back to article Beige Against the Machine: The IBM PC turns 40

It is 40 years today since the IBM Model 5150 was unleashed upon the world, creating a tsunami of beige that washed over offices everywhere. IBM was famously late to the game when the Model 5150 (or IBM PC) put in an appearance. The likes of Commodore and Apple pretty much dominated the microcomputer world as the 1970s came to …

  1. DJV Silver badge

    PC

    The place where I worked from the mid-1980s until the early 1990s was Burroughs/Unisys house. The PHB decided sometime around 1989-ish when 286s were already being superseded by 386s that we needed to get into this PC malarkey thing. So, being a typical clueless PHB, and not wanting to spend money on the latest and greatest, he happened to discover that there was an auction going on somewhere not too far away and that it had some PCs in the list. Despite us programmers telling him that he needed to get something that was at least a 286 he proudly came back a couple of days later carrying what I think may have been an IBM PC or XT and was rather put out when he told him it was too old for us to use, especially as he'd paid somewhat over the odds for the thing (I think we laughed when he told us what it had cost).

    I suppose nowadays it would be cleaned up, retrobrighted and displayed in one of the many retro museums around for people to gawk at!

    1. Wally Dug
      Happy

      Re: PC

      Ah... Unisys equipment! In the early- to mid-90s, I worked for a company that used Unisys B Series equipment, the servers running a 386 processor. I remember buying a processor upgrade for my Amiga, a Motorolla 68030EC running at 25 MHz and marvelling at how my home computer was now more powerful than the ones in the office.

      Actually, I loved that Unisys equipment and CTOS and I learnt an awful lot about it and I've got a potentially great On Call article in me if only I could be bothered to write it.

      1. DJV Silver badge

        Re: PC

        We had B21s, B25s and, I believe, one B28 and one B38 before PCs started encroaching on the CTOS empire. Also, the CTOS "command line" was a masterpiece in user friendliness compared to any other command line system I've ever come across either before or since.

        There's a whole bunch of pictures/docs here for anyone interested: http://bitsavers.org/pdf/convergent/ngen/

        Oh, and please write your On Call - I'd love to hear about it and I'm sure others would as well!

        1. Wally Dug

          Re: PC

          Thanks for the links - it brought back many happy memories! And I agree completely about the CTOS command line. I still remember getting asked "What is the magic word?" when carrying out various potentially destructive commands!

          We had B28s and B38s (whenever we had an office reorganisation, I always ensured that any spare B38s were surreptitiously swapped for the older, slower B28s) and quite a few B39s, some expanded more than others.

          1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

            Re: PC

            The magic word? Isn't it XYZZY?

            1. Wally Dug
              Boffin

              Re: PC

              Well, in the systems I used it was (whispers) *

          2. FishCounter

            Re: PC

            Before the vaunted Unisys BTOS/CTOS B28, B39 and B39, I started my IT career supporting the Coast Guard Standard Workstation (CGSW), their client-server computing platform based off the Convergent Technologies AWS & IWS/MWS workstations.

            The typical CGSW had a 16-bit/8MHz 8086 CPU, 512KB RAM, 5.25" Floppy (630KB) and could have a Winchester drive with a whopping 5, 8.6 or 12.6MB capacity.

        2. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

          Re: PC

          There's a whole bunch of pictures/docs here for anyone interested: http://bitsavers.org/pdf/convergent/ngen/

          Now *that* was a trip down memory lane! Thanks for preserving the images of some chippery and motherboards!

          1. DJV Silver badge

            Re: PC

            Not actually my pictures - I just found them via a web search (though, given how rare such pics are nowadays, I did snatch a copy for my own, ahem, "records").

  2. HildyJ Silver badge
    Windows

    Ah, for the good old days

    When floppy disks flopped.

    Not mentioned is a significant feature of the IBM PC that continues to this day. Your standard hard drive is labeled C: because A: and B: are still reserved for the floppy drives.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Ah, for the good old days

      ...and in the very early days, when hard disks were priced up in the rarefied strata I could only dream of, I wondered why it was limited to only two floppy drives when even humble 8-bit computers like TRS-80s and BBCs could easily handle four at a time! I can well remember the day I plugged a pair of external floppies into a TRS-80 model IV and had 4x360KB DSDD drives giving a whopping total of 1.4 MEGABYTES of storage all at the same time!

      1. Lil Endian

        Re: Ah, for the good old days

        My first PC clone was a Wyse 8086. It had a 20meg MFM HDD that would only format to 10meg. That didn't matter though as I put my entire floppy disk library on it with megs to spare. The power!

