PCs

10 things I miss about old technology

Take a trip down memory lane as Scott Matteson shares some of his favorite memories about technology from way-back-when.

 

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I've been reading the excellent book Commodork: Sordid Tales from a BBS Junkie by Rob O'Hara and it has brought back a lot of happy recollections of computing in the 1980s. Since Rob was born in the early 1970's like me, we both played a lot of the same games on the same computer systems. This book, in conjunction with shopping for tech gifts for my family (namely, iPad Minis for the kids), has provoked some nostalgia for the things I enjoyed during the olden days (hereby defined as the 1980s and 1990s) of technology, when I was a kid. Let's take a look at my 10 favorite things!

1: The thrilling sense of novelty

As I recall, the very first computer I ever saw was my friend Patrick's Apple II in what was probably 1978, when I was seven years old. At the time, the only computer I had really heard of was the Eniac, which to my mind existed purely in the realm of scientists and engineers.

Suddenly out of the blue here was a living, breathing (so it seemed) computer in my friend's home. Even though Patrick told me his Dad had spent over a thousand bucks on the Apple, seeing it live brought technology front-and-center to my mind -- actual people could own actual computers! They might be as expensive as cars, but you could really go out and buy one. A whole world of possibilities became available; who knew what doors might open? This was quite likely one of the elements that propelled me toward a career in IT. 

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 An Apple II computer, link courtesy of www.cs.columbia.edu

2: The first computer in my house

It wasn't long before I pestered my beleaguered parents into buying a computer, the next year. Rather than opt for the pricy Apple, they chose an Atari 400 for about half the cost. It had a keyboard and a slot for inserting computer cartridges, and it let you play games using attached controllers (joysticks). You could hook up a tape recorder to play and save games from cassettes, believe it or not. My parents had the foresight to buy a Basic computing cartridge (along with several games), which I used to get started writing elementary programs that I saved to tape (more on that below).

You can still buy an Atari 400 on eBay, as a matter of fact. The cost is about a tenth of what it once was (not factoring in the difference between 1979 and 2013 dollars), so if you've got $54.99 lying around, this baby can be yours!

 

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An Atari 400 computer, link courtesy of oldcomputers.net

What makes this one unique is that having a home computer was a special and unexpected event. Nowadays kids grow up with them in the house; it's just like having a TV, refrigerator or dining room table. However, the Atari 400 meant I could actually work with and create stuff, rather than just sitting there passively watching TV.

3: Playing games on the frontier

Let's be honest, here: Eight-year-olds don't get excited about computers so they can learn the wonders of VisiCalc. It's about playing games and using the technology to have fun. My friend Patrick's Apple ran several Scott Adams text adventures, such as Mystery Fun House, which were addictive. There weren't any graphics, so you had to use your imagination and type commands like "go north," "chew gum," and "give ticket to bouncer," then read the resulting descriptions. That being said, my Atari 400 could also play several graphics-based arcade games, such as Missile Command, Donkey Kong, and Pac Man (the Atari 400 version was much more playable and realistic than the raw Atari 2600 one). I came to appreciate both worlds.

Sure, people still play plenty of games in the modern era. But there was something about those pioneer games (literally, in some cases, as in Oregon Trail) that really shone. It was a new era for the masses. Call me a fuddy-duddy, but you didn't have to get a doctorate from M.I.T. to figure the games out, nor rack up monthly expenses, spend hours building your chops, or go on exhausting scavenger missions so you could get to the good stuff. You just loaded them up and had fun.

My school library had an Apple II that offered a game called Lemonade Stand, which was fascinating. (It never occurred to us we were actually learning about economics.) I had a Dukes of Hazzard game at home, which allowed you to play the Duke boys and jump over creeks and canyons. The graphics and story were about as limited as you can envision, but back then it was worth many hours of playing time.

But the Infocom games were the Holy Grail. These included examples such as Zork, Zork II, and Planetfall. They were definitely the best form of entertainment on a Friday night when I was 10, and there weren't any cheat codes or online hints (though I believe there was a toll "dial a hint" number if you really got stuck). Solving puzzles in these games after a long brainstorming session was hugely rewarding, even if it just got you into the next room with a new roadblock to circumvent.  The Infocom games remain playable to this day. You can even play them for free online.

Unfortunately, I just don't have the time to play detailed, intense computer games these days, but I miss the weekends invested in figuring them out 30-plus years ago.

4: Writing games

It wasn't a hard leap to go from playing games to writing them, thanks to the Basic cartridge I mentioned. Graphics were possible in Basic -- graphics so elementary I hesitate to even refer to them as "basic." But I largely stuck to writing text adventures, such as sequels to existing games like Escape from Traam or my own homegrown variety.

I had a target audience of one: my friend Mark, who also liked the genre. But writing the games and getting them up and running (or debugging the Basic syntax if problems arose) was the foundation for figuring out how things work in technology for me. And it was rewarding seeing my friend get a kick out of the process, which I believe helped grow my enthusiasm for the genre of writing itself and trying to entertain people.

5: Eagerly awaiting upgrades

In 1986 my family progressed from the Atari 400 to the Radio Shack Tandy 1000 SX with an 8088-2 CPU. This was a big deal, since it had two floppy disk drives! It also meant I could use DOS and access/save files more readily. To improve the situation even further, my Dad upgraded the memory in the Tandy to the maximum amount (640K), turning it into a veritable workhorse for its time. I even took it off to college a few years later.

