Throwback Thursday: "A whole universe on one disk"

Image from Macworld Magazine, February 1986 issue

Image from Macworld Magazine, February 1986 issue

It's February of 1986, and you've just seen the future. A single optical disk called a "CD-ROM" can hold "amazing quantities of data" -- 550 megabytes! That was the cover of Macworld Magazine back in that much more innocent age, discussing the arrival of writable compact discs and opening up a veritable universe of storage -- if you were used to hard disk drives that maxed out at 20 MB of capacity.

In the accompanying article, author Ted Nace described an optical disk-based "virtual reality" interactive video program developed by MIT that let a computer user "drive" around Aspen, Colorado. This was heady stuff in the mid-80s!

The article also talks about another groundbreaking MIT application called "NewsPeek" that took a text feed from the Nexis news database and video stored on an optical disk to create a weekly interactive news magazine that combined the best of a newspaper with video clips. Of course, this would be blown away within a decade or so with the rise of the Internet and online news outlets, but at the time apparently the thought of getting a daily CD-ROM containing the news was a distinct possibility -- just like how people were getting at least one AOL CD in the mail every day back in the 90s...

Other fun items in this issue include a two-page ad for something called "Softstrip," which appeared to be the first of a number of ill-fated attempts to use scanners as a way of loading software into computers. That was better than typing hundreds of lines of BASIC code into a computer. The CueCat was another dumb attempt in the early 2000s to perform a similar task, only the scanner -- which looked like a cat -- was free.