look as if they'll greatly and beneficially influence the microcomputer revolution. I also tend to have lots of ties, rather than try to choose just one from a list of excellent products.

Software

The business software of 1985 has to be Microsoft's Excel. The program is so darned nice that it overcomes much of my dislike of the Macintosh. Excel is easy to learn, but better, it's also easy to use. Best of all, you can easily get at Excel's powerful macro capability. Excel is what a spreadsheet ought to be and sets new standards in business software. Now if Microsoft will just get it onto machines with screens big enough to see. . .

In the word-processing category, there's a three-way tie and an honorable mention. Tied for best of 1985 are Symantec's Q&A, Borland's Turbo Lightning, and Living Videotext's Ready! idea processor. It's impossible to choose among these; they're all useful. Two are memory-resident. I suppose that one day the trend to memory-resident software will be halted by a really excellent multitasking operating system. Maybe this year?

All three of these programs are evolving. As I write this, I have on my desk Wayne Holder's newest spelling checker and thesaurus program that mates with Symantec's Q&A, and I hear persistent rumors that Symantec is adding an outline-processor capability as well. Q&A has enormous promise. By integrating the text editor and database, Symantec has greatly simplified life for new computer users. Symantec's chairman, Gordon Eubanks, has been in the microcomputer movement from the beginning and has a real feel for what we can and ought to do with micros. Of course, he's not alone; Living Videotext has Dave Winer, and Borland's Philippe Kahn has made his mark on this industry, too. Borland has already promised new database additions to Turbo Lightning.

The honorable mention is General Transformation Company's Beyond Compare, a file-comparison program. At $30, it's hard to beat for value. A file comparator is something you don't need every day, but when you need one, you need a good one -- and you need it bad. I've long had one for CP/M. Beyond Compare is for PC-DOS, and it's excellent.

My final software category is languages and programming tools. Once again, there's a tie; Borland's Turbo Editor Toolbox and Workman's FTL Modula-2 compiler. I should also mention Logitech's Modula-2 compiler for the PC; it wasn't new in 1985, but the dramatic drop in price made it very nearly a new product. Good Modula-2 compilers at reasonable prices will get more people interested in the language, and since Modula-2 is logical and easy to learn, that will get more people involved in programming. which will do great things for the micro field. In their classic work The Elements of Programming Style, Kernighan and Plauger say repeatedly that the best way to learn good programming habits is to study good code. Both FTL Modula-2 and the Turbo Editor Toolbox give the programmer well-tested and useful source code. That's a giant step in the right direction.

Hardware

There's no competition for most useful computer to arrive here in 1985; the Kaypro 286i PC AT clone has been in constant use. So far, we haven't found any PC programs it won't run. Certainly nothing else I've acquired this year has helped me as much. Rather than ignore the Atari 520ST and the Amiga, which are likely to have an enormous impact on this field, I've decided to rule them ineligible: after all, I've had them only a week.

As to accessories, there are so many! Symantec has a 256K-byte PC clock and memory board that's so cheap they practically give it away with Q&A. Plus Development has Hardcard for the PC; open the machine, drop it in, and have a 10-megabyte hard disk. I've been running my OmniTel Hayes-compatible 1200-baud internal modem in the Kaypro 286i, and, given my addiction to BIX, that modem is probably the equipment we use most here. Finally, there are two different boards that make the Zenith Z-100 about 98 percent PCompatible, making the Z-100 one of the most useful machines you can buy, I can't choose among all those, so I won't try, They're all great.

Games

The most intellectually impressive game to come out this year was Broderbund's Ancient Art of War. I've still to win a game against a difficult opponent -- the game allows the computer to simulate six different generals, ranging from Crazy Ivan, who has no sense of strategy at all, to Sun-tzu. who never makes a mistake -- but the game is interesting enough that I keep trying.

However, for sheer time wasted, SirTech's Wizardry I wins hands down. I do not know what the fascination is, but the darned game keeps attracting me to one more expedition.

Folly of the Year

I had a lot of nominees for this one:

* IBM's new ROMs that make sure you're not running the AT too fast

* MacCharlie, a box that takes the marginally adequate Macintosh and tries to make a marginally adequate PClone out of it

* IBM's media blitz to sell the PCjr after announcing its demise last spring

However, the winner stands out by a mile.

Some years ago, a summer-hire programmer embedded a warning message into Microsoft's shell. The message was supposed to appear when the program detected an attempt to copy one of Microsoft's copy-protected programs. It said, "The tree of evil bears bitter fruit. Now trashing program disk." Needless to say, there was no code that would actually harm the disk or do anything other than display that message, which eventually found its way into every copy-protected program Microsoft sells. Of course, it was inevitable; a user got a disk error while running a perfectly legitimate copy of a Microsoft program. The message appeared -- and the user found garbage in his disk directory. In Microsoft's favor, I have to say that once they knew, they scrubbed that message, and in fact they are now dropping copy protection entirely; but meanwhile, Folly of the Year goes to Microsoft, who didn't even know that silly message was in their products.

Winding Down

As usual, I'm out of space long before getting to more than a fraction of the wonderful things people keep sending me. There seems to be absolutely no solution to the software-overload problem.

The book of the month is The Mind's New Science: A History of the Cognitive Revolution by Howard Gardner (Basic Books, 1985). I've become very much interested in the new cognitive sciences, which draw on the fields of philosophy, anthropology, mathematics, computer science, physiology, and psychology, This book is an excellent summary of what's been done and gives some indications of where the field is going. Don't expect too much; a great deal of what's past has been clearing out the sterile deadwood of behaviorism.

Gardner isn't alone in concluding that the "science of mind" is ready for its Galileo or Newton. My own view is that the task may be too big for any one scholar, and, as it happens, I have been working with a university dean, several professors, hackers, writers, students, and volunteers to use BIX to set up a new organization to integrate some of what's known and focus new research. In my judgment, the new communications tools and technologies are going to revolutionize the way we do science and will be at least as important in changing the world as the computer itself. More on this another time.

As I predicted, software for conferencing is beginning to pour in. I already have preliminary versions of programs that will call in, log on, capture my BIX mail and conference messages, log off, and then, while off line, sort and index them -- all unattended. More are promised. It won't be long.

Aren't little computers wonderful?


Items Discussed

AMIGA.............starts at $1295
Commodore Business Machines Inc.
1200 Wilson Dr
West Chester, PA 19380
(215) 431-9100

ATARI 520ST........starts at $799
Atari Corp.
POB 61657
Sunnyvale, CA 94089
(408) 745-2000

Modula-2/IBM PC............$89
Logitech Inc.
805 Veterans Blvd.
Redwood City, CA 94063
(415)365-9852


April 1986

photo_link (143 Kbytes)


Jerry Pournelle holds a doctorate in psychology and is a science-fiction writer who also earns a comfortable living writing about computers present and future. Jerry Pournelle welcomes readers' comments and opinions. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Jerry Pournelle, c/o BYTE Publications, POB 372, Hancock, NH 03449. Please put your address on the letter as well as on the envelope. Due to the high volume of letters, Jerry cannot guarantee a personal reply.
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