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Brown started with "simple things," like filing the names and telephone numbers of potential customers. "Say I was going to a particular area of the city," Brown says. "I would ask the computer to pull up the accounts in a certain zip-code area, or if I wanted all the customers who were interested in whole office systems, I could pull that up too." The payoff: since he started using the computer, he has doubled his annual sales to more than $ 1 million.
Brown has spent about $1,500 on software, all bound in vinyl notebooks along a wall of his home in Golden Valley, Minn., but Sean still does a lot of programming on his own. He likes to demonstrate one that he designed to teach French. "Vive la France!" it says, and then starts beeping the first notes of La Marseillaise. His mother Reatha uses the computer to help her manage a gourmet cookware store, and even Sister Terri, who originally cast the family's lone vote against the computer, uses it to store her high school class notes. Says Brown: "It's become kind of like the bathroom. If someone is using it, you wait your turn."
Reatha Brown has been lobbying for a new carpet, but she is becoming resigned to the prospect that the family will acquire a new hard-disc drive instead. "The video-assette recorder," she sighs, pointing across the room, "that was my other carpet." Replies her husband, setting forth an argument that is likely to be replayed in millions of households in the years just ahead: "We make money with the computer, but all we can do with a new carpet is walk on it. Somebody once said there were five reasons to spend money: on necessities, on investments, on self-improvement, on memories and to impress your friends. The carpet falls in that last category, but the computer falls in all five."
By itself, the personal computer is a machine with formidable capabilities for tabulating, modeling or recording. Those capabilities can be multiplied almost indefinitely by plugging it into a network of other computers. This is generally done by attaching a