It still works
The IBM PC Jr. is an important artifact in the history of the modern personal computer. The PC Jr. was IBM's attempt to enter the SOHO market. In 1983, the largest computer company in the world was looking to tap a fast growing segment that it had not foreseen as even existing just a few years before. By most objective accounts it failed.
But that is not to say that the IBM PC Jr. was a complete failure. I had one and liked it very much. My most important term papers were written and printed from my trusty personal Jr. computer. Those few of us that had a PC Jr. considered the machine to be a wonderful success; unfortunately we were a distinct minority.
This gallery was originally published in July 2008.
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.
Already souped up with a massive 640k of RAM, 2 floppy drives, and parallel port. It was my start. They gave me a 2400 baud modem, and the rest is history. That was back around 1985. I could do more with junior than many folks could do with their PC-AT, which had a faster processor. Then I replaced the AMD (yes AMD) 8088 chip, with an NEC V20 chip that ran about 4 times faster. I guess IBM had multiple vendors for CPUs. I still have that CPU somewhere in my "museum." Jr., however never made it. Those were the days.
My PC JR was an entrance into the PC world and I learned plenty before moving up to a smoking AT with a 20meg hard drive.. Also fondly remember the 300 baud modem and reading characters as they came on the screen while reading bulletin boards. Getting a 1200 baud modem seemed like a new world. Thanks for the memories
Where I come from, the conventional wisdom is that the PCjr was intended for the educational market. Why would the keyboard be linked to the console by infrared rather than by a cable, if not to make the keyboard easily sharable by a group of users all sitting at a distance from the console and taking turns? And the chiclets were good for covering up with various special-purpose templates, as might be handy for educational software in primary schools. But the PCjr came with too little RAM for any serious software development.
I can't remember the name of the outfit but they made a second case, identical to the original. You would remove the top cover and place the second case above. It came with a second Floppy and 640K of RAM and you could also install a hard disk. All with a VGA Color Monitor. Had one running for my son, fully loaded, had PFS Suite which included Word Processing, spreadsheet like 123, a database like Access and something else that I can't remember.
Jargon should be avoided by writers, even though you are writing in a jargon-rich environment. For instance, is "SOHO" a neighborhood in a major city, or does it stand for "Some Obnoxious Human Operators"?
When I can walk into a Target store today (7.15.08)and buy a 150 gigabyte thumb drive for $150, this antique shows us how far we have come. I used to work by the Computer Museum in Boston and really enjoyed their collection. Now if only MS Office was easy to use... (don't hold your breath on that one!)
I still have my PCjr which was my first "real" computer, only mine has 2 floppy drives. At one time it even had a 20mb hard drive, thanks to 3rd party manufacturers that continued to support Jr for many years after IBM dropped it. Back then, the difference was obvious -- playing games on the Jr with it's 3-voice sound and 16 colors could run circles around the PC which could only play one sound at a time and had only 4 colors (Battle Chess and Flight Simulator were unequalled on the Jr). Yes, it was limited and expensive to upgrade, but I couldn't afford a PC which was much more expensive. The Junior was the first step into a hobby that became a career for me.
At the end of 2003, soon after the PCjr had come out, I bought one in the US and took it home to Holland. To run it, I needed the huge 110-240 transformer I'd needed for the original IBM PC in 1981 -- completely nullifying any weight advantage it had over its big brother. It not having a hard disk was not a serious problem -- most people had not yet switched to the XT, and an external 5MB winchester still cost around NLG 15.000, some USD 5000. The cartridge Lotus 123 was great. Because it was in ROM, it was way faster than the floppy-based version on my double-floppy 5150. And anything I wanted printed out, I could do in the office or on the 5150 I'd passed on to my wife(making her one of the first translators to move to the computer). An avid reader of Seymour Papert's book Mindstorms, I taught myself LOGO on the PCjr. Its graphics capabilities, although meagre by Commodore standards, way outstripped those of the 5150 and the XT. In the end, though, the awful keyboard, the lack of standard connections and the fact that IBM never really supported it, killed off the PCjr for me. As I'd already started driving around from Amsterdam to Brussels with a Compaq luggable, that rapidly became my #1 computer for work and home, and the PCjr languished, rarely used until I moved home and junked it a few years later.
It was 25 years ago the 'Peanut' was hatched with such neat capabilities as an application program "plug" for Manage Your Money (as well as Basic). It was designed to drive a Composite Monitor or with an adapter, a TV Set. The initial chicklet keyboard had no characters enscribed, but a customizable or standard querty overlay. It even had a speech adapter! However, it took aftermarket companies to extend the memory to 640K. I continued to use my Jr as a remote TTY terminal for host access from my parents home for 15 years after its introduction. I kept the system an additional 10 years for a simple application of lawn irrigation control. Downsizing to a Condo finally meant I had to release my trusty Jr to the town recycle center.
I had one too - loved it - bought it to play a game - GATO sub simulation - - Flight sim was also a great one. Bumped up the memory to 640 KB - cut out nine chips and soldered in 9 sockets (in a memory side car) - replacement Mem chips - held my breath and powered it up - 640KB of memory WOW!!! Alas lighting strike took it out - moved up to a 486DX50 - boy was it smokin!!! fast!!! LOL I also had come up with a better keyboard than the chicklet one - much better and it was still wireless.
Give MS a break - they've only been "developing" Office for 20 years! What I find obnoxious about MS is the way they decide what will be easier for us, the users, to use. Moreover, when they change things, they don't give the user the options of either the old way or the new. No, we're forced to learn something completely different and less efficient - I'm talking about the ribbon here which generally takes at least one more click for most things that I want to do than did the old interface.