English: I took this picture.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s so long ago that I’ve forgotten the exact date, but I first used the internet in February 1995 when I was working as a local system administrator for the UK Energy Efficiency Office. I had a second-hand 386 laptop with a 9,600 baud modem in it and I mainly got usenet through a now long defunct CompuServe account (with the snappy and memorable  101705.1743@compuserve.com as my email address).

My primary use of the internet was for work, I was finding out about Novell NetWare admin and Groupwise as the mail client + server software. However there were no official internet accounts, and no way of getting sign off for one. That said, everything was done in-house, with the odd specialist contractor to add expertise. So I just got on with using one of the free CDs that both CompuServe and AOL used to ship. Those were so ubiquitous that most of the people I knew at the time used them as coasters.

I didn’t stay with compuserve for that long. I had a brief dalliance with AOL (don’t have any record of the username at all, I think I cancelled before the free trial period was up) and then I discovered demon internet. All you could consume dial up internet for £10 a month, and if you added demon’s modem rack to your BT friends and family you got almost unmetered internet access provided you remembered to hang up before the call went over an hour. Fortunately Turnpike, the excellent demon internet software client, was very good at timed updates. It worked very nicely off-line (unlike AOL) and was happy to go online, synchronise and then disconnect until the next scheduled download.

As a little context for the young, that 386 was about 10 processor generations ago, it worked at about 16 MHz, so about 2,000 times slower than the processors in modern machines, and it only had one thread, make it even slower still in comparison. This, 2009 vintage, laptop I’m using now is dual cored with two threads, making it about 4,000 times faster than the 386. That 386 had 256k of RAM and a 20Mb hard disk, again my 2009 vintage laptop has several thousand times the RAM and hard disk storage. It’s not several times faster though (except on wifi). I still wait for things to happen when I click icons or save files.

It barely seems that long ago, yet it was a totally different world.