Many people think that is was Apple or IBM that changed the way we use computers but having lived through I remember things perhaps a little bit differently than most. It is true that these other companies may have paved the way for other companies like Atari, Commodore, Timex Sinclair, Compaq or even Tandy to offer cheaper alternatives, however; the two most popular entry points when I was a kid were thanks to Commodore and Tandy. Of the two the Commodore jump onto the scene with what would now be considered a laughable calculator connected to the TV.
The machine never even had a floppy disk, instead you would insert a cassette tape to load programs mostly written in BASIC. The process was extremely slow and depending on the quality of your tape extremely error prone. Imagine, downloading a movie from Youtube today over a dial-up modem that you could not watch until the entire file downloaded completely and passed the CRC checks. Yes it was something painful like that but without the visual payoff. Imagine, starting a tape load then going to eat lunch and maybe when you returned the computer may have finished loading your program.
Additionally, programs were to say the least terse at best mostly because you only had 3k of RAM in which to work with. Yes that’s correct your program and all of it’s data had to squeeze into that limited space. There were of course some tricks you could employ such as storing data on cassette tape, but there were a whole host of issues with this as you had to both save and retrieve this data in a sequential stream of bits. It was not really optimal for much more than learning the basics of computing.
That is my point entirely this little entry level computer was the beginning of everything for me and a whole host of programmers today. Many of us probably look back wondering how we ever managed to get anything done, especially since I recall is that these were the days before my fondness of coffee developed. Can you imagine staying up and entire weekend trying to figure out how to make the tape storage work like a database without coffee? Preposterous I know, but these were the kinds of things we did back then.
Yes these were the early days of the personal computer. The days of RS232, the BBS’s (bulletin board systems) and dial-up modems. I remember when 300 baud was considered fast. Nothing like the internet many know today, no this was an entirely different world. An ascii world without photos, videos or even audio for the most part. This was era of TSR with Dungeons & Dragons, our imaginations were the key to unlocking the future.
Imagine all of the network enable devices in your home today, and how difficult it would be if you had to configure a modem for each piece of equipment to call each other just to exchange some K bytes of data, only to have your mom pick up the phone to call grandma just before it was complete.
Please share your earliest computer memories, as I would love to hear what your experience was like. I promise the next article in this series will be equally memory shaking. Look forward to the Apple IIe & the birth of the Vulgar Unicorn…