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A Tandy 1000 SX computer, link courtesy of www.themoderndaypirates.com 

I don't think an OS/hardware upgrade has ever meant as much to me since then, except possibly the arrival of Windows 95. Sad to say, as a system administrator I now view upgrades with a lot more skepticism, not to mention cynicism. For instance, "What has been rearranged or taken out?" is the first question when facing a Windows/Office upgrade, followed closely by, "How are my users going to respond to this?" Nothing wrong with healthy, meaningful change, but nowadays I don't quite get that "Christmas morning" sensation I once had when considering a new product or system. There's a lot more rolling of the eyes as I try to figure out why the Start menu had to be changed, for instance (Windows 8!). It's also tedious to transfer data, settings, and so forth, whereas my switch from Atari to Tandy was veritably seamless, since I had little data to worry about.

6: Owning content

The 1980s weren't just about computers, of course. Home video was also part of the game, and getting a VCR for the first time was like owning a piece of Hollywood. I remember the thrill of taping TV shows and being able to watch them again and again. The first such example was an episode of the show Silver Spoons. This was followed by several movies that aired on TV, which I watched them over and over because the movie choices were much less diverse than they are today. I can still recite much of the dialogue from 48 Hours and The Road Warrior, since the edited versions of these films were broadcast on public television and ended up on my Betamax.

Obviously we can own content today, so this is not new -- and much of us do so to the tune of several terabytes of data. But back then, the thrill of actually being able to watch and rewatch stuff at my leisure was phenomenal. As far as I knew, nobody had ever been able to own a movie they could watch whenever they wanted, unless it was on the original tape reels/primitive home movies.

7: Getting online at home for the first time

I'll admit it: I didn't get in on the bulletin board (BBS) craze despite being a tech aficionado. I never had a modem while living with my parents, nor would it have been a possibility, since my Mom was a diehard phone talker. So when the Internet came along and started getting big in 1992, it was like deja vu all over again. We got Internet access at my hospital job for research purposes via a text-based interface, but I recall finding a game where you could talk to a dragon (with the purpose of convincing it not to eat you). Rather than having access to one computer, suddenly I had access to hundreds or more using Archie and Gopher. I would stay after work using the Internet to explore the landscape and see what it held. Even dry public medical data was compelling, since I might be reading it on a Chicago or Montreal server.

 

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A US Robotics modem, link courtesy of www.recycledgoods.com

As with the first computer I had in my home, I was psyched beyond belief to get online from my apartment using a 14.4K modem on what I believe was an IBM 386. I could talk to the universe, download programs, send messages, look up information, and more, all from my desk. I no longer had to rely on my work Internet access to travel the world, so to speak. It was like having my own personal Oracle of Delphi. That sense of novelty I described earlier also applied to email messages. How cool it was to get a message from someone before all the spam and phishing crud came along -- or the stack of email messages that now translates to "must do before 8:00 AM" tasks.

8: Lack of fanboys/bias

One great thing about the 80s and 90s was that everyone in the tech realm seemed to be on the same side. People who liked computers didn't seem to argue much over whether Apple was better than IBM. Nowadays, simply expressing your preference for an operating system can earn catcalls and allegations of incompetence from the Windows/Apple/Linux corners of the tech universe. It seems to me some folks spend less time enjoying technology and more time telling others why their technological choices stink, simply put. Tired accusations of "drinking Kool-Aid" and "marching like lemmings" abound now. I miss the kinder, more tolerant days.

9: Simpler license structure

Perhaps I'm suffering from historical revisionism, but I recall that when I went to a store to buy a program or game during the 1980s, it then became mine. I wasn't buying a "license," but the actual software. If I had two computers, there was no problem using the program on both of them as far as I knew.

Then things changed. Sure, they changed because of piracy; let's be honest. People began passing around disks for their friends to copy. I don't have a problem with companies trying to prevent their products from being used for free, so long as they do so in a meaningful fashion and don't get greedy. However, sometime in the early 2000s, the rules suddenly seemed to change. We were told we were never buying software, but only a license to use the software on a single machine. If we had two machines, that required two licenses. Okay, fair enough (although I can logically only use my desktop OR my laptop at once, unless I engage in a weird "writing two papers at once in Word" scheme on both systems). But then came the Draconian activation methods and tortuous "jumping through hoops" schemes developed by software manufacturers. Users were deemed "guilty until proven innocent." Even Apple, the definition of user-friendly by many people, uses the atrociously bad iTunes mechanism to manage and restrict content usage, which always has me reaching for the Advil once I'm done using it (normally to help one of my kids).

10: Lack of security concerns

I didn't run into a computer virus until 1990, 12 years after I first saw a computer. The 1980s weren't a time of worrying about hackers, rip-offs, or moronic Nigerian scams. Everything was carefree and wide open. These days there's a constant barrage of onslaught from ne'er-do-wells looking to separate you from your money, or worse. I recently read that Americans are less trusting than in the past and, sadly, I'm convinced this is in part due to the online jerks trying to capitalize on other people's generosity... or gullibility.