        Ah! I've just remembered eventually getting cache chips! Moar powah! I still have some of those chips hanging about :)

        1. Lil Endian

          Re: Ah, for the good old days

          Correction: 8088

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    “Sold like hotcakes” I wonder how many of the original ones ended up sitting completely idle on the top management’s desks*. Like the one in Jr. Eving’s office in Dallas the series. It was sad to see that piece of equipment sitting lonely and untouched.

    *) Or rather, how many didn’t…

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "What a piece of crap"

    I remember running a big CompuPro S-100 installation networked with Arcnet. We even had 40MB hard drives!

    Boy, did we look down our noses at the new IBM offering.

    > being a typical clueless PHB, and not wanting to spend money on the latest and greatest

    Man, that's a shock. I don't think I've EVER seen a PHB that didn't want the latest greatest newest shiniest sitting on his desk... doing nothing.

    I remember some PHBs having Silicon Graphics boxes for absolutely no reason other than being expensive and fancy desk jewelry.

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: "What a piece of crap"

      Man, that's a shock. I don't think I've EVER seen a PHB that didn't want the latest greatest newest shiniest sitting on his desk... doing nothing.

      That's what you get when a PHB carries the Beancounter gen, which in several cases becomes dominant: the shininess desire becomes sufficiently suppressed so that the carrier is satisfied with a less shiny but cheaper object.

    2. DJV Silver badge

      Re: "What a piece of crap"

      In this particular case the PHB was the B of the entire (very small) company so he was finance as well as HR and, of course, in charge of a fair dose of complete lunacy between the ears.

    3. Jaybus

      Re: "What a piece of crap"

      I worked with CompuPro S-100 systems in an analytical chemistry lab as a comp sci student in 1981-1984. They had a Tektronix 4010 graphics terminal and I was working on a couple of projects with chemistry grad students who fought over the 4010. Prof. Ridgeway managed to get us a IBM PC with the CGA card. His idea was for one group to use that and the other the S-100 and Tektronix terminal, but all of their work thus far had been written for Microsoft's FORTRAN compiler and Z80 assembler. He instructed me to "get them up on the IBM as quickly as possible". He had in mind to translate the code from to something that would run on the PC. But I took him at his word and wrote a Tektronix 4010 terminal emulator in a mix of Microsoft Basic and MASM, the only two compilers we hod for the PC at the time. He was angry when he found me out, but fortunately I had it mostly working by then. Funny thing is, the PC made for a faster graphics terminal than the actual 4010 and then they fought over who got stuck with the 4010. So, my first experience with the PC was to use it as a terminal connected to a "real" computer. After all, it did have the best keyboard I've ever used.

    4. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: "What a piece of crap"

      Where I worked, the PHBs always got the new monitors first: color, larger, whatever. Because PHB'ing requires the biggest, most colorful screens, unlike doing actual work.

      My first PC was a Data General Dasher/One (aka "SHARK") prototype. 4.77 MHz. I acquired another one, and those were my kids' first computers.

      My moment of clarity came at my next job, where I had a 386 running Win3.1 and trying to run a schematic capture app which crashed if you had too many pages open. The same app also ran on our Unix server (without crashing), so I bodged in a second HDD with Linux installed and set my 386 to dual boot (as I recall, this required a floppy "boot disk". The Linux disk allowed me to run the 386 as a remote xterm off the Unix system, and thereby run the schematic capture tool without crashing. It was at that moment I realised that Linux was more solid than Windows. Same hardware, one crashed when overloaded, the other kept running.

      Thanks for the memories...how we have progressed!

      // all my PCs have been home built or repaired prototypes - waste not...want not :-)

      // current one is a socket 1151 gaming MB off eBay, i7-6700k and 32G RAM from Goodwill

      // Linux Mint.

  5. Gazman

    I can clearly remember reading the review ('Benchtest'?) a few months after launch in the late and still much missed UK magazine 'Personal Computer World' (1979-2009). But I absolutely refuse to believe it has been forty years.

    1. herman Silver badge
      Pirate

      Ayup - even war ships are retired after 30 years.

  6. Timbo

    ah......I remember it well...

    Forty years on...where does the time go?

    I still recall buying (around 1989) the first 286 machine I got, as I was "into" BBS and online comms with various "hobby boards".

    I even took it to work, as they had 2 HP Vectra machines with limited memory and slow clock speeds...and my home PC knocked the spots off them !!

