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Computerized Investing > Fourth Quarter 2013

Witness to Computer Evolution

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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

Twenty years ago this month, I headed to Chicago to begin my college career at DePaul University. This was worlds away from where I had grown up in Caro, Michigan, with a population of roughly 4,000. In many ways, my shift from Caro to Chicago in 1993 mimics the shift in computers over the last 20 years.

One of the items that adorned my freshman dorm was a Brother word processor. At this time, Windows dominated the DePaul computer labs, and the operating system itself was in a transitional stage. In 1990 the company had released Windows 3.0, with the desktop icon interface that still permeates the operating system to this very day. However, you could also find x286 systems running Windows 2.x, where you used a mouse to select drop-down menus. The word processing software of choice was Microsoft Word.

It soon became evident how woefully outdated my Brother word processor was and in the spring of 1994 I unpacked a new Gateway laptop from its distinctive cow-print box. It had an Intel i486DX2-33MHz chip, the first chip ever to use clock doubling technology. It cost over $5,000, had a 12.1-inch screen and a 80M hard drive. It also probably weighed nearly eight pounds. This laptop would serve me faithfully for the next three years. I also spent a few hundred dollars on Microsoft Office 4.3 with its dozen installation disks.

One thing I didn’t head off to college with was a cellular phone. I got my first cell phone in the summer of 1998, a Motorola Tele-Tac 250. With a battery that was thicker than the phone itself, the Tele-Tac barely fit in my pants pockets and was strictly a phone. I also got a pay-as-you-go contract, meaning I didn’t get any minutes. I ended up rarely using it and usually forgot to even take it with me. Today, my iPhone 5 can do more than my first laptop could do and it never leaves my side.

In this age of “phablets” and tablet PCs, many wonder how much longer the PC will be relevant. While I spend a lot of time on my iPhone (little of which involves voice communication), I am writing this on my three-year-old Dell Studio XPS 13 laptop and still spend most of my day in front of a desktop, laptop or tablet PC. Twenty years ago, few of us could have imagined the computing power we would be carrying in our pockets or purses. I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years holds for the computer industry.

In this issue, Joe Lan discusses his top picks for portfolio management software. This marks a shift for our popular Comparison columns. For many years, we offered our top picks for programs and websites in various areas of investment analysis and tracking and described the features they provide. Going forward, we will use these articles more as “how-to” discussions, illustrating how individual investors can use software and websites to track and analyze their investments using our top picks in the various categories. While perhaps a nuanced shift, we think readers will get more out of these articles. As we make this change moving forward, we are very interested in your feedback, which you can send to us at ci@aaii.com.


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