This episode of Computer Chronicles introduces some minor tweaking to the format established during the initial 1983-84 season. The first is the addition of Wendy Woods as a correspondent. Woods takes over narrating the customary B-roll feature following the introduction and also conducts remote interviews with guests related to the topic of the week. The second change is Stewart Cheifet now gives a brief “cold open” before each episode introducing the theme.
The ostensible topic of this next Computer Chronicles episode is databases. But what we’re really talking about here are early online information systems–that is, the precursor to the modern Internet. This was a time (1984) when just getting online was a chore. First, you needed a personal computer with a separate modem peripheral connected to a telephone line. Then you needed a subscription to an online service. The service itself charged you by the minute or hour for access–and that was on top of any long-distance phone charges you might incur if the service did not have a local number.
In Part 14 of this series, the Computer Chronicles first discussed the subject of “expert systems.” This referred to computer knowledge bases that purported to replicate a human’s expertise in a particular field. This next Chronicles episode revisits the idea of expert systems as part of a broader discussion of artificial intelligence. The Link Between the Mechanical World and Abstract Concepts Herbert Lechner is back as Stewart Cheifet’s co-host for this episode.
When Apple released the Macintosh–later known as the Macintosh 128K–in January 1984, its main selling point was the graphical user interface (GUI). Although the original Macintosh operating system’s GUI was largely based on what Apple deployed on the Lisa a year earlier, the company believed the new machine’s lower price point would make the interface more accessible to a larger audience. Of course, the Macintosh was not exactly cheap, even by 1984 personal computer standards.
Even if you’re only a casual gamer, there are probably a few video game designers whose names you’re familiar with, such as Sid Meier, Todd Howard, and Shigeru Miyamoto. From the early days of computer gaming, there was a concerted effort to promote certain “superstar” designers to help personalize and sell games to the public. This next episode of The Computer Chronicles featured three such designers from the early 1980s, as well as an executive whose name would become synonymous with computer and video game production in the decades that followed.
Since the 1990s, word processing has largely been dominated by Microsoft Word. That’s not to say no alternatives exist. But that’s the thing–they are alternatives to Word, which has essentially been the default for most people who use word processing, particularly in a business setting. Of course, Word didn’t start out on top. It was first released in October 1983. At that time, the dominant word processing program was WordStar, which had already been on the market for several years.