    I soon replaced the ISA-based Hercules graphics card with a "combination" EGA card + 2 Mb of ZIP memory, using Quarterdeck Extended Memory Manager to boost the RAM from the standard 640kb to 2.6Mb and I could run larger spreadsheets using "As-Easy-As" (a Lotus 123 clone) that could run off a 5 1/4" HD floppy disk (the 1.2Mb ones, not the crummy 180kb/360kb types) - as no hard drive was required ;-).

    And within a month or two, I'd gotten hold of an AMD 80287 co-processor...and a nice NEC MultiSync colour monitor...and a faster 2400 full duplex modem too !!

    Ah, happy days ;-)

    1. Dwarf Silver badge

      Re: ah......I remember it well...

      Thanks for the memory of the NEC MultiSync, have an upvote. They were built like a tank, weighed a tonne and gave really nice colour video output.

      I must take a look in my loft and see if I've still got it. Scratch that, it can't be there as the ceiling is not sagging due to the weight. Brain drifts off into random thoughts about what happened to it.

    2. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      Re: ah......I remember it well...

      Indeed, those were happier days, when the PC was more "personal". Sussing out IRQ and DMA levels and getting that third LPT port to work without crashing anything was a mission in itself.

      Today's stuff is just plug and play, nothing more personal.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    expansion slots

    "Importantly, the motherboard also included slots for expansion, which eventually became known as the Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) bus as the IBM PC clone sector exploded."

    Back in the early 90s at Uni, I was *totally* impressed to see one of our teacher add a then Transputer add-on card into one of our PC XT !

    Geez, so the thing is a freaking meccano, eh ???

    And years later you find yourself adding a GTX1080 to your gaming rig (since the rest is still out of touch).

    What a good idea expansion slots were !

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Re: expansion slots

      What a good idea expansion slots were !

      The Apple ][ (and obviously its clones) already had them for a couple of years.

      There was also the S-100 bus, but that one is basically just an interconnect bus instead of a mainboard which already carries most of the functionality a computer needs. Similarly the vendor-specific buses like DEC's Omnibus, Unibus and Q-bus.

      1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

        Re: expansion slots

        Indeed, there were many systems with busses - the Apple ][ was well known, and in education circles the RM380Z was also well known (as were the rubber bands that kept it working !)

        But what people forget is that IBM didn't actually design it. AIUI they basically took the data sheet for the processor, looked at the reference design given in that, and built it - and bought in the software to make it work. But for IBM where programmer productivity was measured in how many lines of code you could add to something, actually fitting working code into such a small footprint (i.e. persuading programmers to remove boat rather than add to it) must have been quite a culture shock.

        But shortly after the PC came out, I started work in the stereotypical IBM shop. "Information Services" was god when it came to anything to do with processing information. So if you wanted to do that, you had to apply and justify having a terminal off their mainframe - for which you paid them rent as well as paying for all the storage and processing time you used. In our place, you could easily spend a year in the queue to get a terminal.

        But this was also when I was getting into computers, and I was friends with the local Apple dealer. He told me that he kept a stock quote to hand for an Apple ][ - and told anyone from this big company who enquired that a) they'd not be allowed to buy it (they weren't), and b) they'd get their terminal within a week (they did). The moment anyone put in for permission to buy an Apple ][ to get their work done, on the basis that the IS dept. hadn't provided them with a terminal in [some long time measured in months], magically they've go right to the top of the list and the terminal would be on a desk within the week. It really was like that - the IS dept did it's utmost to block anyone buying anything without a blue badge on it.

        And THAT is why the PC (which bluntly was rubbish compared to the Apple ][, Commodore PET, and even the TRS 80, took off - because of all those big corporates who would then buy it simply because of the badge.

        Where I worked, our small development group got a Compaq 286. It took some effort and the question was basically "justify why you can't do it with an IBM" - not can you do it better/worse or anything like that, but could you do it at all. We fluffed about needing some feature for our programming and embedded systems development and managed to get it passed. But the Compaq, for less money, gave us more ram, bigger hard drive, bigger floppies (yeah, remember when you could get 1.2M on a 5 1/4" floppy !), ... but we still struggled to justify spending less money for more capability on something without a blue badge.

        The history of those days is quite interesting to study. But for a mere quirk/misjudgement, we could have been running DR-DOC and Microsoft would have remained a small outfit selling compilers.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Forty years ago

    No symbolic C debuggers. You had to debug everything in assembler under MSDOS Debug *and* wait until after the program crashed.

    And you try telling that to the young programmers of today and they don't believe you.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Forty years ago

      yeah normally I would be using debug prints if no symbolic debugger is available. That's an old school method that still works very well for kernel and microcontroller debugging where you often can't put soft debug breaks into the running code...

