Vintage Computers — 2

My first personal computer was a Commodore 64 in 1982. The computer connected to a TV with an A/B switch. I bought a 1541 floppy disk drive and later a dedicated monitor. I taught myself BASIC and delved into the underground world of Zork. My final Zork map was about a dozen sheets of paper taped together. I scored all 300 points.

Soon thereafter was a course in Pascal learning structured programming and learning never again to use the goto command. I pretty much have forgotten everything about BASIC and Pascal.

In 1986 my first serious computer was an Amiga 1000 and in 1990 an Amiga 3000 with a PC Bridgeboard and an A-Max II classic Mac emulator. All data was saved to 720 KB floppy disks. Commonly I used two floppy disks with the second being a backup. I managed a local user group newsletter using Professional Page, Professional Draw, WordPerfect, Deluxe Paint III, and a Pacific Page PostScript emulator on an HP IIP laser printer.

Later I added an external 10 MB SCSI hard disk with a case about the size of a shoe box. So much data storage space! Along with an external Hayes modem the Amiga computers introduced me to the online world of bulletin board systems (BBSs). I departed ways with those computers three decades ago. From a hobby perspective I wish I had not. Especially the Amiga 1000, which was one of the original press runs with the Mitch paw print.

My first Unix exposure was in 1986 using vi in a C programming class. I never thought highly of vi and still do not. I pretty much have forgotten everything about C.

In 1991 I bought a 486 system after seeing the proverbial handwriting on the wall that the Amiga was not going to be a contender in the business world. The system had a DFI 486-25/33UCB mainboard, 33 MHz 486DX CPU, 16 MB of RAM, Conner CFA540A 4500 RPM 540 MB PATA hard disk, ATI Ultra 8514 video card and 3-button bus mouse, MIO-400KF I/O board, DIO-500 Multi-I/O card, 3.5 and 5.25 inch floppy disk drives, a quarter-inch cartridge (QIC) tape drive, internal 14.4K modem, MS-DOS 5.0, and Windows 3.1. I bought the system with a 17 inch Viewsonic monitor supporting a whopping 1024x768 resolution.

Along the way I updated the system to MS-DOS 6.22, Windows for Workgroups 3.11 with the 32-bit subset and TCP/IP, and Norton Desktop 3.0. Throw in professional software such as MS Office and FrameMaker. During those years I swapped the 33 MHz 486DX CPU for a 100 MHz Cyrix Hybrid CPU. A CompuServe account and Netscape connected me to the then-new world wide web. I accumulated several related thick dead tree reference books.

I divided the Conner 540 MB disk into three partitions: a C: system partition, a D: applications partition, and an E: data partition.

This was in a day when custom boot scripts — ahem, “batch files,” were used to launch application software. Like modern operating systems these scripts needed full paths to find files. With these custom launch scripts, installing application software in a separate partition posed no problems.

Storing application and data files in separate partitions seemed sane during a time when operating system crashes were common. I could reinstall or update the operating system without needing to reinstall applications or losing data. Remarkable now in hindsight that I was partitioning hard disks before the idea became common.

Way back then I was already into backups. I used several tape cartridges and rotated them throughout the week.

This little system was a work horse for several years into the mid 1990s.

Today the computer remains functional and all of the respective dead tree documentation remains available on a nearby shelf. The documentation probably is worth a few pretty pennies.

Starting with the Amiga and 486 I became comfortable and content using the command line. Throughout this period I had yet to discover Linux or free/libre software.

The last time I checked the 486 system used about 50 to 60 watts.

More to come.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General

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