A computer in every home was the dream of the '80s

After the market for home computers went bust in 1984, computer makers rebounded with new features in 1987.

Consumers had to weigh the pros and cons of Macintosh, IBM or Compaq in 1987

A computer in every home

35 years ago
Duration 2:16
The computer business has some new tricks to get consumers to buy its products in 1987.

Home computers were enjoying something of a comeback in 1987.

In the wake of a premature rush by manufacturers to get computers into the homes of consumers, many of those computer companies had gone bust.

"A year after 1984, the computer business was in one of its biggest slumps," explained CBC reporter Fred Langan for The Journal on June 9, 1987. 

It had turned out that not many people had a use for one — a pocket calculator was sufficient to balance one's chequebook, and, as Langan said, "Who needs recipes on a floppy disk?"

'A lot more tricks'

Accounting software worked much faster on the new generation of computers. (The Journal/CBC Archives)

From 300 computer makers, there were about 100 left by mid-1987. 

Three of them in particular — Apple, Compaq, and IBM — were in a battle for a bigger piece of the market. 

And their products were an improvement on the previous generation of home computers.

"For one thing, they have the Intel 80386 chip," said Langan. "These new personal computers are a lot faster and do a lot more tricks than the old ones."

Those tricks included accounting worksheets that produced a "tough balance sheet" in 24 seconds, rather than the former four minutes plus. 

"We're starting to get into the ... 85 per cent or so of people in businesses who don't have computers right now," said computer analyst Richard Morochove.

"[They] need to be convinced more, 'What will it do for me?'"

Easy, colourful, or fast

Home computer pros and cons

35 years ago
Duration 1:40
How to choose between a McIntosh, an IBM, or a Compaq?

Each computer brand had its assets, depending on what buyers were looking for.

The IBM computer's advantage was its colour graphics, according to computer expert Bill Roebuck. (The Journal/CBC Archives)

The Macintosh's advantage was how easy it was to use, said computer expert Bill Roebuck.

"It has small pictures on the screen that help you use software programs," he said. "And it uses a mouse that allows you to move a pointer around."

The eye-popping colours on the screen were the IBM's strength.

"The new IBM series has a much better graphics screen, there are more colours you can use on the screen," said Roebuck.

The Compaq was fast enough to generate a magazine's mailing list in four hours, rather than the former 20 hours.

Computers that vacuum

University of Western Ontario professor Alexander "Kee" Dewdney envisioned a day when mobile computers would be enabled with software that would "pick up all the leaves in your yard." (The Journal/CBC Archives)

Described as a "computer guru," a professor at the University of Western Ontario outlined what computing would look like within 20 years.

"Home computers will in effect be part of something that can move around," said Alexander Dewdney, named here as Kee Dewdney. "You can buy software and enable it to do things like ... pick up all the leaves in your yard and do the vacuuming as well." 

Langan summed up while standing inside a large computer store he described as "the battlefield of the personal computer." 

"IBM, Compaq and Apple all feel that their new modern computers are so attractive for both number-crunchers and novelists alike, that we're going to see a boom in personal computer sales." 

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