This week marks the 800th issue of Computerworld. The first issue in November 1986 has a lead story with a contemporary flavour: Microsoft taking aim at software pirates. But the smaller stories on page one are leftovers from yesteryear.
The managing director of a recruiting agency bemoaned the salary demands of junior data processors, saying they were pricing themselves out of the market with wage demands of $16-18,000 “or more”. The average salary at the time was about $15,000.
Pioneering computing firms Sperry and Burroughs had merged to become Unisys. Attention was focused on repainting the Burroughs racing BMW before the season began in earnest.
Companies wanting the Post Office to install new communications circuits were having to wait up to 10 months. A Post Office spokesman said that wasn’t typical, though – a four-month wait was more common.
Issue one arrived with the news that Microsoft had overtaken Lotus as the leading software publisher, “thanks to increased licensing of MS-DOS and its diversified product line”. Some corporate names such as IBM are still at the forefront of the industry; others, such as Compaq, have largely left Computerworld’s pages.
A hardware review featured Compaq’s spanking new Deskpro 386 computer, with a colour screen and the brand-new Intel 386 chip running at 16MHz.
“Having this machine on your desk is like driving to the grocery store in a Formula 1 race car,” the review said. “After working with this computer, even the IBM PC AT seems slow.”
Prices started at $17,169, which must have left businesses with a quandary: buy a new Compaq, or hire a junior data processor for a year?
Advertisements of the time told their own story. The back page was taken up by an ad for 5in diskettes.
Computerworld’s 800 issues have tracked the New Zealand IT industry as it meanders between boom times and bedrock and back again. The paper itself has evolved from a tabloid with judicious use of an azure blue spot-colour toward a full-colour magazine format.
Along the way we’ve covered and broken a number of important stories, such as the Police INCIS fiasco; the deregulation of the telecommunications market; the Auckland power crisis; the failure of local firms such as Computer Imports, sued by IBM, and the success of others such as Ghost developer Murray Haszard; the rapid adoption of the internet; the dot-com crash of 2000 and the mindshare battle between open source and proprietary systems.
Some stories turned out to have a bit less fizz than expected: ahem, Y2K. The much-hyped year-2000 rollover bug focused worldwide attention on the New Zealand IT industry, but shortly after midnight the world was still functioning smoothly and most people decided it was time to join the celebrations.
Computerworld publisher Doug Casement notes that staff are already hard at work on issue 801.
“The IT industry is much like the old Chinese curse, ‘May you live in interesting times’ — there’s always something new and interesting to cover,” he says. "There's no rest for the wicked."
Well, not always that wicked.