  9. 9Rune5

    Memory

    RAM landed in 16 or 64kB flavours and could be upgraded to 256kB

    Maybe if you limited yourself to the mainboard, but an ISA expansion card from AST added 512KB as well as a real-time clock with battery.

    1. Dwarf Silver badge

      Re: Memory

      Vague memories of "char far *" function definitions from days of old and the start of poor planning that resulted in XMS and EMS memory and all the config that had to be done to make modest amounts of memory work properly. Anyone else recall the large expansion cards stuffed with discrete memory devices ?

      Wasn't there something about how the memory addressing was configured up as a quick n dirty approach at the hardware level (i.e. the address pin mapping) that plagued the early generations of system (i.e. up through the 386/486 paths), until a proper memory management approach was implemented and the whole idea could be quietly forgotten.

      Bonus points for memories of sidekick, anarkey and other such productivity enhancers.

      1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

        Re: Memory

        And juggling the contents of one's CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files in order to maximize RAM for DOS apps on a Novell Netware 2.x/3.x/4.x network (bootROM on NIC).

      2. Stoneshop Silver badge

        Re: Memory

        Anyone else recall the large expansion cards stuffed with discrete memory devices ?

        Recall? I handled two of them not a year ago. One was chock full of 41256 DRAMs for a total of 2.5MB, the other used 30-pin SIMMs. RAMPage was the name on one of them, and IIRC it had a config tool with which you could split the installed memory between EMS and XMS as well as backfilling upper memory and setting the EMS window.

        Also, two words: QEMM and LOADHI.

      3. Jaybus

        Re: Memory

        The 8088 had 16-bit address registers and a 20-bit address bus. So apps had to utilize memory in 64k blocks of a 1 MB address space. Actually, IBM reserved 384k of the upper 1024k address space for BIOS and I/O, so apps had to use the bottom 640k of "conventional memory". EMM and such were kludges to expand beyond the 1 MB address space by taking advantage of the segmentation. As an ISA card, they occupied a range of addresses in that 384k of reserved space. The cards mapped their onboard RAM to one or more 64k blocks of the card's assigned address space in that reserved area so that the 8088 could address it..

      4. 9Rune5

        Re: Memory

        (i.e. the address pin mapping)

        I am guessing you might be referring to the A20 line.

        On the 386 (and 286?) you could reach an additional 64K that was off-limits on the 8088 and 8086.

        EMS would be useable from an 8088 I think, so the 5150 should have been able to access a whole lot more memory (albeit in a paged fashion).

        XMS OTOH required at least a 286. I believe XMS worked through protected mode. (the 286 being capable of addressing 16MB in protected mode)

        (But my understanding of these things could be very very flawed. I was about twelve when I started using the 5150)

    2. Timbo

      Re: Memory

      "Maybe if you limited yourself to the mainboard, but an ISA expansion card from AST added 512KB as well as a real-time clock with battery."

      Aha - that was the brand name of my EGA (video) +2Mb ISA 16bit expansion card - made by AST !!

      The product name "Rampage" now comes to mind !!

      1. 9Rune5

        Some more AST love (was Re: Memory)

        The 8-bit guy used to work for AST. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hdazA-VUf0 (If any part of you is a little bit nostalgic, then do not click that link! I've spent hours watching his channel!)

  10. bombastic bob Silver badge
    Devil

    5150

    wasn't there a Van Halen album titled '5150' ? (1986 'Van Hagar'). By then the IBM PC had been around for a while...

    (5150 can also be a police code for a crazy person, possibly a reference to California Code 5150 for committing said person to an asylum)

    1. TheFifth

      Re: 5150

      And also a EVH signature Peavey (and later Fender) guitar amp.

  11. herman Silver badge
    Flame

    Crime against humanity

    I think that in retrospect, IBM should be sued for a crime against humanity: Selecting Billy Bob to supply the software, held the art of desktop computing back for decades.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Crime against humanity

      The crime against computing was to use the 8088. The 68008 would pretty much have allowed us to get through the next 15 years in 5 or 6. We went from "No one needs more than 640K of memory' to Everything has to fit into 64K segments but with soft boundaries so the brightest and best will be reduced to tear on a regular basis and programming will become disparaged.

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: Crime against humanity

        The 68008 was actually launched in 1982, a year after the launch of the IBM PC.

        It was a similarly crippled processor as the 8088, with an 8 bit data bus and a reduced size address bus, which multiplexed the longer words over several clock cycles, reducing the effective speed of the processor. 32 bit data fetches would be stretched over 4 memory fetch cycles. It had a much better instruction set though.