Bonus item: Tougher hardware

Call me a sentimentalist, but I'm convinced they made electronic gear better even just a few years ago. As I mentioned, the same kind of Atari 400 my parents bought more than 30 years ago can still be found online. VCRs seemed to be indestructible -- I had one that lasted well over 10 years even after suffering various moving-related mishaps -- and the videotapes themselves could be fixed pretty easily with scotch tape if they broke. Nowadays, if a DVD has a minute scratch on it, that seems to render it unplayable -- as witnessed by the beat-up DVDs my kids rent from the library, which always seem to freeze right at the good parts. In fact, while on a car trip today, my children complained several times that their DVD players froze.

I also loved the fact that I could shut off a VCR halfway through a movie, then power it up the next day and pick up right where I left off. No interminable DVD player startup process, no forced ads, no threatening warnings, no skipping chapters.

And it's not just the 80s or 90s that seemed to have the tough stuff; Dell laptops from just five or six years ago were unstoppable. I went on a business trip to Vegas this fall and brought a flimsy lightweight laptop, which died on me when I got there. I called my company and asked them to ship me a 2007 Dell D-630 laptop I had in my cube, which I knew was a tank and would work fine. Sure enough, it made the trip out and performed flawlessly. I could probably throw this laptop off the roof of my building and it would work okay after a crash landing.

In summary

If you lived through this era, I hope this has retrospective has brought back some fond memories and maybe helped you relive the first impressions you had of an inspiring new world. If you weren't around then, I hope it has been an educational tour through my mental museum (and I haven't sounded too crotchety; I'm only 42 but can do a good impression of 60 sometimes).

It wasn't all glory and wonder, though. Some progress really is valuable. In my next article, I'll talk about the opposite: "10 things I DON'T miss about old technology."

More tech nostalgia...

Your take

What fond memories do you have of technology in the olden days? Share your stories with fellow TechRepublic members.

 

 

About

Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.

58 comments
jred
jred

Maybe it was just the guys I ran with, or the fact that we were BBS fiends, but I distinctly remember some Apple/Commodore flamewars.

elegantmw
elegantmw

These days hardware are more sophisticated yet fun to use. Serve more purposes. Are bit tough to understand (even with manual). These hardware don't gives us chance to miss any of previous hardware, do they, really ?

chris.pratt67
chris.pratt67

Greatly enjoyed reading Scotts memories both good and bad, he clearly came into the scene about half way along the development and did not have to endure the real hardships of working in the old number crunchers  of the 60's and early seventies. I have one vivid memory of doing a night shift as a contract operator in a prestigious London City institution. I booked in with security which was rare in those days, and made myself known to the shift leader, he showed me which machine I was allocated to and left me to it. My responsibility was to go and find him in his office if the teletype on the machine recorded any other than the time minute by minute. Under no circumstances was I to type any messages or instructions or to change any of the latest pieces of equipment namely " Magnetic Tape "  

Nine hours later I booked out of security and after a quick trip to my flat for coffee proceeded to my office for my day job.

Another memorable establishment was night shifts where one was only acceptable to the shift leader of the day if a reasonable knowledge of contract bridge could be shown.


Ah those heady days of yesteryear when ones computer had a door in the end top facilitate engineer maintenance,  oh yes I remember it well.


PS   Was it the same on your side of the pond? 

AllFiredUp
AllFiredUp

I definitely agree with you that hardware used to be much tougher (more durable) than it is now.  I still have my first laptop, a Toshiba Satellite 4060CDT with a 333MHz P2 processor and 64mb of AM (which I maxed out to 192mb).  My parents gave it to me during my last year of college in 1996 and it cost just over $2400 at the time.


It still boots up in a lighting-quick 110 seconds or so and you can even make out the images on the display if it's pitch dark in the room!  To call it's performance glacial would be an insult to ice, but it still works!  I've had more than a few laptops since then that failed within six months of the warranty expiration.  I've learned that "business rugged" is the key to getting more than 18 months out of a laptop.


The hardware is definitely less durable now, but it's also exponentially cheaper and faster....

fewiii
fewiii

Move #8 to #1 and you've got a perfect list!

oldgeekone
oldgeekone

Oh the good old days, this article does bring back good memmories, of good old times gone, but not forgotten, Remember the days that if you wanted to open a communication port, you had to open the computer, and move a few jumpers, and create it yourself, my first computer was given to me, it was an ibm compatible, 8086, I used to work on maintenance and the engineer ask me if I had a computer, it was 1991, I have just arrived in the usa, from a small village on rural El Salvador, no knowledge of anything, anyways I say now, he say we are getting rid of old systems, here have this one.


So I took it home, look at it for a few days, I have no idea what to do, I had to ask him with my limited english,  I say it doesn't do anything, "he say you need to plug it in and turn it on" he show me, I went home, and did it, spend the next couple of days, looking at the blinking light "remember" when you turn the DOS system is just the black pront and the blinking light, I was so excited but now what.


short storey short, I decided to teach myself everything, and so I did by the end end of 1992, I was building my systems, oh by the way I burn the system, I was given memory to put in, and I open it and pot it in, and it smoke.


anyways, this days everything is just too easy, I still build a system from time to time, just for nostalgia it feels great to build something, some times I just erased one of my systems and load linux and just mess with it so I don't forget. or just to probe to someone that there is others than just the os x and windows out there that can do the same or better job and for a fraction of the price, not to mention the knowledge you gain from changing the Kernel on those OS :-)


Thanks for your article it was great..  Oh last one. the first time I heard this:  "You got mail" I was in cloud nine, I had conected to the internet.

