July 24, 2015
Way Back Then: The Technology of 1995
Seapine's 20th anniversary made me realize how much things have changed since 1995. I started my first career job that year, working for a mid-sized publisher that had one email address for the entire company—and it was through America Online. I honestly can't remember if the publishing company had a website when I started. The World Wide Web was only two years old—just a toddler!—and web pages usually looked like this. Because I started with the company in September, my desktop computer had the just-released Windows 95 installed. There was no network, though, so to print anything, I had to save it to a 3.5" floppy disk and walk it down to the one computer that was connected to a printer. There were no Fitbits, of course, but I guarantee I got my daily quota of steps in, thanks to that "sneakernet." The trip down Memory Lane made me wonder about the other ways technology has changed since 1995. For those of you who weren't around in 1995 (or who, like me, have a hard time remembering it), here's a look back.Email sign up
ComputersCompared to today's machines, the PCs of 1995 were enormous, ugly blocks of steel, plastic, and glass. You could herniate yourself just lifting the monitor! My machine was the HP Pavilion: [caption id="attachment_17189" align="aligncenter" width="400"] "Let's make the monitor even heavier by attaching speakers to it!" (credit: HP)[/caption] This bad boy came with a 3.5" floppy drive and a CD-ROM drive. Yes, CD-ROMs were catching on as we entered the multimedia age, but you still couldn't write to them on your average PC, so you had to save your work to a floppy. (That September, HP released the first recordable compact disc drive under a grand.) Wondering how much power and memory it had? Here's the stats, direct from HP:
The HP Pavilion 5030 was HP's first multimedia PC designed specifically for the home market, and it went on to become a market leader in consumer PCs. It featured a quad-speed CD-ROM drive, Altec Lansing speakers, software for online service access and Microsoft Windows 95. This entry-level model features an Intel Pentium 75MHz processor, 8MB RAM and an 850MB hard drive.Yes, we had laptops, too. Toward the top of the line was the Toshiba Satellite, one of the first laptops to come with a built-in CD-ROM drive. The floppy drive, however, was external. [caption id="attachment_17191" align="aligncenter" width="405"] This svelte beauty weighed a mere 6.9 pounds. (credit: MCbx Old Computer Collection)[/caption] The Satellite had 100 MHz processor, 4 MB of RAM (expandable to 28 MB), a 500 MB hard drive, a double-speed CD-ROM drive, and a lush 256-color VGA LCD screen. And it weighed less than seven pounds! But these are both Windows machines, you say. Where were the Apple computers? Well, 1995 was toward the end of the Jobs-less Times for Apple. The company was struggling to compete with a host of Windows machines and finding little adoption. But they did release several computers that year, including the Power Macintosh 9500: [caption id="attachment_17192" align="aligncenter" width="600"] You did know that "Mac" is short for "Macintosh," right? (credit: Alexander Schaelss)[/caption] They also offered a few laptops, including the PowerBook 5300. [caption id="attachment_17194" align="aligncenter" width="500"] This ain't your father's laptop. No, wait, maybe it is. (credit: Serged)[/caption] So what did we do on these primitive machines? Surfed the 'net, of course.
The InternetThe Internet had been popular since the late 80s, but most of its use was for email and bulletin board services (BBS)—text-only communities that were the precursors to web forums. Although the World Wide Web had been around for two years, it wasn't until 1995 that HTML 2.0, the first formal HTML standard, was published. It was also the year the National Science Foundation dismantled NSFnet and replaced it with a commercial Internet backbone. How did we access the Internet? There were no cable or fiber optic lines coming into our homes for data. We had to dial in on a landline from our homes, using a modem that plugged into the telephone jack. In 1995, the 28.8 kilobits per second (Kbps) modems hit the market, but most of us were still using 14.4 Kbps modems. No, not gigabits or even megabits—kilobits. For comparison, the iPhone 6's WiFi speed can be as fast as 100 megabits per second (Mbps). Keep that in mind when you complain about how slow your mobile data is, Sonny Jim. And if someone else picked up another phone in the house while we were on dial-up, we got kicked off. The same thing would happen if we forgot to turn off call waiting and someone tried to call while we were online. Once online, we booted up either Netscape Navigator, Mosaic, or the new browser that launched in 1995, Internet Explorer. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Internet Explorer 2.0 can't handle exploring today's Internet. (credit: Microsoft)[/caption] New search engines seemed to pop up everyday, but the most popular were WebCrawler, Lycos, and Infoseek. That's right—Google wasn't around yet. Larry Page and Sergey Brin began developing a search engine called BackRub with PageRank in 1995, but it wouldn't evolve into Google for another year. So where did we go on the World Wide Web in 1995? Well, there was Yahoo.com and eBay.com, both of which launched that year. Oh, and this brand new place to buy books called Amazon.com. And yes, it only sold books in 1995. And it looked like this: [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="800"] The World Wide Web was very gray back then. (credit: Business Insider)[/caption] Yes, we could travel the world on the new World Wide Web. We just couldn't travel it on our phones.