        The story is that IBM considered the full 68000 processor, but as the development of the PC started in 1979, the 68000 was still too new (although the processor was available, many of the native support chips weren't) so IBM had to look elsewhere.

        Although it is quite possible that using a 68000 in the original IBM PC may have changed the history of OS development, the first processor in the family that would have allowed more advanced OSs would have been the 68010, which included a number of architecture changes which allowed more memory and virtual address spaces (but which still needed additional support hardware, the 68451 to) to implement full virtual address spaces, which UNIX would really have needed.

        1. Meower68

          Re: Crime against humanity

          Rod Coleman, who founded Sage Computers (later Stride Micro) fully expected IBM to go with a 68k-based system, seeing as how the architecture was more similar to their 360 series mainframes. When they didn't, he decided (the day he saw the specs on the IBM PC) that he needed to design a machine which did. It took him and some friends a couple years but ... they succeeded. And the resulting machine was screaming fast. Pinnacle Micro made some really fast knock-offs of their systems, which were marketed pretty heavily in the UK.

          To get around the fact that MS-DOS didn't run on it, they ported p-System to it (over a weekend), giving them an OS and selection of applications for the system. They had a pretty good run. I remember wanting one of their machines, back in the day. Later iterations of their hardware had OmniNET, sizable hard drives and even a version of p-System which allowed you to create separate VMs for separate users, with varying amount of CPU scheduling, RAM, etc.

          Compare to modern "cloud" systems, or PCs running VMs for various purposes. They were so far ahead of their time. But they didn't have the IBM name or money behind them so ... historical interest only, these days.

    2. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Re: Crime against humanity

      Possibly, but more likely it would just have led to a different empire rising - based on DR-DOS. Just think if Gary Kildall had met with the IBM suits that day ...

    3. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Linux

      Re: Crime against humanity

      I selected Linus

  12. wolfetone Silver badge

    "...the ability to attach a cassette recorder – an option swiftly stripped from later models"

    I've a vague recollection that my IBM PC XT still had the option of connecting a cassette recorder to it. But then again I see that a few places on the internet state the XT doesn't have it.

    I'll have to dig it out, I'm not having this as a Mandella moment for myself.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      XT

      There were several sub-models of the XT. Some of the early ones used the same mobo. as the 5150, and would have supported a cassette recorder, and some used different boards that didn't.

  13. Denarius Silver badge
    Happy

    Whee, another distraction

    another distraction from fixing fences, repairing erosion from frequent prolonged rains in this dry country. I am sure I have an XT in shed. Mice plague controlled here with no purple poop in dark places so it might still work.

    1. herman Silver badge

      Re: Whee, another distraction

      The PSU will likely blow up the moment you plug it in though. Electrolytic capacitors have a limited lifespan.

  14. Tony W

    Edlin

    I still remember the shock I got when I received an Apricot (IBM rip-off, not actually compatible) and found that, as with all PCs of the period, the only way to edit text was with Edlin. Having been used to the BBC Micro I thought, what sort of rubbish is this?

    (But unlike the BBC Micro, it was portable, which was vital for my work, with an integrated LCD screen, as well as taking a full length expansion card that I needed for IEEE interface. It did the job and became an old friend, so in the end I was quite sad when the LCD screen eventually went the way they do.)

    1. Colin Bull 1
      Happy

      Re: Edlin

      The company I worked for had a customer that only used IBM. But there were not enough slots for all the cards they needed ( until IBM released their extender box for approx £2k). So we supplied the PCs and made a fortune on the RAM upgrade.They wanted HD,FD, 640k memory , clock, parallel, serial. So we ended up suppling XT with AST 6 pack and learning about the wonderful world of sidekick. That was a groundbreaking package and it was free with the 6 pack.

      1. Timbo

        Re: Edlin

        "the wonderful world of sidekick"

        Another name from the past - wasn't Sidekick a TSR utility, that did various basic functions ?

        ah - the wiki knows all !

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borland_Sidekick

        It's all coming back to me now. :-)

    2. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: Edlin

      And here's the source for edlin. 1845 lines of nicely-formatted assembler.

      v2.00 has lots of files for the command-line programs. v1.25 just has seven files, including the source for the assembler used to build it. Cute!

      1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

        Re: Edlin

        Ahhhh... EDLIN... I had a shufty at it, was quite interesting.

        n00bs of today won't know what they've been missing...

        1. herman Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Edlin

          Bah, the standard editor is ed.

          1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

            Re: Edlin

            ...which was better and easier to use than edlin.