:-)

ManoaHI
ManoaHI

I was born in the early 60s, so although the IMSAI 8800 and the Altair 8080 were out by the mid 70s and my parents were not able to buy one, since we just bought our Datsun 510 for less than $1900, $2000+ for the IMSAI or Altair were out of the question, i.e. more than a car. The first exposure to computers was during the time that the government and miliatary used to auction their equipment and an alumni needed one more printer for his company, found an IBM 360 with two printers for auction. Bid what he thought would be a reasonable price for a used printer. He won, took one of the printers and he donated the rest of the system to our school. We were paying another company to run our punched cards FORTRAN programs, untl we go our own computer. We had a computer operator who had just graduated from college and she left just around my high school graduation time, she became my first girlfriend at least until I left for college. My first computer was an Apple II, which I used a lot during the first part of college at which time I got a "super fast" 1200 bps MoDem, then when the IBM PC came out, which I really wanted, I finally broke down and borrowed money from my grandmother to get the new IBM PC XT, which I used for the rest of my college  years. Paid my grandmother back when I got a job as a programmer. I've since owned many computers, some home brew. I got my first Mac back in 1989 (SE 30) and have since worked in almost every computer area, except CIO. I've been a programmer, system analyst, system administrator, network engineer, since nearly 30 years in IT (and still at it). I sort of got a little tired of computers, especially due to #8 and I sort of avoid it because I have Windows machines, and Macs, and Linux machines (but I also have Solaris). I have no bias, everyone of them is has good points and bad points. I haven't found a "perfect" system yet.


I mainly bypaased the Ataris and Tandys, since i already had an Apple II. But after the MITS and IMSAI had gone away, in the late 1990s a friend who passed away willed his IMSAI 8080 to me, he knew he was dying a year before and wrote a will. I still have it and it works but I don't use it and I can't sell it due to sentimental reasons. I did get a Sinclair ZX-81 which was a blast from the past, I dusted off my old Z80 assembly language quick guide and wrote a few programs for it. I did get an Atari XT running the GEM OS sometime in the 80s but retired it after I got my first Mac. I had a few tries at BE-OS. I got the use of a NeXT running NeXTSTEP (I got to program on it for nearly a year) for work as we were gearing up for C++ and OO programming (we went with Solaris for that, however).


Very good trip down memory lane. Thanks Scott.

gsmith
gsmith

Great memories!  Only addition would be the original 8 bit Nintendo NES Zelda game that you could FINALLY save your progress!  86-87 time frame.  You didn't have to start at the beginning every time

bobmatch
bobmatch

Is it me or does it seems like with every "upgrade" of windows something that works well dies? Once I had a web cam hooked to a home built pc running 98. I set it up, aimed it at the edge of the driveway, and went on vacation. While in the middle of the CaribbeanI saw the guy across the street take in his garbage cans. With an “All in Wonder Card” I can share a video tape live on Yahoo chat. Now not even by old Power Basic compiled programs work on win 7 and Vista machines.

captainanalog
captainanalog

I am probably a relative newcomer to personal computers, though I do remember playing with a keypunch machine as a child (my mother worked in the computer science department at UT from the 1410 days on.)

I remember DOS, it just did what I told it, no questions asked. Then came what I call the comic-book GUI. I opted for Macs because the OS stays out of my way once I set preferences to just shut up and do what I tell you. Yes, I want to empty the trash, DON'T ask me if I really want to do it.

I'm with you on the quality of older hardware. I'm composing this on a 13-year old Pismo which is bullet proof, and I still have every SCSI drive I've ever owned, they still work. Try that with ATA!

khflottorp
khflottorp

I have some of the old manuals, the AT&T Unix SVID, X/Open and OSF and manuals and hardware for technology delivered worldwide, in particular to CERN. This was evidently used to develop what we now know as the Internet. But Wikipedia will not allow me to post articles because I cannot refer to reliable references on the Internet. I still have a "laptop" purchased for about $7000 for use while traveling in 1985 - and this is the only place I coded BASIC. We delivered code and consultants to Apple: Lisa came first, and then the Mac. Intel never designed the iaPX x86 processor for MS-DOS. The 8088 was intended to be a single chip industrial controller - for washing machines. The 80486 should never had been produced, but since the 586 was delayed their pragmatism made them release it. Nokia made a beautiful PC based on that hardware. You forget the myriad of MC68xxxx devices that ran dialects of Unix in the mid-80 - it was not just NCR. The center for technology was Europe - in the US, the military sponsored and kept old technology alive: Prime, Harrris, Gould, Data General, Wang (we acquired them), delivering equipment of 10 percent of the capacity to 10 times the price. But at CERN they lined up for benchmark, and bought the best. NATO also forced the US military to consider 'foreign" equipment. To be considered in the US, you had to acquire a US company, commit to keep their employees on the payroll and continue developing their offering (US Trade Laws). 


NCR is big in banking now, supplying ATM. One of their executives told me that our hardware, the same that we delivered to CERN had been used by both the Indian and the Pakistani to make The Bomb - well the Americans never believed the foreign hardware was better than the US... Both companies bought computers and claimed civilian use in their meteorological institute - and were provided a spare downgraded extra for a low price. Now you can all guess which computer ended where.

