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You sure don't see a lot of sidecars nowadays.
June 15, 2009 6:36 PM   Subscribe

15 Classic PC Design Mistakes, along with explanations as to what exactly they were thinking at the time.
posted by Afroblanco (70 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
That Mattel keyboard makes me want to cry.
posted by threetoed at 6:43 PM on June 15, 2009


Yay, it's split into four pages to maximize ad revenue.
posted by null terminated at 6:49 PM on June 15, 2009 [13 favorites]


The crazy thing is that these computers cost as much as a car.
posted by smackfu at 6:49 PM on June 15, 2009


*maximize
posted by null terminated at 6:49 PM on June 15, 2009


The Macs are sad that you called them PCs.
posted by jeffamaphone at 6:50 PM on June 15, 2009


The crazy thing is that these computers cost as much as a car.

Hasn't really changed. I just ordered a $4k Macbook. Well, my company did. But still, that's a decent used car right there.
posted by jeffamaphone at 6:50 PM on June 15, 2009


Lisa OS sported a unique document management metaphor that has yet to be replicated in a mainstream OS.

What is this unique document management metaphor that they speak of?
posted by bigmusic at 6:52 PM on June 15, 2009


bigmusic, Inventing the Lisa user interface[pdf].
posted by stavrogin at 7:15 PM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


null terminated: "Yay, it's split into four pages to maximize ad revenue."

Not only that, but three of the "fifteen" mistakes are external expansion cards: PCJr, TI-99/4A, PC Convertible. Boy, I sure love top n lists on the Web.
posted by Plutor at 7:18 PM on June 15, 2009


The lisa was document-centric instead of program-centric or something like that.
posted by snofoam at 7:21 PM on June 15, 2009


Great links, I just wasted uhhh... reminisced the past hour away. Thanks for the stroll of the weird and forgotten.
posted by ~Sushma~ at 7:32 PM on June 15, 2009


They're right about the TI 99/4A, but they missed some more weirdness about it.

First, they say that the TI-99/4 had an 'unpopular chiclet keyboard', but this wasn't the primary reason to ship the 4A. The big, important reason to ship the 4A was to add lower case. Seriously. The regular 4 only had uppercase. The 4A had a much better keyboard, too, but the addition of the shift and capslock keys was the real reason to buy it.

The most important strangeness was the one they mention, the fact that the BASIC was an interpreted language written itself in an interpreted language, so it was absolutely fucking glacial. I mean, just impossibly slow. TI's Extended BASIC cartridge offered a lot more features, some very advanced stuff for BASICs of the time, like automatic line renumbering, but it was double-interpreted too, and just SUCKED. Plus, TI deliberately refused to release any information about their computer, hoping to be the only provider of software, so it was incredibly difficult to program. It took years for decent tools to show up, and by then the computer had mostly died. There were a few diehard hangers-on -- the hardware was actually pretty capable -- but TI's total lockdown on all information killed it.

The SUPER brain-dead thing about the TI, though, was that it had two processors.

The main processor was 16-bit, a TMS9900, which had a lot of really interesting features for a microprocessor at the time. One of the most interesting was that it didn't really have registers. Rather, it had a register pointer to a special area of high speed scratchpad memory. So you had some number of 16-bit registers, I think 16, and there was a command to save the local context and call out to a new subroutine, which then had their own 16 registers for local use. The original register pointer would be automatically restored after a return from the function. This gave you the equivalent of local variables in assembly, which made writing algorithms nice and clean and elegant. You could argue that, in a way, the TI had 128 registers in its 256 bytes of scratchpad RAM.

But this fairly powerful 16-bit processor didn't have access to video memory! There was an entirely separate processor, in a separate address space, with the 16K of video RAM. To write to video RAM, you had to tell the video processor a bitstream was incoming, and then load one byte at a time and flip some bit somewhere to indicate a byte was ready. Then you'd load another byte, toggle your ready switch, and so on. It was really stupid and painful. It mostly crippled the machine. It had a powerful processor, but with that cripplingly bad method of writing bytes to video, there was an awful lot of stuff that you just couldn't do quickly on the machine.