  15. werdsmith Silver badge

    I got my first PCXT, a rejected and faulty one destined for the skip for free, fixed up and sold. Then I built a PCAT clone out of faulty bits. Then I carried on in this fashion for years. Never paid for a desktop PC, maybe the odd card. It's all been company issued laptops, many of which I kept when they were replaced and I still have them.

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Welcome fellow scrounger!

      Most of my home setup is castoffs from work. The house is wired with CAT3 cable, which works just fine at GigE for short distances. Cable was free from the skip at work...rolls of the stuff.

      Switch is a 48 port HP GigE from work (they upgraded, offered it to me)...be nice to your IT folks and you never know what will land on your desk

      Couple of nice Dell laptops...IT has a raffle at upgrade time. Always more laptops than entrants.

      I have learned an awful lot from tearing apart and repairing various electronics. Some of which is useful in my new designs. Nice to see how others have addressed EMI, power distribution, connector placement, etc.

  16. longtimeReader

    Full transparency

    For a time I had a "special" PC on my desk that was NOT beige. The case was transparent so you could see the insides. Identical in shape but cast in something like perspex. It had been created so the IBM engineers could do things like check the airflow by putting in smoke and seeing how it moved. And after it wasn't needed for that any more, it got handed down and still worked fine..

    I often ended up with the ex-test or early-build stuff. A few years later, another machine on my desk was a PC AT. Serial Number 000006.

  17. Auntie Dix
    Coffee/keyboard

    Beige Did Not Show Dust. Curse the Dopes Who Forced Black on Us

    "...take a more agile approach."

    Please stop using the hipster, body-shop marketing term "agile": The stink of it distracts from your writing.

    "...take a faster approach."

    Ah, much better.

    I remember my foremost home-computer choices at the time:

    1. The TRS-80 Model III (Like the very first IBM PC, the still-selling TRS-80 Model I relied on a cassette recorder rather than floppies, and the Model II was an 8-inch-floppied monster priced for businesses.)

    2. The Apple II (Akin to the above, the mostly ignored Apple I did not offer a floppy drive.)

    3. The IBM PC (Matching the TRS-80 Model III, it offered two floppy drives. Also, it was the corporate rage.)

    At the time, the Commodore 64 was viewed by most as a cheap toy for game-players. The Atari and Amiga entries, while very interesting, seemed pricey and niche. For me, having support from a lot of print publications and home-computer user groups (remember local computer clubs?) was an important consideration.

    So, I decided:

    1. Buy. A serious-looking home computer, the TRS-80 Model III simply offered more for the money than the other two. Radio Shack's beautiful, well-designed, free catalogs presented clearly all of the options and prices, and monthly flyers offered frequent sales. Local stores were well-supplied and wonderful to shop. How I miss Radio Shack!

    2. The Apple II's color was enticing, but only 40 columns of screen text -- versus 64 on the TRS-80 Model III and 80 on the IBM PC -- was absurd for word-processing. The premium price and nose-in-the-air attitude for a junky-looking chassis and separate floppy box did not woo me. You were paying for the logo.

    3. The holy-grail IBM PC was priced for corporate wallets. The clone market was not out there, yet (and when it finally exploded years later, I bought one as a step up from my trusty TRS-80 Model III). What did the smart engineer I knew buy for his home? The TRS-80 Model III.

    Today cannot recapture the exhilaration of hardware (and software) diversity (sorry, that word is as nauseating as "agile") present in those early home-computer years. Monopoly Windows or woefully-still-abstruse Yuck-ux on your boring motherboard: Where is the excitement in that?

    No more Soylent Green, please. I am ready for the thanatorium. I request Radio Shack catalogs for reception and all of the aforementioned home computers ("PCs" is another overused contrivance) at my disposal for a few hours before you inject me.

  18. DrBobK
    Headmaster

    I still have a 5150, Mono, 64K with original keyboard and monitor sitting on top of a filing cabinet in my office. It is an incredible thing. You could drive a truck over it and it would be unscathed. Also came with a manual containing the assembly source for the BIOS which was super useful for my job at the time which involved researching user interface design by mucking around with the cursor as a status indicator. We got a FORTAN compiler for it at some point, so I programmed it in FORTRAN with all the real stuff in MASM (I think - long time ago).

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Progress?

    Just wondering as I write this........is MS Office really an improvement on Wordstar (or WordPerfect)? Does Powerpoint ever add ANYTHING to the conversation?

    *

    Because surely it's the actual words that matter.......and not the styles, fonts, embedded graphics......and all the other bells and whistles which take the author's attention away from the ideas and the words.....

    *

    Just saying!!!

