April 15 may be “Tax Day” in the USA, but for Logical Operators, it’s our birthday – and today we celebrate turning 25!
On this day in 1992, Logical Operators began business as a sole proprietorship in the spare bedroom of my Dunbar WV apartment. At the age of 25, I had a pair of college degrees in Data Processing and Computer Science under my belt, along with a few years of priceless real-world work experience, and a love of all things computer. Anyone who knew me well in college knew that I always talked about starting a software company, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch when I was running errands on April 15, 1992 (probably mailing my taxes) and decided to just go ahead and visit the necessary government offices and file the paperwork that created Logical Operators. What followed was a wild ride that has resulted in one of the oldest, most-established information technology services companies in the Charleston WV area.
The personal computing landscape in 1992 was much different than it is today, so I thought it would be interesting to look back and see just how much things have changed over the last 25 years.
The first PC I purchased when I founded Logical Operators was encased in a full-sized white metal tower (weighing about 40 lbs.) with an 80386 CPU and a whopping 340MB hard drive. Removable storage was limited to the two floppy drives (one 5 ¼”, one 3 ½”), both of which were necessary because floppy discs were the main media used to transfer files from one computer to another. A CD-ROM drive rounded out the system, but very little software was actually distributed via CD in 1992. Parallel and RS-232 serial ports were the primary means of interfacing printers and other peripherals. There was no such thing as a flat-screen display – monitors were large, bulky, and expensive. In fact, that entire computer system cost over $3,000 at the time, purchased via mail order from a company that advertised in Computer Shopper magazine (which was larger and thicker than most telephone directories). Making a major purchase through a mail-order company was an exercise in faith at a time when no one in their right mind would ever consider actually purchasing something sight-unseen!
Microsoft Windows 3.1 had just been released (a separately-purchased program running on top of the Microsoft DOS 5 operating system) to a lot of fanfare. Software shipped with big, bulky manuals back then, and the Windows 3.1 user manual was a pretty hefty book that needed to be read with a fair amount of attention to detail if you wanted to do anything more complex than playing Solitaire. Many people were still running mostly DOS-based software. Windows-based applications were just starting to catch on with the computing public, although larger businesses had begun migrating toward Windows-based programs over the past couple of years, primarily due to the Microsoft Office bundle. Supplementary articles in computer magazines were dedicated to fine-tuning your PC’s AUTOEXEC.BAT, CONFIG.SYS, and WIN.INI files to manage memory properly so that all of your software could co-exist peacefully. Several businesses (especially IBM-centric customers) used OS/2 as well, adding unique wrinkles to the PC support landscape.
Application software packaging was certainly impressive back then. Microsoft Office shipped in a box that was over a cubic foot in size, with stacks of installation diskettes and huge printed books that doubled as both training tools and reference manuals. Popular software development tools such as Borland’s Turbo Pascal and Turbo C++ shipped with an entire shelf of books. Purchasing additional books to learn the tricks and tips of major software packages was almost a necessity, as the software manuals usually covered only the most basic of usage scenarios, but didn’t provide many examples of real-world, practical use.
Most of the public really hadn’t heard of the Internet in 1992. For the adventurous, online computing consisted of subscribing to a service like CompuServe or America Online and accessing content via a dial-up 14.4K modem. Only the largest (or most forward-thinking) companies had an online presence, and those early sites were mostly text-based interfaces and offered minimal information or downloads. If you were really tech-savvy, you maintained a list of online bulletin boards which served up shareware distribution, chat rooms, discussion forums, and repositories of technical knowledge. When dialing into a bulletin board with a terminal emulator program, you almost always chose one that was local or had a toll-free number so you could avoid long-distance telephone charges. Only a handful of people I knew personally owned a cell phone in 1992, even fewer had an active e-mail address.
Small businesses (if they had a computer) used their PC mainly for back-office functions (accounting, inventory, etc.) Most professional service offices (legal, accounting, medical, etc.) had either a Novell Netware-based local-area network or some type of peer-to-peer LAN (LANtastic, etc.) to allow for file and printer sharing. A great deal of file sharing still occurred via sneaker-net (the informal name given to copying a file to a diskette, then walking that floppy disc over to a colleague’s PC). Mobile computing (limited mostly to laptops in 1992) was a luxury reserved mostly for the traveling businesspeople that needed to have their information with them at all times. Laptops were heavy, had poor battery life, and were often underpowered for the price.
