Making Book 3: Common Sense Personal Computing

1986 was a big year for me for books—three of them in all, each with a very different background.

It was also the year after I was appointed LITA Newsletter editor and, in order to provide more coverage of conference events and other divisional stuff, changed the publication from traditional ALA layout and typography to desktop publishing: Eventually tripling the page count without ever increasing the budget. In the end, I edited (and produced the pages for) the LITA Newsletter for more than half of its life as a print publication (I was editor from 1985 through 1994)—a record I would rather not own, since once LITA Newsletter went e-only it didn’t take long to disappear entirely. But that’s another story and not directly relevant.


I don’t recall the precise genesis—whether I was talking to Ed Wall at a party or one of “his people”—but I’d had an idea for an interesting little article back in late 1983 or early 1984. Those were the early days of serious personal computers: After the pure-hobby stuff but when IBM PCs were just starting to be significant.

The concept: I’d noticed, in shopping for a computer and reading early computer magazines, that there were three very different ways that personal computers were priced: “computer pricing,” hardware pricing and system pricing. The question was: “How much will that $1,200 computer really cost?”

  • Computer pricing meant a quoted figure that got you a computer and a keyboard—and not much of anything else. The classic examples were the Commodore 64 and early Apple and IBM PC prices. “You have bought an expensive paperweight; by spending more money (generally a lot more money) you can turn that paperweight into a system. Computer Pricing is like pricing an automobile without including windshield, seats, the engine, or controls.”
  • Hardware pricing meant a price that got you a computer, keyboard, monitor, disk drives, and enough I/O to attach a printer. Early examples were Compaq portables, the Mac and the Apple IIc. (The IIe originally featured computer pricing; when Apple introduced the IIc, it repriced the IIe as a complete set of hardware and substantially dropped the price.) As I noted, this was better—but was still like buying an automobile “which doesn’t have any steering wheel, gas pedal or brakes, or other controls.”
  • System pricing probably originated with Osborne—offering a system ready to do useful work as you buy it. The price would included not only a full set of hardware but also “relatively complete software”—typically word processing, spelling checker (those were separate back in 1984!), spreadsheet, database or file manager, and BASIC. All you needed was a printer, some paper and some diskettes. Morrow, Kaypro and Sanyo all used system pricing.

Anyway…I wrote the article, “Commonsense System Pricing,” which showed comparable system prices for ten different personal computers, trying to determine actual comparability. By the way: Only two of the ten systems had hard disks at all.

The article appeared in Issue 6 (actually volume 2, issue 2) (1984) of the young Library Hi Tech.

That article led to another article, “Common Sense Planning for a Computer, or, What’s it Worth to You?”—which appeared in Issue 7. (LHT was—is, I guess—a quarterly.) And another in the final 1984 issue. And four more in 1985, three in 1986, three in 1987 and three in 1988. (In 1989, I replaced the “Common Sense Personal Computing” articles with “Trailing Edge” articles, which appeared in most issues of LHT from 1989 through 1998: my vanity bookcase includes a 15″ deep collection of LHT issues. Then there’s “Trailing Edge Notes” and “Crawford’s Corner” in Library Hi Tech News, 10 times a year from 1995 through 2000…which, when I finally stopped doing it after the publication had been sold to what’s now Emerald and the prices were jacked way up, eventually led to Cites & Insights. But that’s a digression.


Ed Wall (of Pierian Press, at the time publisher of Library Hi Tech) encouraged me to build a book around the columns, with some additional pieces added and making a logical whole. I did that in the latter half of 1985. The title of Chapter 1 may have been prophetic: “Just What The World Needs, Another Book on Microcomputers: An Introduction.”

The book has 16 chapters and totals 204 8.5″ x 11″ pages. It was produced from an HP LaserJet printer—but at Pierian Press rather than by me. As recounted in the preface, the writing and submission project involved portions of the book being worked on in up to five different word processing systems: WordStar (on my Morrow MD2 with CP/M and two diskette drives), NewWord (most of the chapters, on my later Morrow MD11—with a massive 11 megabyte hard disk, still CP/M), The FinalWord (at RLG on an IBM PC/XT running PC-DOS), PC-Write (my preferred writing/editing tool for the PC/XT and, because that’s what Pierian used, WordPerfect (also on a PC/XT).

It wasn’t a bad book. It was very much of its time. It’s now a quaint historical piece.

Crawford, Walt. Common Sense Personal Computing: A Handbook for Professionals. Ann Arbor, MI: Pierian Press, 1986. ISBN 0-87650-218-4 (pbk.)

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