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      Re: Progress?

      TBH I will prefer using WordPerfect 5.x and SuperCalc 5 above today's glitzy GUI stuff.

      They did the job, and they did it well. Plus you had no distractions from silly things like email popups, or IM messages popping up as well (should you have any IM chat apps running) or Firefox/Internet Exploiter/Chrome/Edge luring you with their siren song of the Wibbly Wobbly Web...

      1. TheFifth

        Re: Progress?

        Never used WordPerfect for Windows (only DOS a couple of times), but as far as Word goes, I think it peaked at Word 6 and has been going downhill ever since. I used version 6 throughout my time at Uni and it never let me down. More than enough functionality for what I needed and no stupid ribbon cluttering up the screen.

        Frankly, I used to use View on the BBC Micro and ProText on the Amstrad CPC (both in ROM) and found them perfectly usable for writing simple essays. Didn't get in the way and let you get on with your work.

        These days, if I need to just write and not be distracted, I use OmmWriter. Simple, black screen, no distractions. Then I'll take the text from that and put it into LibreOffice for some final formatting. It's a far less frustrating work flow for me.

    2. Steve Aubrey
      Joke

      Re: Progress?

      Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address - in PowerPoint

      https://norvig.com/Gettysburg/

      (joke icon because there isn't one for crying)

  20. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "agile" or "faster"?

      Well........"faster" got us the PS/2 and OS/2..........................

      *

      The joke was that this "improvement" from IBM got us two new acronyms:

      - PS/2 -- Piece of S**t/2

      - OS/2 -- Half of an Operating System

      *

      .......and please leave out the snide c**p about Linux..........today IBM would kill (and kill OVER-AND-OVER) for the market share of Linux on servers worldwide!!!!!

      *

      Just saying!!!

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: "agile" or "faster"?

        The original post you replied to has been deleted, but I would guess that it was talking about IBM trying to take back control of the Personal Computer space with the PS/2 and OS/2 operating system.

        Having used OS/2 Warp, I would say that this was much better than Windows, even up to WinNT 3.51.

        But OS/2 was not the only OS that IBM shipped for the 386 based PS/2s. They also had a UNIX port, AIX/PS2. The problem was that not only were the PS/2 Model 70 and 80 and AIX expensive, but AIX/PS2 was locked to IBM PS/2 systems and was not available in source form. It did not run on any of the MCA systems that other manufacturers made. IBM was all about generating profit from it's technology.

        Linux on the other hand, evolved to run on the common subset of ISA and EISA systems, and then as people wanted more and more hardware to work, and could work on the code to support it by themselves. Linux got where it is today by the collective momentum it developed, not from the efforts of any one of it's commercial backers.

        1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

          Re: "agile" or "faster"?

          Indeed, OS/2 Warp was ahead of it's time - too far ahead and the hardware couldn't really do it justice. IIRC full multi-tasking and 32 bit at a time when Windows was some 32 bit extensions to some 16 bit graphics shell, running on an 8 bit OS from a 2 bit company :D

          But that meant the hardware requirements were "hefty", and when run on the sort of setup most people could afford, it was "a bit slow". One can only imagine how it might have fared had it been released a year or two later and allowed hardware specs/prices to develop a bit.

          1. Stoneshop Silver badge

            Re: "agile" or "faster"?

            But that meant the hardware requirements were "hefty", and when run on the sort of setup most people could afford, it was "a bit slow".

            Back around the time of the first 486 a friend had just switched to W98, and complained that his 386 was slow. So I suggested upping the memory to 16M (from 4), which was what I had in my OS/2 system. So he went to a nearby computer store, who instead of selling him 16M memory, got him to buy a 486/66 with, again, just 4M memory. No gain at all, where in comparison my 386/40 flew.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: "agile" or "faster"?

              Yep, adding memory has so often been (and still is) the way to fix performance issues - the fastest way to cripple any system is to get it to swap, especially to spinning rust which until recently was the only viable storage for all but the wealthiest.

              I recall several job hats ago we'd acquired another smaller company. One early task we had was to assess their IT, on the second visit we went round and added a load of RAM to most of the machines to give them an immediate performance boost.

              Our own key system ran on SCO OpenServer (this was the days before they committed their long and drawn out suicide). That had an "interesting" feature in that you had to manually configure (as you did everything else) the disk cache which had a hard limit of 540,000k - yes I tried, at 540,001k it wouldn't boot. That was fine for many tasks, but when a poorly built reporting tool then decided that a full join of a 1G table made sense, it had the same effect as swapping and we knew when anyone ran a particular report because it made the IT phones ring with a "the system is frozen" message - it got relegated to one of those "last one out on a Friday runs it" tasks and it took 40 hours. As an aside, I later re-wrote that report in Informix, taking care to use the right indexes etc, it ran in 90 seconds without anyone noticing.