Mobile PhonesMobile phone in 1995 were pretty terrible, but we thought they were "bodacious." (Yes, that is actually a thing we said in the 90s.) They'd been available for about 10 years by then, but were nowhere near as omnipresent as they are today. Only 23 percent of Americans owned cellular phones in 1995! There were no smartphones, either; you could use your mobile phone to call people and—to a much lesser extent—text them. Forget surfing the Web on your phone; that was more than a decade away. In "A Brief History of Text Messaging," Mashable writer Christine Erikson noted, "The average American user sent 0.4 texts per month in 1995." Part of the reason may have been because 1995's mobile phones had no keyboards or predictive text. Like a caveman trying to start a fire with two rocks, you had to mash a key multiple times to get the letter you wanted. This was called "multi-tap texting," and it was awful. 1995's phones didn't have cameras in them, either. Which means—brace yourselves, kids—there were no selfies. And the phones were big, ugly plastic bricks. Most of them looked like this: [caption id="attachment_17183" align="aligncenter" width="120"] Ugh. (credit: Nokia)[/caption] It was a dark time, indeed. How many bar fights began because no one could Google the actual lyrics to "Scatman"? Too many ...
Digital CamerasNot only did mobile phones not have cameras in them, digital cameras themselves had barely crawled out of the primordial ooze in 1995. Most of us were still taking snapshots on 110 film and having them developed at the local Fotomat. The only digital cameras I recall were the Kodak DC40 and the Apple QuickTake 100, but the Internet tells me there were others. [caption id="attachment_17186" align="aligncenter" width="389"] Behold, the 0.4 megapixel Kodak DC 40. (credit: www.digicamhistory.com)[/caption] Regardless, the images were small, the cameras had no zoom or ability to change focus, and you couldn't even see your photos until you downloaded them to your computer. Oh, and they cost around a grand. Even Polaroids were better than these clunky pieces of junk. Something else that debuted in 1995: digital video. JVC, Sony, and other video camera manufacturers agreed on the DV format that year, which quickly became the standard for home video, independent filmmaking, and ruining family vacations. The sleekest of the DV offerings was the JVC GR-DV1: [caption id="attachment_17199" align="aligncenter" width="320"] "Can you put that damn thing down for ten seconds?" (credit: mickyh2011)[/caption] Hard to believe all of this—computer, modem, camera, video camera, phone—is now in one device that fits in our pocket.
Other Firsts1995 had some other technology firsts, and I would be remiss not to mention them.
- 1995 was the year IEEE1394, a.k.a Firewire, was introduced as a new standard for connecting devices. A successor to SCSI (pronounced "scuzzy"), Firewire’s fast data transfer speeds made it well suited for digital camcorders and hard drives.
- Iomega debuted its high-capacity "Jaz" and "Zip" drives. Anyone remember the Zip Disk?
- On December 5, 1995, IBM unveiled Deep Blue, a parallel computing system that would later beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov to become the first computer system to defeat a reigning world champion in a match under standard chess tournament time controls.
- Remember Microsoft Bob? Neither do I, but apparently it launched in January of 1995.
- The first E3 conference was held that year—in Las Vegas, naturally.
- Toy Story, the first completely computer-generated movie, was released in November. And we would never look at our old toys the same again.