Hari's Corner

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Computers in those school days

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Wed, Aug 8, 2007 at 09:21 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:26 IST)

A lot of people these days tend to look upon the computer as "just a tool to get the job done" and adopt an indifferent attitude as to how things actually get done. You usually find these kinds of people on Linux online forums who use this as an excuse to justify the existence of Microsoft Windows (as though justification was necessary).

Well, this post isn't about Linux or Windows, but I can actually remember a time when computers were an exciting new technological marvel, available only in school and college computer labaratories and protected zealously by the authorities. My earliest experience of computers was at my school when we were taught the basics of MS-DOS and then GW-BASIC. Because computers were seen as educational tools and not the productivity machines as they are today, programming was the first thing that we dived into as young, eager-beaver students.

In fact, back then at school, we always had to write down our programs on pen and paper before we were allowed into the computer lab (once a week) to type them down and then test them out for errors. If we hadn't written down these programs taught in the theory class, we weren't allowed inside till we did. I vaguely remember the excitement of entering the CS lab in those days. Picture a small air-conditioned, musty-smelling room (we could enter only after removing our shoes and socks) with about a dozen computers, mostly equipped with black-and-white low-resolution EGA/VGA monitors. No mouse, no GUI, no internet, no Windows (we had MS-DOS with an early version of Novell Netware for networking), no CDROM, no games - in fact, nothing which can be identified with computers of this day and age. If I remember right, there was one VGA colour monitor (which was usually monopolized by the staff) and only one very ancient dot-matrix printer to print out our program listings during the practical examinations, but otherwise peripherals were few and far between. The student-computer ratio was 3:1 and so three of us sat at one terminal, taking turns turns to type in our programs (needless to say, I was the quickest typist then ;) ) From GW-BASIC, we graduated to Pascal the next year and quickly moved on to Borland Turbo C/C++. Most of us never owned a computer then so the CS lab hour was something to look forward to the whole week. Whether I did my other homework or not, I used to make sure that the programs taught in the previous theory class were written down well in advance to make sure I would not be denied entry.

Because of my interest in computers, I later attended a computer course in a place called Computer Point (now defunct). I actually learned MS-DOS systematically and thoroughly along with software applications like dBase, Lotus 123 and even FoxPro (for DOS) later. In Computer Point, we actually had access to games like Prince of Persia (the original classic) and many other classic EGA DOS games like Alley Cat. I was enchanted and spent hours of the day at Computer Point (even after class) just to play Prince of Persia (I didn't know the cheat-codes back then). The first time I used Windows 3.11 was in Computer Point and it was an exciting moment when I actually had access to a colour monitor and a system with a mouse. Of course, my time at the machine was still restricted since there were people waiting to use it. I grew dissatisfied with this arrangement and pestered my parents to buy a computer (which was still a very expensive acquisition for a home at that time). In the meantime, I played around with my neighbour's powerful (at that time), 80286-driven PC (again, with no GUI) till we could actually purchase our first computer (an unbranded, assembled 80486 equipped with Microsoft Windows 3.11). Windows 3.11 (Windows for Workgroups) was my first GUI experience: it was something novel and sensational and pretty soon we "upgraded" to a colour monitor to enjoy the full experience of a graphical interface.

Although I have never looked back since then, I never recaptured the thrill I had about computers as rare, jealously guarded inaccessible wonders which had a touch of magic and mystery about them. The closest I got to this feeling again was when I first began using Linux.

This generation of computer users brought up on mobile phones and iPods very early in their lives might never experience or fully understand it. I feel so old :P

12 comment(s)

  1. well written....My experience is also a bit similar...After Class 10th I did a course in computers and learnt internet etc, and in class 11 when our school got computers and internet I was the only individual in whole campus to have an email ID...I had preveliged access to Pricipal's chamber (because internet connected system was only there) and several staff who occassionally complained I spent too much time on comp used to call me for troubleshooting... (I studied in a residential school)It is really worth remembering those days...

    Comment by Shrinidhi Hande (visitor) on Wed, Aug 8, 2007 @ 10:20 IST #
  2. Thanks, Shrinidhi. I didn't even know what Internet was back then. I only got an internet dial-up connection much later...

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Wed, Aug 8, 2007 @ 10:24 IST #
  3. Another thing:There was a website called egurukool .com (unable to recall exact name) which had sample papers, study materials etc which we used to visit often. When we opened that website first time, I registered in it and logged in and next time onwards, whenever we opened that site it was showing Welcome Shrinidhi...Whole school (including myself) were wondering what majic I have done... We closed the browser, we restarted the system...still it shows my name when opened next time...It is only later that I learnt the concept of cookies....

    Comment by Shrinidhi Hande (visitor) on Wed, Aug 8, 2007 @ 10:35 IST #
  4. I love these old stories. Bring them on... always interesting to learn about other people's experiences.

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Wed, Aug 8, 2007 @ 10:39 IST #
  5. Sure. But may be in a new post at my blog soon? Standby.

    Comment by Shrinidhi Hande (visitor) on Wed, Aug 8, 2007 @ 10:47 IST #
  6. Any way you like it. :smile:

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Wed, Aug 8, 2007 @ 10:49 IST #
  7. I agree- very well written article. :) And- when(/if) I'm a computer science teacher, we'll attempt to recapture the magic by making the kids leave the computer and write down their programs... ok ok- it will probably be a way to get them off the internet and away from the games and actually do their work... but hey- it's a good theory! :twisted:

    Comment by titanium (visitor) on Wed, Aug 8, 2007 @ 15:14 IST #
  8. TG, yes, the discipline of sitting down and writing stuff on pen and paper is fast disappearing. I think schools need to get back to the basics. CBTs are well and good, but we need people to be educated, not just "trained" on computers.

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Wed, Aug 8, 2007 @ 15:53 IST #
  9. i used computers in my school days only for gaming.. :lol:internet, i got used to it only after 2000's

    Comment by Logesh TamilSelvan (visitor) on Fri, Aug 10, 2007 @ 01:25 IST #
  10. Logesh, thanks. About my tamil blog: I'm not happy with the URL, so I might change it, so I might not keep the existing blog.

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Fri, Aug 10, 2007 @ 08:24 IST #
  11. Oh yes I do remember those days! I remember asking our headmaster to be allowed into the comp lab on the Sports Day (I was participating in none) and he didn't allow it. :( And then we had to shut down all the machines before leaving the lab (the days sans UPS), and I remember having switched off the main power when one guy was stil coding. Lets just say that I was glad people invented earplugs for that day. :D

    Comment by Sudipta Chatterjee (visitor) on Fri, Aug 10, 2007 @ 09:23 IST #
  12. Sudipta, what were you using back then? DOS or Windows? MS-DOS didn't need software shut down, did it? It just required you to turn off the system.

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Fri, Aug 10, 2007 @ 09:26 IST #

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