But where can I write about this technology - semi parallel processing with 5 stage instruction and data pre-fetch memory...

Shift4SMS
Shift4SMS

Wow, I remember most everything in your post. I guess at 51 I'm a dinosaur. My first computer was a TRS-80 that my parents bought and quickly gave to me to get it to do something. I quickly learned TRS-BASIC so I could write utilities for my D&D adventures that preoccupied my time back then. What I remember most about the TRS-80 was the cassette tape "drive" -- you had to save your work at least three times to have a decent chance that one of the copies could be reloaded later without corruption. My first computer I purchased with my own money was an Apple II+ -- with a [something] (I forget the name) memory card so I could break the 48K memory barrier and get 64K -- woot-woot! Fun days.

About point #8: So true. Very unfortunate but so true.

BTRDAYZ
BTRDAYZ

Nice memories. I used to get so excited to see the Radio Shack circular every Sunday in the newspaper. I would daydream about TRS-80s all day, but had no funds. When I entered college for computer science, my parents got me a TI-99a computer with cassette storage, and a Basic programming cartridge. My college was part of the NY CUNY system, which used IBM mainframes. We learned to program on card keypunch terminals, and ran our stack at the card reader, sending our jobs to the mainframe in midtown. My buddy and I helped carry those keypunch terminals out as our college got their first delivery of IBM PCs. We helped setup the school's first programming lab!


While in school, I got a job at Computer Depot, a national authorized IBM, Compaq and Apple reseller. Computer Depot ended carrying the Amiga, and I bought our first one. My buddy graduated from an Atari 800 to an Atari ST. Next, I worked for McGraw-Hill Computerstore. From there, I ended up owning a Mac Plus, then an SE/30, a Mac IIsi, a Compaq Portable 386. We used to get 50% discounts off of retail from the vendor (once per year) and another 20% off as an employee of McGraw-Hill! HP-95LX, Sharp Wizard, Newton MessagePad... And with my wireless Palm VII, I had a jump on all smartphone users of today. It wasn't a phone, but with limited wireless web access, and web clipping apps, it was the precursor to them all. My next phone was a Kyocera Palm Phone.


I used to attended vendor training at all the headquarters: Apple at 57th and Lex, IBM at 57th and Madison, Apple in Secaucus NJ, Compaq in Long Island. Got trained in the first Compaq System Pros, with the first RAID implementation. Eventually I left retail for corporate support.


Other fun stuff? Remember the Radius Pivot monitor? The PowerBook Duo? Try to tell me today's Surface Pro is nothing more than a smashed down Compaq Portable 386!


Great career!!!

Dr. Fowler
Dr. Fowler

I miss two things: actual manuals that had actual technical data in them rather than just turn on/off instructions; and writing code in DOS (or on a maiframe.) The modern equivalent of using a terminal is not the same and modern programming languages have too many GUI demands that obstruct the numeracy.

tony
tony

The first computer I got my hands on was at university - an Elliot 803 that had previously been the university mainframe. Little did I know that the designer would go on to found the company I would later work at (Inmos) and the Algol 60 compiler writer would go on to become a well known computer scientist (Prof Tony Hoare) who wrote the language I would use (Occam).


My own first home computer was a Dragon 32 (pretty much the same as the Tandy Color Computer) for which I built a serial port (to be able to use a 300 baud modem) and floppy disk controller and upgraded it to 64k  My wife used this for her Open University online assignments, since she did not drive at the time. I still have this but along with some of the other interesting and unique computer gear it is headed to a museum for posterity.


Scott's experiences are similar to my son's - he started on a 286 PC in 1988 at the age of 7 and today is an engineer (mostly software) in digital TV.


But it passes down the generations - now his daughter - my granddaughter occasionally plays with his Raspberry PI (coincidentally made in the UK just up the road next to where he used to work). The Raspberry Pi is giving the current generation of youngsters the equivalent experience that Scott describes of getting real hands on with the hardware and software. Fortunately, once per generation we manage to do something to inspire the next generation.

timpatco-1f3c3
timpatco-1f3c3

For mine, it was the transition from computers being exclusively in the realm of large corporations like Burroughs where I worked as an engineer in the '60's - to the true dawn of the PC market when it was finally endorsed by IBM.


By then I was the marketing director for a capable competitor and we relished the opportunity to stick it to Big Blue - and we did!

Treknology
Treknology

The first computer I got to play with was in 1977 as well -- a Wang 2200. It had three sirens that got turned on in order: Power Supply, VDU, Computer. This got moved from school-to-school, so where it eventually ended up, I've no idea -- probably land-fill :(


The first computer I personally owned was TRS-80 clone. I still have it.


I also have a genuine PC/AT and, yes, they were built solid back then.

Mike Van Horn
Mike Van Horn

Since I'm a bit older than you young whippersnappers, my early computer memories are of huge hulking machines lined up in air conditioned rooms, and accessible only by punch cards. Since I was a lousy typist, getting a usable deck was a huge ordeal, and it turned me off of programming.

The next computer I used, maybe 15 years later, was the Apple Lisa. Wow, what a contrast! Then I had the very first Mac, a 128. I went from being turned off to being smitten. I've been an Apple fan ever since, even during the "dark years." Heck, I've never even used DOS or Windows!

