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Download speed – don’t complain!

I was just updating my Windows installation, and I downloaded 64 mb in a couple of minutes. That got me to thinking about what downloads used to be like…

My first modem was 300 baud, which I used to communicate with an IBM mainframe. I remember setting up a client with a 1200 baud modem back around 1977 – it was the hot new technology, and it cost about $1,000!

But the experience that always hits home for me was when my partners and I sold Newstar software to MicroPro in 1986. There was a quirk in the California tax code that enabled us to avoid sales tax on the transaction if we transmitted the source code electronically. (Silly law, but it saved us a lot of money.)

Well, we went right out and bought the latest and greatest 9600 baud Hayes modems – I can’t remember, but I’d bet they were also about $1,000 each. We spent an entire day trying to get the two modems (located about 40 miles apart) to work, and finally fell back on using 1200 baud modems. Can you imagine transferring the source code for Microsoft Office at 120 characters per second?

Oh yeah, these early modems used proprietary technology. The early 9600 baud Hayes modems would only talk to other Hayes modems, so when 9600 baud usage spread, we had to get new modems!

So every time you curse a slow download, be thankful you’re not doing it at 300 baud!

Posted in Back in the day.

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5 Responses

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  1. Alexander says

    Sooo true. Glad you did not mention the drum fax procedure. (not to brag) just benchmarked Comcast ISP and find the 22548/7870 kbps gratifying.
    I still have a Hayes lying around – any interest? – I do not miss dial-up!

  2. walt says

    Alex – here’s a corollary to your comment: when we sold Newstar to MicroPro in 1986, faxes were not yet ubiquitous. We had to buy one because of all the documents flying around in all directions. It’s hard to believe that we have seen the birth and near death of something as transformative as the fax – in just one generation!

  3. Old Louis says

    I spent $6,500 on my first MAC SE in the 80’s and hooked it up to AOL on a phone line. I finally had to give it up when AOL no longer supported version 1.0!!

  4. Josh Margolis says

    “It’s hard to believe that we have seen the birth and near death of something as transformative as the fax – in just one generation!”

    Fax technology dates back to the 1850’s, electrically converting reflected light to audio which was transmitted over telegraph wires, then telephone and radio. AP Wirephoto started in the 1930’s.

    Telex machines transmitted at 110 Baud, so 300 was nearly triple the speed. But then, a box of IBM cards held about 3,000 cards with a maximum of 80 characters per card, but probably only half of each card, or less, was filled in, so a Fortran program and data might comprise 120,000 which would take about 15 minutes at 1200 Baud. Much better than dropping the box of cards. And if you think people don’t backup data today, many people didn’t bother putting the sequential number in the last 8 characters of the card.

    • Walter Feigenson says

      I agree Josh. When we sold Newstar to MicroPro in 1986, we had to buy a fax for all the legal documents. Before that, we managed to get by without one. Within a year or two, faxes were ubiquitous. Now, just 23 years later, if somebody asks me to fax something to them, I look at them like they’re from Mars. And most people don’t know what a punch card is. I still have a supply I make notes to myself on…