Here's looking (back) at you

The IBM PC XT Model 5160, with a 4.77-MHz processor and 64K to 640K of RAM, made its debut in early 1983, shortly after GCN's inaugural issue.

S.W. 'Woody' Hall in 1994 at Energy and today as Customs CIO

Dan Gross, current

Tom Pyke, with NOAA in 1994, and as Commerce CIO now.

John Gilligan, pictured in 1991 and recently, has been from the Air Force to Energy and back to the Air Force.

Federal Technology Service commissioner Sandra Bates was, back in 1992, NASA's manager for program support and communications.

In 1982, Ronald Reagan was in the second of his eight years as president, Leonid Brezhnev died and Yuri ('Yuri, We Hardly Knew Ye') Andropov stopped in for a cup of chai as Soviet general secretary. The Cold War dragged on.

The Dow Jones high was 1,070, the low 776. The average cost of a new home was $83,900, the median household income $20,171.

Tiger Woods was 6 years old and probably no better than a 4 handicap.
The Colts were in Baltimore and the original Browns were still in Cleveland; the Rams were in L.A., the Cardinals in St. Louis.

'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial' was the top-grossing movie ('Gandhi' won Best Picture); 'You Were Always on My Mind' won the Grammy for best song; and Jane Fonda's Workout Book topped the nonfiction best-seller list (an E.T. storybook was the top fiction seller). Among the top TV shows were 'Dallas,' 'M*A*S*H,' 'Three's Company' and 'The Love Boat.'

And Time magazine's annual Man of the Year designation was altered. 'Time's Man of the Year for 1982, the greatest influence for good or evil, is not a man at all. It is a machine: the computer,' the magazine declared.

As Time put it: 'The enduring American love affairs with the automobile and the television set are now being transformed into a giddy passion for the personal computer.'
Government agencies aren't particularly known for being giddy, but they, too, were becoming passionate about taking computing from the back room to the desktop. The face of government work'how employees did their jobs and how they interacted with the public'was changing.

Breakout year

The PC wasn't entirely new in 1982, but it was ready for a breakout year. Users had a wide choice of machines even then. The Apple III was out, an extension of'if not an improvement over'the Apple II, priced at about $3,400. The Commodore 64 was introduced, with 64K of RAM, 20K of ROM, Microsoft Basic and a price tag of $595. Radio Shack's TRS-80 Model 16, with 68000 and Z-80 processors, 128K of RAM and an 8-inch disk drive cost $4,999. And a Timex-Sinclair 1000 could be had for as little as $78.
For power users, a top-of-the-line 1982 machine with a few peripherals went something like this: a 4.77-MHz 8088 processor, 256K of RAM, two 5.25-inch 160K floppy drives (no hard drive), a 1,200-baud modem, a 13-inch monitor with 16 colors and 640- by 480-pixel resolution, MS-DOS software and a printer capable of 80 characters per second. The system's price, with the extras, was about $5,200.

But considering the size, weight and cost of computing up to that point, it was a remarkable breakthrough. As Time pointed out, 'One computer expert illustrates the trend by estimating that if the automobile business had developed like the computer business, a Rolls-Royce would now cost $2.75 and run 3 million miles on a gallon of gas.' That oft-quoted estimate has typically drawn comments about correlating systems failures and crashes, but the point was still valid: Computing was on the cusp of becoming part of everyone's everyday life, both at work and at home.

Today, PCs are light-years faster than they were 20 years ago, screens are bigger and crisper, and people connect via notebook PCs and handhelds. Everything's lighter and less expensive. Wireless computing is common. And people might have a hard time remembering how they did their jobs without the Web'which, in 1982, was still a decade away.
Twenty years from now, of course, what we have could look about as advanced as a game of Pong. But the PC is still with us, even if its look has changed.

And some of the government's management and IT leaders also have stayed with the ship over the years.

Because faces are the staple of this page, we include below some randomly selected then-and-now photos of people who have figured prominently in the pages of GCN. Space and the availability of photos limit who we could include, so this isn't a who's who of the last 20 years'just one page in government IT's family album.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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