Pioneering Billings computer company turns 35 [Billings Gazette, Mont.]
(Billings Gazette (MT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sept. 13--Disco dancing was big back in 1978 when Bill Gates co-founded Microsoft in Seattle and Mike Schaer co-founded Computers Unlimited in Billings.
"Bill Gates decided to go with the PC, while I chose DecRainbow," Schaer said, with a laugh. "You know how that went."
Gates remains the richest American with an estimated wealth of $71 billion, according to the latest Bloomberg Billionaire Index.
But Schaer's startup has thrived as well.
This week marks the 35th anniversary of one of the city's pioneering computer companies, and more than 200 Computers Unlimited clients from around the country are in town for conferences and a celebration.
"They really like to come to Billings and see who we are," Schaer said, about the yearly conferences he has hosted for more than three decades.
Enough time has passed that even computers appear antiquated.
"Look at this," he said, pointing to a yellowing white keyboard and desktop processor from 1978. "It has one-millionth the power of what I'm using now."
For the anniversary, employees filled the company's main offices at 2407 Montana Ave., with '70s memorabilia.
Guests at the front door are greeted with a ceiling-to-floor poster of the white-polyester suit, disco-dancin' , John Travolta, from the movie, Saturday Night Fever. Back then, its "Stayin' Alive" theme was a hit.
A disclaimer at the bottom of one Computers Unlimited anniversary poster read, "No helium was used in the making of this."
That's an inside joke from Schaer, who has a doctorate degree in chemical engineering, because helium is a finite gas.
The collection includes board games based on TV shows: The Waltons, Cheers and Mork & Mindy.
A favored pet of those days was featured in a tiny book titled, "The care and training of your pet rock."
In 1995, Schaer started Internet Montana, offering phone line hookups to the just-born World Wide Web.
"We had to run a line to Denver with AT&T or somebody because we couldn't get Internet here at that time," he said.
That same year, his son, David Schaer, joined the company and then five years ago became president.
Back in the '70s, Kodak was still a world leader in photography. Family movies were shown on Bell and Howell film projectors. And data was stored on 8-inch diskettes, a hot technology of the time.
When Mike Schaer started writing computer programs, he used the Fortran programming language and punched code into paper tape. Now he works on the latest language, C Sharp, having skipped most of the in-between programs.
But his programmer's logic hasn't changed, the ability to visualize what a computer program needs to accomplish, he said.
"New graduates often need a designer," he said. "I know what it's supposed to be. I don't need a designer."
(c)2013 the Billings Gazette (Billings, Mont.)
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