Apple Archive

A New Age in Personal Computing

- 2002.04.12

In this day and age, a single home might have two, three, or maybe even four computers in use. This raises the question, is the all-purpose "home computer" dead?

In 1996, the two most notable companies that sold these types of computers were probably Apple and Compaq.

What was available in 1996?

Apple had its Performa line, which it had launched 1992. In 1996, one could buy a Performa 5200, 6200, or 6400 model with 16 MB of RAM and a 1, 1.3, or 2 GB hard drive. Each one came with stereo speakers (often built into the monitor), a CD-ROM drive, a built in modem, and a software bundle.

Compaq had its Presario, which it had been making since about 1993. You could buy a desktop or tower Compaq with a 14" monitor, stereo speakers, a modem, and a CD-ROM drive. These models typically shipped with 8 or 16 MB of RAM, and 1-2 GB hard drives.

Were they any good?

Apple's Performa 5200 and 6200 series contained loads of bugs, were slow on the Internet, shipped with slow modems, and didn't come with enough memory to even run some of the applications that came with the computer!

Compaq's Presario line wasn't any better. 16 MB of RAM was barely enough for Windows 95 alone, never mind the many add-ons Compaq installed with the system. Your computer was pretty much unusable until you upgraded the memory. Also keep in mind that the hardware that Compaq was making then wasn't extremely upgradeable either (much like Apple's Performa 52/6200s), and was relatively poorly made, also like Apple's offerings of the time.

If multimedia was the thing then, what are people buying now?

Today the digital hub and home entertainment are all the rage. People want computers that let them watch TV, download music from the Internet and burn it to CD, watch DVDs, and, of course, chat with their friends online. They also want quality, and standards for both Apple and Compaq have improved since 1996. As I'm sure you know, Apple computers are now incredibly well designed and very solid machines. Compaqs aren't great in terms of case quality and upgradeability, but they are much better than they were in 1996.

Who's buying these computers?

Yeah, okay, it's usually the head of the household paying for it, but the age of the single "family computer" is gone. Multiple users are a thing of the past; now each member of the family often has his or her own computer. The ten-year-old has his own iMac so he can chat with his friends online and do school reports. His older sister has a G4 so she can learn Web design at school. Their mother has an iMac so she can store recipes, send emails, and research things online. Their father has a PowerBook so he can do his work while he is away on business. He's also got an IBM as a company computer.

Today's family is a computer family. The age of the multimedia "family PC" has come and gone. Now each member has a computer to store personal applications, documents, and music. The personal computer has once again become personal.

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