Four score and seventeen megabytes ago -- counting nine years of Xywrite and Microsoft Word text files -- I started writing these columns, dedicated to the proposition that personal computers were maddeningly difficult, endlessly fascinating and rich with the potential to change our lives.
All those megabytes and years later, not much has changed. Personal computers are still too hard to use, they are used in ever more creative ways and their potential to enrich our lives grows even as they become ubiquitous in businesses and homes.
And yet everything has changed.
In 1984, desktop computers were novelties in the office, PCs were the size of small suitcases, floppies were still floppy and Bill Gates was a mere millionaire who had just introduced a poorly received DOS extension called Windows.
As 1993 draws to a close, and with it my stint writing the Executive Computer column, it is hard to imagine life without computers. One cannot travel more than a few feet without encountering some form of microprocessor.
They are embedded in automobiles, thermostats, toasters, portable telephones, watches, television sets, fax machines, toys and, of course, personal computers.
Computers have changed, too. In 1984, they typically were isolated desktop machines used to process the user's own words and numbers. Today they are more likely to be tethered to other computers over networks and used as communications stations for sharing messages and a rich assortment of files and applications.
There are models that fit in a coat pocket, and some that are operated by pen strokes or voice commands. The software, once limited to displays of glowing green text, now sparkle with colors and graphics and even video images.
The Intel 286 processor in an IBM PC-AT was capable of a million calculations a second. Today's Pentium and Power PC chips are rated at 100 million calculations a second or more.
The "motherboard" circuitry of a 1984 I.B.M. PC-AT covered an area the size of a record album dust jacket. Today, the same circuitry has been miniaturized to the size of a credit card.
Prices come down
Computer prices have been miniaturized, too.
In 1987, an IBM PS/2 Model 60, which came with a slow 80286 microprocessor, a 44-megabyte hard disk and a 12-inch VGA monitor cost $6,205. A Dell 310 computer with a cutting-edge 10-megahertz 386 chip, a 90-megabyte hard disk and a VGA monitor was $5,398.
The Dell came with 640 kilobytes of memory, so -- it hurts to write this -- it cost an additional $2,898 for five megabytes of RAM.
The Apple Macintosh II, built around a Motorola 68020 chip, cost $3,758 without a monitor. An Apple Laserwriter Plus printer was $4,275.
Today comparable machines can be had for less than $1,000. More to the point, for about the same amounts spent in 1987, consumers can get personal computers that offer levels of performance that would have been been dismissed as fantasy back then.
The sales receipts from 1987 are significant for more than just the shock value. It was a watershed year for the personal computer industry.
It was the last year that many customers were willing to pay more for the perceived security of an IBM nameplate when superior machines like the Dell were available for less.
In a cavalier move to shake off Dell, Compaq and other pesky "clone" makers, IBM tried to impose a proprietary technical standard called Micro Channel Architecture, which meant that IBM's own computers were no longer "I.B.M.-compatible."
The executive in charge of IBM's PC operations, Bill Lowe, sneered at the clone makers and their low prices, telling me in 1987 that his company would abandon the PC business if personal computers became "commodities that you buy like television sets or microwave ovens."
Bill Lowe left IBM not long after, and today IBM computers are in the electronics stores right beside the television sets and microwave ovens. The fastest IBM PC today does not use the Micro Channel Architecture.
In 1987 IBM and its strategic partner, the Microsoft Corp., said OS/2 would be the operating system of the future. Microsoft later changed its mind, and from then on it was clear that software, not hardware, would control the industry.
Specialty stores are gone
Many of the computer specialty stores of 1987 are gone, too, replaced by superstores and direct-mail companies. In today's giant computer warehouse stores, people fill shopping carts with computers, laser printers and software as if they were so many groceries.
But 1993 has been a watershed year, too. When the final sales are tallied, the International Business Machines Corp. will once again sell more computers than any other company, and the hot operating system appears to be OS/2, rather than Microsoft's Windows NT.
Compaq, which a few years ago succumbed to the hubris of the old IBM, has come back as perhaps the most dynamic of IBM's competitors, just as it was in 1984.
And Apple, which introduced the Macintosh in 1984, made a key management change, replacing its chief executive, John Sculley, with Michael Spindler, and some difficult decisions about the future of the Mac, the wisdom of which will probably not become apparent until next year.
And in 1993 Apple quietly laid to rest the Apple II, the little computer that, more than any other, started this vast, exciting industry.
The greatest wonders
On a personal level, the greatest wonders of the last nine years were not found in the rise and fall and rise again of computer empires, or in the technical advances of some of the most innovative machine makers the world has known.
Instead, I found wonder in watching my 75-year-old father happily installing his new Macintosh Quadra, which he will use to explore on-line information services, to write his book on the Civil War and to plot the family's genealogical tree.
I marveled as my 65-year-old mother-in-law used a desktop computer to publish her sixth cookbook and announced that it was time to upgrade to the next generation of Pagemaker.
And there was magic in seeing my 11-year-old son, Nick, the master of the Macintosh, create entire cities from nothing but his imagination and a copy of Sim City 2000.
When his friends come to play, they head for the computer room instead of the television room.
For me, nothing can top the first time I connected to Compuserve in 1982 and saw strings of text stream across the screen like magic, connecting me to a new community of people I might never have met except in the electronic world of cyberspace. That sense of wonder is even stronger today, as I now shift my reporting full time to that realm.
But the most profound sense of amazement overcomes me when I think of the most powerful computer ever invented. It is compact and portable, weighing about four pounds. It has the equivalent of more than 100 million transistors and a memory capacity of about a hetabyte (a trillion pieces of information).
OC It generates its own power and provides its own cooling system.
If it sustains minor damage, it can repair itself.
It has the ability to recognize text, voice, handwriting, gestures and image patterns and to synthesize abstract information. And, it has the ability to generate art and music and philosophy and everything we treasure.
Best of all, everyone already has one -- every man, woman and child. If silicon-based personal computers can in some way help everyone to better use the creative engines with which they were born, well, what a wonderful world it will be.
(Peter Lewis works out of the New York Times' Austin, Texas, bureau:  328-8258.)