In addition to the technology we used, everyday operations have also changed for our business over the past 25 years. The first “real, paying project” undertaken by Logical Operators back in 1992 was from a business owner who needed help making adjustments to a Q&A for DOS database; we used to meet to exchange diskettes and discuss needs at my kitchen table. Since then, we’ve changed our business structure from a sole proprietorship to a corporation, moved into an office space in Charleston’s NorthGate Business Park, and had several employees pass through our doors. The mailbags of printed quarterly newsletters we used to lug to the Post Office have been replaced with e-mails, blog entries, and social media posts. We’ve worked with a wide variety of businesses, organizations, and government agencies in the area, each exposing us to unique challenges and solutions. Many services we formerly needed to deliver with an on-site visit can now be provided remotely and, in some cases, automatically. I personally can attest that I have learned many valuable lessons and gained priceless experience from owning and running a small business over the years!
Since 1992, Logical Operators has helped our clients navigate what has truly been a world-changing revolution in computing technology:
- Hardware has become much cheaper and much more powerful – the computing power in today’s average smartphone dwarfs that of the first PC I purchased in 1992.
- Desktop computing has changed from Microsoft Windows 3.x being an add-on for DOS to becoming a full-fledged operating system: first with Windows 95, then Windows 98, Windows 98SE, Windows ME, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 10, and various sub-versions along the way.
- From DOS/Novell to Windows for Workgroups to Windows NT to Windows Server, network consulting, installation, and management has become a major part of our business and those networks have become the central nervous systems for our clients’ businesses.
- Once the Internet entered the public conscience, dial-up modems eventually gave way to routers and broadband connections. Within just a few years, the majority of our clients went from wondering why they’d ever need the Internet to demanding to be online.
- Telephone calls and pages from clients have given way to e-mail, text messages, instant messaging, and trouble ticketing systems. (We still like to talk to our clients though!)
- Nearly every business now has a web site and social media presence, along with new needs to oversee online advertising, search-engine optimization (SEO), search-engine marketing (SEM), content management systems (CMS), social media management, and more. It’s easy to now find out just about anything you want to know about a business by viewing their online resources.
- Mobile computing is now taken for granted, with the combined knowledge of the world instantly available to even children via smartphones, tablets, and related devices.
- For better or for worse, nearly every piece of information now generated is created, stored, shared, and analyzed digitally. Many of our clients have digitized their old paper-based records to reduce storage costs and improve historical data retrieval.
- Connected devices enable us to control our homes and offices, and to view real-time information from any location on the planet at our convenience.
- Software development has moved from simple DOS-based compilers to large, elaborate distributed systems based on repositories, frameworks, shared libraries, and cross-platform targeting.
- Entire paradigm shifts such as online shopping, self-publishing, open-source software, cloud computing, containers, web services, and digital disruption have changed the foundations on which many of today’s products and systems are built.
Of course, that’s not to say that the future doesn’t look equally exciting! We are currently in the midst of one of the most fragmented computing environments since the early 1980’s, as Microsoft Windows battles for dominance against other operating systems such as Android, Linux, Mac OS, and iOS. Traditional personal computing is rapidly being replaced by the new form factors of smartphones, tablets, 2-in-1 and 3-in-1 devices, smart devices, interactive personal digital assistants, and more – all competing for control of the data that shapes our lives. As we stand on the cusp of even more technological innovation in the forms of virtual/augmented reality, driverless cars, human jobs being complemented (and eventually replaced) by automation, artificial intelligence that can develop everything from computer code to entertainment by itself, and computers that can converse with us indistinguishably from other humans, it’s tough not to be overwhelmed by it all. Of course, these changes will also bring new problems which must be addressed, particularly in the areas of privacy and security, along with the larger societal issues of morals, legal responsibility, and the financial impact of this technology on our economy.
Although the last 25 years have brought about a lot of change, a few things at Logical Operators have remained the same. I still love the work I do, I’m still challenged to solve interesting problems on a constant basis, and I’m still as dedicated to helping our clients as I was on Day 1. Even though some projects have involved a lot of sleepless nights, difficult obstacles, and stressful situations, they’ve all been tremendously rewarding in one way or another and I can’t imagine doing anything else!
If you need help navigating the world of computing for your business or organization, please contact us – we’d love to add you to the list of satisfied customers we’ve been building since 1992! If you’re already a client – THANK YOU for an incredible first 25 years!
Warren J. Hairston, President & Founder
Logical Operators, Inc.