We take for granted the fact that over the past 20+ years now we’ve been able to pretty much run whatever we want on our computer at whatever time we want – even at the same time. This seems normal to us, but it wasn’t always the case.
In early computer systems, either as a side effect of practical limitations, or due directly to design, you could only run one program at a time. Period.
While this would be good for someone typing a basic document, playing a game, or doing something else, the time quickly arrived where computer power (namely in the MS-DOS and IBMPC scenes) had reached a point where multiple programs could, in some form, run alongside one another.
This is a multi-faceted element of computing, and one element we will look at here is known as RAM resident software – a program that may not be actively running in the system, but is loaded into system memory and can be brought up when necessary via simple keyboard commands!
Of course, things don’t always go perfect – it was the early days, and with memory conflicts and resource usage issues being quite common, you never really knew what you were going to get and had to be very careful on just how you loaded what program, or else you might well crash your system!
It should be obvious, regardless of how unstable things could be, how useful such would be to most any user, especially a business executive or a small business owner. Indeed, you take advantage of this type of computer usage day in, day out – quite possibly right now, albeit in a very advanced form. I know I for one regularly have some music playing on my system while I work, and will often have text files loaded with notes on articles as I type the actual entry into WordPress – it may be modern applications on a very capable computer, but the usage logic is still the same as a person in 1986 wanting to load up a calculator while they type a document in WordStar!
This is a rather interesting episode of Computer Chronicles to watch, in that it shows just how valuable such a simple concept could be to DOS users back in 1986, and the challenges people faced as the PC world began to grow into the dominant force it would become.