Not to be outdone by Apple who, in 1980, had installed a lab of Apple IIs on the second floor of the University of Miami's business school where I was an undergrad at the time, IBM ended up with "equal play" with a lab of 20 first-generation PCs next door. It was only available to grad students but I snuck in one day and walked around the the lab touching the machines as though I was appreciating the works of art one might find in a Porsche showroom. These were nothing like the Apples next door -- the ones I had been working with for the last six months. I remember begging -- no, pleading -- with the powers to be to let me have access to the lab. "Give me a job as a lab attendent, whatever, I'll do anything," I remember saying. It worked. They paid me $5.00 per hour to watch over 20 systems that rarely got used by anyone.
Each system had a 4.77 Mhz 8088 processor, 16 KB of memory, one single-sided 5 1/4-inch floppy diskette drive, a green screen, and a keyboard that produced a very noticeable click with each key depression. To do anything with one of these beasts (for example, run Wordstar, Visicalc, or dBase II), meant engaging in a never-ending swapfest with the diskettes. Can you imagine begging to get access to that?! But, compared to what I was used to -- handing an operator a stack of a few hundred punch cards and waiting an hour to get a ten-pound printout only to learn that I left a parenthesis out of a picture statement in the working storage section of my COBOL program -- being able to get instant feedback from the system after coding up some dBase routine was a dream come true. I was able write and debug far more useful programs in far less time. Visicalc was liberating. It was the experience in that lab -- with the first IBM PC -- that set me on the course to where I am today.
An era -- not just for me -- but for millions of other individuals and businesses was born. Dramatic improvements came next -- dual-sided floppies, eventually the Winchester hard drive, amber displays