Bob G Beechey
Bob G Beechey

Similar experience. Having played with a TRS-80 at the school where I taught, I bought the family an Atari 400. Loved programming in its eccentric on board BASIC and playing a Star Raiders cartridge. Typed in programs from COMPUTE! magazine. Wonderful. Then got into the guts of the OS with that wonderful tome "De Re Atari". Wrote a functional disassembler in BASIC before buying Microsoft BASIC and Macro Assembler cartridges. Teaching distracted me into the world of Apple II+ which , in those days, usefully came with the source code to Steve Wozniak's Integer BASIC. Later, IBM clones with DOS 2.1 and later Windows 1 and onwards. The pleasures of Turbo BASIC, Turbo Pascal, and Turbo C. For a long time Delphi was king.

warthes7
warthes7

I started out with a kit from Heath Kit, which I had to build myself. It had a keypad on the front from which you programmed it in machine code. After entering enough code, you could load "advanced" programs from cassette tape. I sure don't miss having to adjust the volume and tone on the cassette recorder to get the program to load. I remember the "Christmas morning" feeling saving up enough money to buy a 640k memory board from across the border ( I live in Canada). Nobody up here sold them. Then ordering it and waiting in anticipation. Then the day the claim card arrived from customs. Had to go downtown, find the customs office and pay my duty - but it seemed worth it then. 

Suresh Mukhi
Suresh Mukhi

I live in The Philippines. I started learning programming in BASIC on a Commodore VIC-20 3.5 K computer back in 1983 when I was 15. That was considered real nerdy stuff back then! However, my dad didn't buy me my first computer until 1984 which was an Apple ][ plus CLONE with 64K RAM two Super 5 Disk Drives! Then I learned Applesoft, Apple DOS, CP/M and learned you could actually do other stuff aside from play games, like Word Processing! I think I was the only one back then in school who turned in a term paper fully written in Wordstar with BOLD, Italic, and different character width fonts! Then I went on to college, and we used a PDP 11/34 RSTSE ( Resource Sharing Time Sharing Environment ). Then I got an IBM ( clone ) PC/XT, with a whopping 640 K Ram , no hard disk yet. I then later bought a whopping, huge Seagate ST250R 40 MB hard disk which I had to type PARK before shutting down so as not to have the head move. Then a 1200 bps modem which I connected to local BBSes, of which there were about 20 at the time, with ECHOMAIL! I think all over Metro Manila there were maybe 100 BBSers who were active. Then there was Lotus 123, dBASE, Turbo Pascal and on and on. I remember resisting upgrading to Windows 3.1. I actually felt threatened by GUI. I wanted to type commands, not click on icons. I could write more.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000 moderator

I miss the Shareware that was so common before the big makers sold out the Home Computer Market And started relying in companies like Microsoft to supply all of the software that home users would need.

The days of expermination that we used to undertake to make a bit of code we wrote work the way we wanted it to as Apposed to the way it actually behaved.

As I had a full time job with the Big Iron in the early days if home computers I never really lacked for commercial software but at the time there was a total lack of software suitable for home users and the way that so many people just mucked in and wrote what was needed. The current Open Source Community is a bit similar but no where near as intense as we where back in the early days of Home Computers. Now you no longer write a piece of code and port it to so many different systems you make the systems uniform to run a single piece of software.

There just no longer is the feeling of being at the beginning of The Brave New World that so many of us felt at the time. The fact that you now have wearable hardware with more computing power than was used to take Mam To The Moon has also spawned a wasteful mentality to programming where you make the hardware suit the software and no longer have to really think about what you actually need to happen as Apposed to throw everything at it and use what you need.

Col

rahn
rahn

Still have my Atari 800 and would never part with it.  Use to run HartCity BBS on it and a 360K floppy drive using the AMIS software that I had greatly customized.  Started out with an RCA VIP single board system then my employer bought a Commodore Pet and then I got the Atari 800, Atari 6800, Tandy 2000, ZX80 and many "white boxes".  I loved those days!  Anyone remember the FIDO BBS systems?  Today's tech is amazing but I definitely long for those days sometimes and the feeling of getting a new copy of "Antic" magazine and typing in the programs or seeing someone log in to my BBS from a world away.

Good times!

cpguru21
cpguru21

Ok not as old as some of you folks (jab :-) but first computer as a kid was Apple //e//c where in the world is carmen sandiego.


Next we go to the hand me down win3.11 laptop I used to play on.


My next adventure was working at an ISP in NC while going to school troubleshooting dial up issues on systems from win3.11, 95, 98. Ahh good times man.  The lay man thought I was a wizard.  A MASTER!!!


And then comes Quake, Quake2, and LMCTF.  Also StarCraft!!  On top of the world!


On a side note, we still use terminal servers and IBM 3151 terminals to direct connect to our AIX server, although they are starting to be phased out by tcp/ip devices.

jackmcg21
jackmcg21

In the very early '80's the Atari 400 was a great choice for our kindergarten students. Why? Look closely at the picture and you can see that it had what was called a "membrane keyboard", instead of individual keys that moved up and down. It wouldn't damage the machine's innards if something was spilled on it! Great idea. And, you could connect it to any available TV  to use for a monitor. I don't remember the cost, maybe $500.00? Of course, that didn't include any of the program cartridges, the BASIC cartridge, or the cassette tape recorder that was used to store programs that you could write yourself.

markpenny
markpenny

Selling computers when they were a new super clever peice of kit:

ZX Spectrum - Rubber keys with a lead to connect it to your telly.

