Nostalgia Lane: IBM PC

Imagine a computer that has no hard drive.  Nada.  Internal memory that is measured  in kilobytes, not megabytes or gigabytes.  A monitor that displays maybe as many colors as a 16-pack of crayons.  No mouse.  A five-minute startup time.  No Windows, but a text prompt operating system that requires you to put in a disc each and every time you want to use it.  Programs and games on unwieldy pieces of plastic the size of a paperback book(ish).  Internal speakers that sounded like a car was downshifting from 5th gear to 1st while going 90 mph.  A printer that took forever and merely dotted the paper with hundreds of little circles.

That was the IBM PC.  That was my first computer love.

I remember the day my dad brought it home, even though I was only six or seven at the time.  It was a huge piece of machinery that cost north of $3,000 (the only reason we could afford it was that my father’s work had a massive discount program that allowed us to get one for a little over a grand).  He set it up in the den and showed us how it worked.  My parents liked the word processor and spreadsheet, while my brothers were into the brick-buster game.

Me?  I was head over heels into the thick of the manuals.

I think after a year or two, that computer became mine by virtue of just how much time I spent on it.  Man, I loved computers.  I was snagging shareware programs left and right and teaching myself BASIC and BASICA from very user unfriendly manuals that came with the system.  I actually got pretty good at designing incredibly elaborate games — including RPGs and flight simulators — that far outstripped what you would find in books and magazines at the time.

The PC was the machine that I played KROZ, Starflight, Wasteland, King’s Quest and other classics on.  Starflight — which I’ll talk about sometime — was very tricky because I the game was saved to the discs directly and if I died I had to start over, period.  No reload from last save (unless I shut off the computer quickly before it saved).

(On a side note, anyone remember the Micro Adventures books from the 80s?  They were these kids adventure books that would occasionally stop to have you run to your computer, copy and run a BASIC program, and see how it would help the main character/you out.  I just want to say that most of these programs were crap.  But it was a cool concept, in a way.)

For the greater bulk of the decade, that single, solitary IBM PC was the mainstay computer of our household.  Computers were too expensive at the time to simply buy a new one every year or two, and I had to actually wait until 1992 to buy my own (my parents did get another one earlier than that).

If nothing else, that machine taught me great patience.  You have to be patient as it’s taking quite a few minutes to simply boot up or load a program.  And if it crashes?  Bugs out?  There was no online support forum back then or backups.  I had to deal with it on my own and, as a result, got self-reliant with computers, fast.

Because I gamed on it quite often, the PC is responsible for why I have a weird finger positioning when it comes to MMOs (if you recall, I use the X key, not the S, for down/backwards, and always have my thumb on it).  I actually remember seeing a mouse for the first time and finding it absolutely repugnant.  Who would want to use such an imprecise devise when your cursor keys could be so accurate (and, y’know, slow)?

Aside from gaming and programming, what I remember most about using it is having it as a writing platform (I still have several small “books” I wrote with it) and for a nifty publishing program that let us create calendars, cards, and flyers with simple clip art.  Small toolset, yes, but we were endlessly creative.

It was the computer that had a small modem in it that allowed me to access bulletin board services, which was my first taste of online interaction.

By the end of the 80s, the PC was just not cutting it any more.  We certainly got our money’s worth out of it, but it did not age well.  I would go to the mall computer store and agonize over all the games that I wanted to play but was pretty sure would never run on the skimpy specs.  The last I saw it, it had been moved to my brother’s room when I went to college in 1994, but I’m sure it got tossed shortly thereafter.

As with our first MMO, I think our first computer is a special thing, especially in an era when they were rare.  Some day I’ll get to tell my kids how I was part of the first or second generation to grow up with home computer, and they will not care because their phone will be a million times faster and better than that clunky IBM PC.

6 thoughts on “Nostalgia Lane: IBM PC

  1. Wilhelm Arcturus November 7, 2011 / 12:31 pm

    Dual floppies was a “must have” back the day. I insisted on that second floppy drive long after hard drives became the defacto storage medium.

  2. Gank November 7, 2011 / 1:04 pm

    Floppies? Spoiled you were, says I.

    Tape drive Commodore was my first computer- though it was technically the schools though the amount of time I spent on it was phenomenal. I learned on that, then moved to the Apple IIe and on to games like Eamon, M.U.L.E. and eventually Zork.

    They used to make us serve detention in the library where the computers were…… ya, not much of a deterrent in my case so they actually changed the dention rules so I’d start giving a **** about getting detention 🙂

  3. Smith November 7, 2011 / 2:30 pm

    my first one was when micron came to my state, their computers were nifty and was able to finally own a computer through a contest. That thing was marvelous. I love an old computer. Never had a IBM though, but back then we were to poor to get a computer.

    nice nostalgia post syp.

  4. Kierbuu November 7, 2011 / 2:37 pm

    After years of using the schools computers I remember the day my family finally went out and got one for our home. Most of my friends already had one by that time, so we were a bit late to the game. Funniest memory of that day was looking at the technical specs on the machine and seeing that it had a huge 1G hard drive! 1 whole gigabyte! The salesman told us even he thought it was a bit much after all “You’ll never have a group of programs that takes up a gigabyte of storage. That’ll last a normal family a lifetime.”

    Currently looking to get a new computer. Has 1 terabyte of storage and about 8G of ram alone. How times change.

  5. Yeebo November 7, 2011 / 4:06 pm

    We had a PCjr. It was like a PC save that it supported 16 color CGA (which was useful with all of like four programs ever written), and was missing some keys on the KB (numlock for example). I also went through a phase of writing [extremely simple] games in Basic. Didn’t everyone do that back then?

  6. snickeringcorpses November 8, 2011 / 2:00 pm

    Alas, poor peasants. Stuck with an IBM PC when you could have had a Commodore 64, like we did! We were uptown with that thing. Had the Commodore monitor. Had the commodore 5.25″ floppy drive. Had two paddles AND two joysticks. A half dozen cartridge games AND some floppy disk games.

    I was the only one in the household to beat Moon Patrol. It actually looped back to level 1 if you completed the final level. And I beat it, more than once. I couldn’t hold a candle to my mother on Q-Bert though. She’d complete roughly 3 times as many levels as I would.

    LOAD ,8,15
    RUN

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