The TI had one famous game, Parsec, one good RPG-lite, Tunnels of Doom, and one actually genuinely good game, a port of Q-Bert. The TI port of Q-Bert is the best short of the arcade; it's so close to perfect that all it's really missing is the smack of the hammer against the case when Q-Bert falls to his death. Q-Bert was the TI in all its limited glory, and if you ever want to check that machine out, find that game. :)
posted by Malor at 7:34 PM on June 15, 2009 [17 favorites]


Damn, a single sidecar connection on a TI-99/4A was wonky and fragile enough, I can't imagine a whole row of 'em chained together.

I still remember seeing my first Mac, the original closed one. The fastest, most graphical computer I'd ever used at that point was arguably a fully expanded Apple //e or maybe even a //c - or maybe even a Commodore 128 or Atari 800, depending on your definition of "fast" and "graphical" for the era. I was in early grade school, I had a school counselor that knew I loved computers and she had splurged on the Mac for personal use, and often brought it in to school in the soft-sided carry case.

It was really a sort of sci-fi moment for me. First mouse usage, ever. The first thing I launched was the black and white paint program and was drawing stuff in seconds, having used Koala Paint at home. She was kind of blown away by how instantly I adapted to the interface, but it just seemed natural and a non-issue after futzing with command prompt systems for so long.


Missing from the list is the Timex Sinclair or ZX chiclet keyboards, any and all membrane keyboards (like on the Atari 400 or the Odyssey) and all of the Apple 2 series keyboards which were permanently attached and set at a wonky, painful angle that was nonadjustable. Also, if I recall correctly on some models the reset button was directly below the keyboard on the front, or maybe that was just my rip-off Franklin Ace clone. I lost so many program entries trying to type in code listing from Byte magazines, only to accidentally nudge the reset button with the book I was typing from in front of the computer.
posted by loquacious at 7:39 PM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


I liked our Adam. It actually had a great word processor and keyboard, plus you could play cartridge games on it. Even better, when they went out of the market soon after we were able to buy a second machine cheap to use for spare parts. Monolithic printer/power supply problem remedied!

(Also, you could create differing sequences of characters to print on the incredibly loud disk printer to create 'machine gun fire' sound effects. Terribly useful for young boys making action films with a camcorder, microphone and spare VCR.
posted by meinvt at 7:50 PM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


The crazy thing is that these computers cost as much as a car.

People used to say that for the price of a DEC Rainbow, you could buy a computer from Hyundai and they'd throw a car in for free.
posted by grouse at 7:51 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm typing this on a left-handed Acer Aspire laptop. I'm right-handed. I never knew it was a left-handed computer until I started using it.

The USB ports are on the left side of the laptop. The CD drive is on the right. This means that to use a mouse, I have to wrap the whole cord around the back of the machine to put the mouse on the right. Then, of course, I have to move the mouse out of the way whenever I want to open the CD tray.

I am annoyed by this.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:53 PM on June 15, 2009 [7 favorites]


I simply CANNOT believe that there were products made by Apple that were failures!
This article needs to be deleted from the internet immediately and the author tracked down and beaten. FLAGGED!
posted by mattoxic at 8:20 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Uhm, Faint of Butt most laptops are designed now to be used with a wireless mouse.
posted by GavinR at 8:23 PM on June 15, 2009


The USB ports are on the left side of the laptop. The CD drive is on the right. This means that to use a mouse, I have to wrap the whole cord around the back of the machine to put the mouse on the right.

Same here on my macbook - solved by a cordless mouse. I was about $10 annoyed by that when I bought the mouse.
posted by pompomtom at 8:31 PM on June 15, 2009


The TI had one famous game, Parsec, one good RPG-lite, Tunnels of Doom, and one actually genuinely good game, a port of Q-Bert.