Commodore 64, same lead and a tape unit to save stuff.

Acorn Electron

BBC 128 with different coloured keys....

Boxes full of Quickshot II joysticks that the kids would break in a weekend.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Then the quantum leap, Amstrad with the PCW8256 then the PCW8512. A computer that was acutally useful and could replace a typewriter. Ignore the fact it had a bespoke dot matrix printer that buzzed and hiccuped all the time. You could always buy a parallel port unit and connect you own printer.

The next stage was the PC compatible Amstrads with a 5 1/4" floppy and if you really pushed the boat out, 2 floppies and a colour screen. This was the birth of the mouse and the GUI, Gem Desktop. A great interface that was pushed to one side by Microsoft pulling the dirty deal of every computer having to be sold with DOS/ Windows 1.x

The final frontier..... a hard disk, 5MB or 10MB!!!!! in size with a huge red light on the foront that flashed. Yes, they were so big you would never be able to fill them up. Trouble was more failed than were acutally sold.

lanabtg
lanabtg

I took a BASIC programming class in 9th grade (around '85) so I was excited when my husband and I bought our Commodore 128D in '92.  It went into storage after we switched to our 486, even though I still liked the old beast.  About six years ago my husband decided to throw it away!  I almost divorced him over that.  LOL!

tkainz
tkainz

Boy... nice walk down memory lane.  


I remember cutting my programming teeth on a Radio Shack TRS-80 MOD III.  Cost me a bit over a grand "back then" - without the 5 1/4 floppies which I seem to remember costing over another grand.  Had to finance the darned thing! I taught myself how to program with that beast.  Cassette recorder for program storage.  A whopping 16k memory.  I was in restaurant management at the time so my first program was a payroll projection program which ended up saving me about 2 hours a week in front of the 10-key to get the same totals which took me only about 3 minutes with the MOD III.  I bought every book I could find at the time since there no such things as programming classes around.  I kept going back to the Shack staff with my programming problems only to keep hearing their response - when you figure it out... be sure to come back and let us know- which I did.


The Bulletin board services.... taking all night to "try" to download a small program only to wake up and find the download failed due to a spike in the phone line and having to start the 8 hour process all over again.


The dot matrix printer so loud I had to place a cardboard box over it at night and then add pillows around that to keep from waking the rest of the family up when I just HAD to have that printout at 3 am.


Oh... and "Flight of the Valkyrie" That was THE game for the MOD-III.


Thanks again for jogging the memory!  Nice article.


T.

BarcodeMan
BarcodeMan

It was nice to reminisce. I missed the ability to move a folder to a new computer or from backup and be back up and running Lotus 123 or Word Perfect. I hate the registry. I always paid the extra $$ for a second phone line at the house so my boys and I could play BBS MUD's and download stuff from Genie or Compuserve. I also had the TI 99/4A with Peripheral Expansion Box, Franklin, Kaypro etc. I enjoyed playing at the office, 'Snipes' on the Novell networks and hearing someone yell from a nearby cubicle when they were shot! Good times but I am glad to be part of the Smart Phone/Tablet/Roku revolution of recent years.

Mattster67
Mattster67

I was Commodore Vic 20/C64 fanboy back in the day and used to take jabs at the TI 99/4 friends of ours owned. It was so slowww. Turned out TI almost seemed to not want it to succeed

MyopicOne
MyopicOne

Had a Tandy 1000 myself.  Played a couple of my old games using DosBox a couple of years ago - no waiting for the AI very long any more!


But the Apple-MS wars were in full swing even in the late 80's-early 90's - you may be too young to remember "look and feel" with any angst.

zenpilgrim
zenpilgrim

Lord I do miss my VIC 20 and then Amstrad with the GEM graphical interface.

James Stevenson
James Stevenson

I miss the terminal environment. I use to have an old MS-DOS laptop with a black and white screen. I can't remember the make more model but I remember playing game on it a whole lot. I loaded everything via floppy disk onto it but it was very easy to use.


The scary thing is that I'm only 18 and the only reason I got the computer was because my dad had it lying around. I could use a terminal before I could use a modern desktop environment. o.O I now use Linux heavily on my laptop and desktop computers and spend a whole lot of time in the terminal trying out different tactics to explore what I can do without the GUI bugging me. 

alfred
alfred

nge appearance and the way

*bernie
*bernie

No mentioning Leisure Suit Larry??? ;-)

bobc4012
bobc4012

Great article. Brought back many memories. I still use VCRs and have a place that will still service them when there are problems (or need a good cleaning). I'd love to buy a decent DVR (can record 3 or 4 shows at the same time), but haven't found one in my price range yet (being the "cheap b-----d" that I am). And, I won't pay tons of money to get one from the cable, phone, satellite, etc. companies. While they may offer great deals (some up to a year), they can nickel and dime you with fees - plus I grew tired of playing the "switching game". 


