Gerrards Cross Computer Club

The club was formed in the late 1980s when the BBC Microcomputer project made computers for use at home affordable. A BBC Micro Model B was around £400 and required a portable cassette tape deck to load and store programs and a TV for displaying the output.

The aim of the Club during the early years was to find low cost, or free, programs to do useful things. It also aimed to be a self help group where members could support each other on computer related issues. The Club started with about 20 members comprising professional and amateur enthusiasts, some of whom are still active members.

Soon Apple produced the Macintosh computer which unlike the Windows/PC open architecture was totally proprietary and initially expensive but is now more affordable. Microsoft had Word for Windows and Excel (around 1992) but the cost was about £150. Mobile phones were invented which are now powerful computers in their own right and they have evolved into tablets.

GX Computer Club covers all these basic Operating Systems and platforms.

The History of Computing

The IBM Personal computer had been around since the mid 1980s for businesses but was still expensive for a home user. A typical small computer with 1 Mbyte of RAM and a 10 Mbyte disk was initially around £8000. It had an 8 inch Floppy disk drive that could store around 500 Mbytes of data or programs and a very basic Operating System called DOS (supplied by Microsoft) which provided a standard way of accessing disk files, keyboard, and screen, monochrome of course. Memory was a maximum of 1 Mbyte but only 640 Kbytes were available for running programs or storing data.

IBM made the internal device interface specification publicly available and by the early 1990s other makers were making IBM compatible computers that was driving the cost down. Around 1992 an IBM compatible computer with 100 Mbytes of disk and a 5.25 inch floppy disk of 1.2 Mbyte capacity cost around £1500.

Microsoft then provided a programming language called BASIC. Some companies were making the computer more usable with business programs such as VisiCalc, an early spreadsheet. Microsoft produced an early version of Word Processing Word for DOS which could be configured to run from a floppy disk and by this time floppy disks had shrunk to 3.5 inch and capacity increased to 1.44 Mbyte.

Microsoft started working on a more user friendly operating system using a Graphical User Interface that they called Windows which was released as Windows 1, but Excel was created and became a serious competitor to Visicalc. Windows version 3 and then 3.1 was the first time they started to achieve significant market penetration and was being used by our club members. Microsoft started working with IBM on a far more secure business version but they fell out and IBM produced OS/2 and Microsoft Window NT4. Microsoft won and proceeded with many releases up until the current Windows 11.

In 1990 the cost of the hardware together with a Windows 3 license was around £1500. This was still relatively expensive but was beginning to be adopted for home and small business use. In 1992 the IBM compatible PC was most common used.

Data communications also evolved with the increasing speed of modems and with the rapidly falling costs it became possible for home users to connect to an embryonic Internet. By the early 1990s fax machines were quite common and computers were beginning to have inbuilt modems to communicate to central Internet Service Providers. Email and Web services were starting to be important. But BT had to approve all network devices, the cost of approval was high and technically excessively rigorous. Non approved devices were appearing but in practice there was no enforcement. The cost of a modem card to be placed inside a PC fell from £250 for a 14.4 kilobits per second non-approved device to about £25 for a 56 Kbps over a very short space of time and a telephone usage cost, usually a local call to paid. Broadband was introduced and gave 512 kilobits per second when permanently connected and the Internet we know today started to become all pervasive. Broadband in 1993 cost £22 per month for PlusNet compared with £38 per month from BT. Speeds increased over the years and now with fibre we are talking of 1000 megabits per second or more.

Costs have fallen dramatically over the years, the size and speed of computers, memory and disk sizes have increased dramatically as has the relative cost of data communications. The operating systems have evolved almost beyond recognition.