              I was looking forward to us doing the next software upgrade - that would have run on Linux and I knew that I'd be able to throw a bucketfull of memory in the system and avoid most of those problems by effectively keeping the entire database in RAM thanks to disk caching. But before that happened, the beancounters decided to make me redundant - which as far as I'm concerned was their loss, not mine.

              And of course, since about 2015, Apple have only made Laptops with soldered in RAM to prevent users doing anything so sneaky as upgrading their systems rather than buying a new one.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "agile" or "faster"?

          "IBM was all about generating profit from it's technology."

          It still is.

  21. Stuart Halliday
    WTF?

    I remember our department getting a PC for the first time.

    They immediately played flight sim and a racing game on it. The games were pirated right away of course

    Everyone was shown this machine playing the Flight Sim as if it was it's most important job.

    I soon found out it did little else.

    As a BBC Micro user I couldn't understand the fuss made of this weak, hard to use £1000+ computer!

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    IBM

    IBM producing the PC was the equivalent of the skunk works at McDonnell Douglas. It was one of the few occasions they forgot to control the commercial aspects properly.

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: IBM

      ...and a good thing, too!

  23. This post has been deleted by its author

  24. haiku

    Don Estridge (1937-1985)

    http://www.computinghistory.org.uk/det/1788/Don-Estridge/

    Don was the father of the IBM PC, and it is due solely to Don that the PC was launched with a totally open hardware architecture that allowed companies such as AST to produce cards such as the "6-Pack" (so-called since, on a single card, it included serial ports, parallel ports, additional memory etc. - available as discrete components from IBM).

    Don also decreed the totally open software architecture: a program listing of the code was included in the Technical Manual. Which led to the situation - since the code (and the bugs in the code) were copyright - wherein the clone manufacturers had to emulate the bugs (for compatibility) without actually copying the exact code ... :)

    Don was way ahead of his time, especially where IBM & the PC were concerned, He realised that the IBM clients preferred to purchase from a single supplier - especially if one had a "valued client" (or some such) licencing agreement - and so were not interested in products from Apple but were rather waiting for a similar product from IBM.

    So, so the story goes, he nagged the IBM board until they reputedly allowed him to manufacture the PC, if nothing other than him quiet.

    The rest, as they say, is history.

    He unfortunately died in an 'plane crash, just as his vision was bearing fruit. One wonders what the PC world would be like today if he were still alive.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don Estridge (1937-1985)

      @haiku

      There's more than one "how it might have been" story.

      If Gary Kildall had been more receptive when IBM came calling to find out about CP/M-86 for the upcoming IBM PC................

      ..............perhaps we would never have heard of Bill Gates!!!

      ..............(sadly) a much-to-be-preferred alternative universe!!!!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don Estridge (1937-1985)

      @haiku

      ......or maybe if Tim Paterson had had connections at IBM for his Q-DOS operating system.........

      ......we would never have heard of Bill Gates!!!!

  25. bartsmit

    First black IBM 5150 mid 1980's

    They weren't all beige; the submarine ones were black. They were delivered in beige but the only place to store them on hunter killers was a cupboard which was part of the diesel exhaust system. Whenever the snorkel went under a wave at periscope depth, the engine would have a mild cardiac arrest and belch out sooty smoke. The PC's always rotated back pitch black.

  26. rdohner

    Ah that does indeed bring back memories. I was a newly minted assistant professor in 1983, and the only thing that I could afford (even with the university discount) was a bare-bones configuration with 16K memory, no floppy disks, IBM keyboard, and an IBM text monitor. I actually did use a cassette tape for storage for a while. But then I began buying from discount retailers -- AST card, memory, two floppies, Hercules card, 8087... And the software: Volkswriter, Visicalc, Turbo Pascal (because it was cheap and used the 8087) and I splurged and bought IBM's APL for the PC, complete with the keyboard stickers. If IBM had just given me the machine and taken 10% of all that I was to spend on computers in the future, they would have come out far, far ahead.

    As a side note, before the purchase, my father, who was a CPA, had offered to give me the IBM 5110 that he had in the office. I think it had 8K of memory. I called up IBM to ask how much it would cost to add an additional 8K to the machine. The answer was, roughly, $2000. I said to the agent, "you know that I could buy a fully functional IBM PC for that amount?" The reply, "Yes, I know."

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