When PCs first came out, I couldn't afford one (4 teens to feed), but eventually bought a COCO 1 and, later, a PC Jr and a COCO 3 (a whole 512K of memory). Those were great days (kids off to college paying their own way or out of the house). I used to go to Radio Shack and rummage through the clearance box for stuff - I kick myself for passing up the COCO cartridge that would allow you to connect a 5MB HD. I did get some great deals on OS/9 (a Unix-like subset for the COCO) and other H/W and S/W. I also wrote a lot of my own. I remember the early modems (14.4 and 56 were still off in the future) and connecting to local bulletin boards when the phone line was free. Also joining the local computer clubs swapping ideas, tips and general bull sessions. 

Dan Fraser
Dan Fraser

Same as Steve Thomson used to love graphics plotting on the old BBC. Still have my c64 though game collection on sdcard.

Jorge Saborio
Jorge Saborio

Nice, I took programming classes for kids with an Apple II. Also had a TI 994A, a TRS80 CoCo and an original IBM PC XT (also with 640K of RAM and 2 floppy drives!, running at 4.77 Mhz and capable of a full palette of 4 colors). Later on, upgraded the motherboard to one with a ·turbo" feature, taking it to blazing 8 MHz and with... a math co-processor)... all that long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

Sergio Matiauda
Sergio Matiauda

8-bit and basic, great times. Yes it was frustrating, time consuming, but fun nevertheless. It was challenging. They were the cornerstone for a life-long passion.

Steve Thomson
Steve Thomson

Commodore 64, bbc computers in schools, black screen with green text.

Larry Brewer
Larry Brewer

I had an Apple //e. Still have it in storage.

rahn
rahn

@BTRDAYZ 

I remember being invited to a demo of the Amiga at one of the local computer stores, first time anyone had seen one in this area.  I can still recall standing there with my mouth hanging open as I watched them open multiple windows and apps.  Remember the vector image of a ball rotating that Amiga used to demo multitasking?

I also remember my wife's look when I said something to the effect that I had to find the money to purchase an Amiga.  I never did pull that one off.


Always, bugged me that Atari let the Amiga slip through their fingers.

Treknology
Treknology

@Mike Van HornI've only ever seen one Apple Lisa in Australia. The Mac was the first gooey to worm its way into the Oz environment. This is because Apple made a smart marketing decision and sold you an entire computer that was mostly ready to go out of the box whereas, IBM sold a heavy expensive metal box -- keyboard, display card and screen were optional extras.


Maybe, if IBM had pushed the light-pen ($5 worth of components) much harder ,we would never have seen a mouse and touch-screens would be the norm rather than the qwerky (read painful) new novelty that they are today.

rahn
rahn

@warthes7,

I'd forgotten about the Heathkit trainers.  I used the digital one to teach myself about boolean circuits because I was working for a company designing control systems for machines and we started using a Westinghouse controller that used gates to set up the logic.  It was a big help.  Later I bought the trainer with the CPU.  They were great kits and now I regret selling them at a garage sale many years ago. 

Treknology
Treknology

@James StevensonYou'll wipe the floor with the rest of us. That's the best start a young person could get these days!

cuzzzzz
cuzzzzz

My first was a CoCo also (1983).. loved programming in Basic.. still have it saved, and should set it back up.

#8 (and #9) are sdly true.. So many angry know-it-alls out there.

techd_admin
techd_admin

@Treknology @Mike Van Horn I worked on the edges of IBM, and could witness the internal upheaval that the PC was creating.  The System 3/System 7 people actively attempted to make IBM freeze time.  1984 and Big Blue forever.

The PC-AT released that same year "abandoned our core principles".  It did, and it caused the demise of whole divisions (Data Processing, Field Engineering) but the Genie was leaving the bottle.  History would show that those committed to the vision of 1984, would fail.  Where's NCR these days?

Others, too ahead of their time, or too stuck on 1987 would also fall.  Apple, Wang, and IBM as it was.

IBM, with the introduction of the PC2, continued the internal war.  Like AT&T, it's business model would change, heralding the demise of the company as we knew it.

The "PC guys" won - reluctantly.

Some of the demise has to be the abandonment of certain technologies - the light pen being one.

Much as Kodak abandoned it's digital imaging technology, declaring "film forever!".

The rest of the issues, I drop on Microsoft.

The "hundred series" IBM Thinkpads were bulletproof.  Swappable drive bays, giving options of more storage or more battery, docking stations, they were damn convenient.

And then... there was Windows 98, ME... and the endless loop of "save document" > BSOD >restart >BSOD>restart > type document > save document > Windows has ended this operation and must shut down > BSOD.


The computer?  I can't recall a failed component - ever.  Of course we're talking "massive" 4-20 gig HDs.  The software?  Blew chunks.

I switched to an Apple G4 when they came out, and never lost work again.


Now, in Terrabyte land?  You exhale coffee vapors in the same room, and your 7200 SATA III drive gasps it's last.  75GB SCSI drives that ran for 15 years before giving the "you should look at this" self-diagnosis are a thing of the past.  Sadly the same crap that is your main HD, is also your RAID HDs.

So a 2-disk RAID must be a 5-disk RAID.  "But the technology is SO much cheaper!"


Until you factor a 250% greater cost of adequate precautions.  I'd rather buy a single $198 1TB drive that's bulletproof, than a fleet of $86 drives, hoping one survives to clone others.