Fairly early in the life of this column, we told readers about a precocious little girl named Willa Reid who came home from preschool one day with a broad smile of satisfaction. After weeks of work, Willa declared proudly, she had learned all the letters, from A to Z. Now all she had to learn was how to tie her shoelaces, and she'd been done with school forever.

Somehow, we tied that comment to a computer-related issue as an excuse to print it in the column. Looking back at that old column now, the striking thing is how long ago it was written. That precocious little girl is now in high school. It's been nearly 15 years since Willa made her famous remark (famous in the Reid household, anyway), and we're still writing this column.

We've decided that 15 years is long enough. Next month we're going to stop writing this weekly Computer Report. In this week's column we'll explain why. Then, for the next couple of weeks, we'll review some of the greatest hits of the personal computer era, as related in this space.

Jimmy Carter was still president when a Washington Post reporter, T. R. Reid, became intrigued with the amazing reports coming out of California that people were actually buying computers for personal use. Most personal computers then came in kit form, so Reid bought a kit and spent weeks soldering it together.

It was a huge, clunky appliance with everything screen, keyboard, disk drive, and computer built into a single box. It had 4,000 bytes of RAM and a single floppy disk drive that held 45,000 bytes. The screen displayed text only, but it was fairly advanced for the time in that it could display both upper- and lower-case letters. There was no mouse, no modem, no hard disk, no sound, no color.

This machine, which came as a pile of unassembled parts, cost $2,200. Reid eventually saved up and bought his first peripheral, a printer that could turn out black letters in a single font. That cost more than the computer.

The Washington Post's business editor asked Reid to write a regular column about the strange notion of using a personal computer. Initially, hardly any of those reading this column actually owned PCs; they were just thinking about taking the plunge. One of the earliest readers to do so was an ABC News correspondent, Brit Hume. He sent so many letters that he and Reid soon made it a team effort.


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