Dinosaur Sighting: The IBM PC Jr. does 123 and more
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It still works
ntThe 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.
ntBut 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.
ntThis gallery was originally published in July 2008.
The whole 9 yards
We were lucky enough to find a complete IBM PC Jr. on eBay. In 1984, despite its junior moniker, this was plenty of PC for a home user.
One of the distinctive features of the PC Jr. was the two cartridge bays. If anything could be considered “junior” about this PC it was the 128KB of standard memory. The cartridges contained ROM chips that would supplement RAM for large applications like Lotus 1-2-3.
Being geeky types, my older brother and I spent several hundred dollars on a memory upgrade for our PC Jr. That’s right, we ended up with a whopping 256KB.
The PC Jr. does not have a hard drive. All applications had to be run from a combination of the 5 1/4 floppy drive and the ROM cartridges.
The IBM PC Jr. shipped with a infrared wireless keyboard. The keyboard was generally panned because of the Chicklet sized keys and the short range of the infrared.
One thing I do remember about the PC Jr. was that you could not have a drink or book between the keyboard and the receiver because it would disrupt the signal.
Here is a shot of the infrared signal – sending and receiving. Off to the side there you can see a port for a more conventional keyboard wire connection.
The external power brick for the PC Jr. is huge and weighs more than you would think.
From the back
The back of the PC Jr. has all of the connections you would expect — only the connections are not in what we would consider standard configurations these days. The video plug, for example, is neither RCA composite nor VGA compliant. Although there are RCA connections available.
Right side - back
Here you can get a closer look a the strange connections. The video and power are not PC standard even for the 1980s.
This was also one of the problems with the PC Jr. — these non-standard connections made mixing components nearly impossible — especially for the SOHO market.
Left side - back
The left side port bay has non-standard connections for the the joystick, printer and external drive. For example, the joystick should have a standard MIDI connection and would if this were most any other IBM clone.
This should bring back memories for those of us who spent many an hour printing term papers and alike. The dot matrix printer made everyone a publisher long before the World Wide Web made everyone a blogger.
Hey look – standard parallel printer ports and cable. This is the one standard connection we see on our IBM PC Jr. Of course, it came with the expensive addition of a parallel port.
Like the memory extension, you had to buy a whole new side addition for your PC Jr. (We’ll explore this more in the Cracking Open).
This should be a fairly familiar joystick design. Tandy had adopted this standard square design for joysticks sold with their IBM clone PCs.
Documentation from IBM
For older guys like me, this is a familiar site. IBM put their documentation in binders. To this day, the binder produces an extra level of authority.
Write your own
In the early days of the personal computer, if you wanted an application that did a certain think, you often had to write it yourself.
For the owner of an IBM PC Jr. that meant programming in BASIC. Notice the need for a cartridge.
Since you had a printer, you might as well write down your words for later reading. The IBM Writing Assistant was a capable word processing application, but Wordperfect would soon be the processor of choice.
This is the documentation and floppy disks for Microsoft DOS 2.10. This is where Microsoft established its foothold that would eventually lead to world domination.
This is not familiar to me, but it appears to be software for the educational market. It is part programming language and part learning tool.
I am going to have to take a close look at it — it sounds intriguing.
The first killer application was Lotus 1-2-3 and the IBM PC Jr. could run it.
This was my application. As a business school student in accounting, I did just about everything inside Lotus 1-2-3. The macro language in Lotus was incredible. In many ways, the Lotus 1-2-3 macro language was more sophisticated than Excel.
Lotus 1-2-3 is fired up and awaiting our instructions.
Lotus 1-2-3 was a fairly large application when it came to memory usage, so the PC Jr. used two ROM cartridges to supplement the RAM.
More than help files
Lotus 1-2-3 is menu driven, but even so there was much to learn about how to use it. The documentation found in the IBM binder is extensive.
No documentation here
Of course, fellow IT-veteran John Sheesley and I shunned the documentation for the much more satisfying trial and error method. To my surprise, many of the menu commands and syntax peculiarities came back to me even after all these years.
A graph says it all
Making graphs was one of the cooler things you could do with Lotus 1-2-3. Using some data from John’s Who made the worst PC ever poll, we made a graph.
A clear message
After some fiddling around, we (mostly John since he was driving at the time) created a labeled pie chart. Packard Bell takes the prize.