PCs represented threat of potential revolution to Communists, recalls Czech IT expert
For many of us life without a personal computer would be unthinkable. But it's only 25 years ago that the first IBM PC was launched on the world market. In the Czech Republic, an estimated 2.5 million of the country's 10 million inhabitants now own a PC - and about 400,000 personal computers are sold every year. But what was the situation like when the PC was a luxury and the Communists were in power? Dita Asiedu spoke to Petr Koubsky of the IT magazine Inside.
"In countries of the former soviet bloc, computers were for institutions and businesses and not for individual people. This was partly because of price and partly because the personal computer was a potential machine of change or revolution. If you can freely work with information, you can do almost anything with people's minds. Our leaders knew perfectly well about this, and maintained control. Even the copy machines were under strong control. And besides, it has to be imported to socialist countries from the west."
What did it take for people here, to get their hands on them?
"Let me say something personal. I was a university student in 1981, a student of computer sciences, and I never heard about the launch of the IMB PC, before about 1986. I had never seen such a machine before 1986. Almost no one was able and allowed to have and use this machine. That was the big difference between east and west. In the west it was something for individual people."
As you said, it was 1981 and the communists were still in power, was there a soviet counteroffer to consumers?
"At the end of the 1980s, some PC companies built computers that were used in the eastern bloc, especially in Bulgaria. It was the main producer of personal computers for the socialist countries. There were also some personal computers produced in Czechoslovakia as well."
Were they different from the IBM PC or PCs from the west?
"No, basically they were the same; the only difference was the quality of the parts. These were copies of western parts or western chips and so on, and they were not as reliable as the originals. But, this was the only difference; we used the same software, illegal of course."
It seems like Czechs are actually quite computer literate and also you have lots of information technology specialists coming from this place.
How affordable or accessible are PCs now for the ordinary and average Czech citizen compared to citizens of Visegrad countries and then citizens of other western EU states.
"Well, you can buy a decent computer for an average month's salary. Here, it's still more expensive than in Western Europe or the U.S; but, it's not that bad, I think. The other question is what to do with that? Because it's still an expensive thing just to play with. When someone buys a computer here, it's mainly for making money or doing some kind of work on it. That's perhaps the main difference now, between the usage model in the east and in the west."