To mark CONTEXT’s 35th year anniversary, co-founder and CEO Jeremy Davies reflects on the state of computing during the early days at CONTEXT.
Starting a small business means adapting your needs to serious budgetary constraints. You need that 20MB hard drive, but can you afford it?
Towards the end of the 1980’s, the PC revolution was in full swing, but computers were not cheap. IBM’s PC came in at around £3,000 in those days, equivalent to £6,300 in today’s value. Margins were high double digits compared to today’s meagre low single points. At one point it is said that UK Apple dealers were making so much money, the Cupertino company asked them to stop the ostentatious displays of wealth and invest in their businesses.
As the amount of data grew, and increasingly more work was being done by a small cadre of CONTEXT’s trusty PCs – our original machine now fitted with that 20MB hard drive and a Hercules graphics card adapter- we needed more computers. We’d been able to find two second-hand IBM portables, more like luggables as each weighed a hefty 14kg (it is rumoured that in IBM’s ad for their “portable”, the agency chose a 6’6” male model with long arms to give the impression that carrying it around was a breeze).
Both machines were customer returns from Farmplan, a leading UK supplier of farming software, and had been used in a dairy farm databasing cows and calculating milk yields. We opened them up, cleaned away the hay dust and cow hairs, stood them on their sides, upgraded the processor by adding a Victor Technologies 80286 upgrade card, and replaced one of the twin floppies with a mighty 40MB hard drive. We plugged in an external monitor and keyboard, positioned them on their sides, and voilá, two powerful floor-standing PC’s for less than the price of one.
At the same time, we were not averse to the occasional “freebie” or “evaluation” machine from our PC clients. Needs must. My favourites were the Apricot Xen with its stunning design and VGA colour monitor, and the Goupil 286, pure French elegance in stunning black plastic.
But our excitement was uncontainable when Amstrad launched the PC1512 in 1986. £399 for a PC? Unbelievable. It was only a four minute walk from our High Street Kensington offices to our local Dixons store. So, armed with cheque book and card, I marched in, signed up to a Dixons instant credit agreement, paid £15 and walked back to the office with a PC under my arm.