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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thirty Years of Personal Computing

IBM XT from 1983
Today, I came across a blog post by Mark Dean, an executive from IBM, announcing that today is the 30th anniversary of the original IBM PC released on August 12, 1981. Mark Dean holds three of the nine patents of the original IBM PC and was opining that IBM leads the way into the Post-PC era. He noted that he just retired his laptop for a tablet computer.

My first computer was not the original IBM PC, but a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A computer, released in June 1981. I used this computer for many years, learning to program it not only in BASIC but also Assembly. One of the cool things it had at the time was a speech synthesizer, that produced a robotic voice and at least for me at the time went well with the Styx song, "Mr. Roboto." Eventually, I even used it for word processing with an attached printer. I didn't have a disk drive so everything was loaded, slowly, off of a cassette tape. In many ways, the TI-99/4A was more advanced than other computers on the market at the time. It was the first 16-bit computer on the market.

Timex Sinclair 1000

I also had a Timex Sinclair 1000 computer. This eventually was dissected and carefully studied. It was the first $100 computer. Of course, if I had a wristwatch, it would have more computing power today than this computer. I also wrote programs on this computer. I remember one in particular, where I programed it to draw a rather jagged diagonal line from the top of the screen to the bottom. I spent the rest of the day trying to make the line less jagged, but alas it was hard to do considering how limited the screen resolution was. In 1982, I am not sure that the $100 was worth much of anything apart from being able to say, "I had a computer." I am sure there must have been some people who did something useful with their Timex Sinclair but not me.

Compaq Portable
The computer I really cut my teeth on was the Compaq Portable my father brought home every Friday night from General Electric where he worked. Essentially from Friday night until Sunday night, the computer was mine to do what I wanted. Back in 1983-84 this was extremely advanced technology. It cost around $4,000 (nearly $9,000 in 2011 adjusted dollars) at the time. It weighed almost 30 pounds, but it was portable. It had word processing and Lotus 1-2-3. It ran a clone of Microsoft DOS. Soon I learned all the ins and outs of the machine and the parts inside. Eventually, I had opportunities with the IBM AT system and other business type machines.

In high school, I was involved in newspaper and yearbook. My school Henry Ford II, got a state of the art Macintosh for the journalist students. I was the one who uncrated it and hooked it up to the Apple Laser Writer printer we also received. While I used the Mac in school, it did not begin my love with Apple Computer, as I was still addicted to the command line.

Command Line
Other stories of 300 baud modems, early days of Windows, beta testing for Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, et al, BBS systems, online services, early days of email, Pipeline Internet, and such could be told... So here's to reflecting on 30 years of personal computing... as I sip my coffee, writing this blog post on my Macbook Pro, with my iPhone and iPad nearby... Let the Post-PC days begin...


  1. Personal, not personnel, I believe you mean

  2. Thank you. Personnel computing would be something.... suppose personnel computing occurs as well.

  3. I too miss the command line in a warped sort of way. Nothing better than issuing commands to fix what it was that you previously fouled up.

  4. Dear Al,

    Thanks for the computing memories. Mine could go on for several pages . . . Interesting to me is how our generation (at least some of us) reminisce about computer, while our dads did the same about their cars and hi-fis. Thanks too for the interesting blog - I keep it on my "desktop." Hope you have a great end of summer!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  5. Thanks for sharing your memories of computing. I started messing with computers around the same time you did. The first computer I owned was a Commodore Plus 4. The video output went to my television set and it could save information to a cassette player. Not too bad for around $275! I upgraded to a later model of the Commodore C-64 so that I could utilize 10MB hard drives and a lighting fast 300 baud modem! The external hard drives were twice the size of bricks and plugged into the back of the C-64. I had to place fans on-top of them to keep them cool.

    When I could finally afford an IBM Clone I purchased a 80-286 running around 12 MHz. Yep that is really Megahertz and not GIGAhertz! It also came with a whopping 4 MB of RAM on the board and a standard 20 MB internal harddrive. It also had an internal 1200 baud modem. The package cost me around $3,000.

    I am soooo glad those are the good OLD days.

  6. Great little historical synopsis. I received a Commodore 128 when I was 13 and accessorized with Geos and a light pen. I also remember when this program called Mosaic was on the computers in college and I checked out the early web browser. Look where we are today...

  7. When are you going to blog of your love for the Apple OS?

  8. I really enjoyed this post! That Mac brings back so many memories of my time in HS journalism as well...back in the days of light tables and liquid cement. I remember when we finally got an Apple IIc at home, it was the most thrilling event of my life at the time.