Today I gave one of my regular lectures about the history of the modern computer. The student handout is a short book that I wrote a few years ago (2002). I like to emphasize just how fast technology has advanced, this is no more apparent than in cost the of features.

When IBM announced the first Hard drive called the Ramac, the cost of storing one million characters (about the same as a 300 page novel) the cost was about $20,000. Needless to say the average home user did not rush out and embrace this technology.

In 1982 IBM released the PC XT, a Personal computer that had a hard drive that could store 5 million characters. The price of storing that 300 page novel dropped to about $200. That’s a price cut of 99%. That almost makes it look like a bargain.

Here we are almost 25 years later and you can now store that 300 page novel for about 1 cent.

At the recent Diskcon conference of IDEMA (the International Disk Drive Equipment and Materials Association),  the Keynote speaker from Seagate Technology was Chief Technology Officer Mark Kryder. He had this great analogy

“if a 1956-vintage standard car had undergone the same rate of progress as a hard disk, We ought to be squeezing 146,800 people into that automobile today; the price should have dropped to $15; and have a top speed of almost 1 million miles per hour.”

This huge change in the cost of storage has some groups excited, and some groups that are less than excited.

The excited users include the government, with this very low cost of keeping information, they are keeping much more information than ever before. A good example of that is the current litigation involving the NSA and AT&T sharing internet traffic.

On the less than excited side of the fence is RIAA, this group acts as the legal mouthpiece of the recording industry, their opinion must be that low storage costs promote the abuse of copyright material. The average song translates into about 3 million characters of information. Using the IBM XT as an example, you would have been able to store about 1 ½ songs on the hard drive. For that reason there was no-one in their right mind that would have used this technology. Today though you store about 30,000 songs on a $100 hard drive.

Hard drives are but one of the many examples that can be used when looking at how technology has changed, but it is a good benchmark.

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