Hunt the Wumpus?!?
posted by rubah at 8:38 PM on June 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


null terminated: "Yay, it's split into four pages to maximize ad revenue."

You do realize that putting ALL 15 ON ONE PAGE WOULD CAUSE THE INTERNET TO EXPLODE, RIIIIGHT? (I agree wholeheartedly, BTW)
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:40 PM on June 15, 2009


Also, considering that it took PC makers forever to figure out that putting USB/sound/memory card ports on the front of a computer was a good thing, I'll let these slide.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:43 PM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Uhm, Faint of Butt most laptops are designed now to be used with a wireless mouse.

Sure, which costs money - smallish-but-real money. And which still seems more than a little silly if you're regularly sitting at a desk, not really in any position to take advantage of it. Also, a shockingly small percentage of bluetooth mice are full-size ones, instead of those annoyingly hand-cramping notebook-sized ones. And if you don't get a Bluetooth one, you've got a stupid USB dongle hanging out. I'm not asking for a lot here - just one USB port on the other side of the damn machine.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:46 PM on June 15, 2009


> > The crazy thing is that these computers cost as much as a car.
> Hasn't really changed. I just ordered a $4k Macbook. Well, my company did. But still, that's a decent used car right there.


smackfu's talking about a brand-new car, fresh from the factory, no dickering with the dealer.

An Apple /// cost more than most Japanese imports. An Apple Lisa cost $10,000, somewhere around $23,000 in current dollars. That sounds extortionate, but it wasn't a whole lot more than the high-end graphics-capable workstations it was modeled after. Part of what made the first Mac so remarkable was in how much of the Lisa's graphics capabilities it was able to replicate for a quarter of the cost a year later, bringing the price down in line with command-line-only PCs (for $5-7K in 2009 dollars, you got a computer without a GUI and a green-screen display).

In 1983 a Mattel Aquarius cost as much, calculated with inflation, as a decent netbook does now. But look at what you got.
posted by ardgedee at 9:00 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hunt the Wumpus?!?

Yeah, let's not be dissing the Wumpus.

I have all sorts of fond memories of the TI and the Commodore 64. Recording programs on cassette tapes! Programming blocky dancing men in Basic! Learning to type! (Quick Brown Fox, anyone?)

And, while I'm on a nostalgia kick, the Kaypro II, which I inherited from my father. Now, that computer was a menace to life and limb--goodness knows what would have happened if I had dropped it on my foot. (Or accidentally shoved it off my desk onto my foot. I was never able to pick it up.) I mean, there's sturdy, and then there was the Kaypro.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:04 PM on June 15, 2009


The whole "sidecar expansion=epic fail" thing seems just odd to me, and it was annoying that it got repeated 3 times instead of mentioned once. That seemed to be the problem of the article: it was both trying to analyze major failures of UI and physical design (sidecar expansion, chiclet keyboard, etc) and trying to analyze specific failures of systems, when one or the other approach would've been far superior. Ah well.

Personally, I remember early "portable" machines as being quite...different from what we have now. I used to have an old Compaq portable - I use the word loosely - with an orange and black gas plasma screen, that was the size of a modest suitcase, with a big 5 1/4" drive and no mouse. I believe it was this model, though it was the early '90s by the time I had it...it was an old work computer my dad had gotten ahold of and they never wanted back. It's shocking to see how much it was, especially given inflation, and the fact that the fanciest piece of software on it was the original Leisure Suit Larry (which I played with some gusto as if it were a found secret treasure).
posted by graymouser at 9:07 PM on June 15, 2009


From the lowest dungeon to the highest peak I fought with the Wumpus. Until at last I threw down my enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountain side.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:15 PM on June 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


I used to have an old Compaq portable...

When I did tech support at the Supreme Court, I discovered in one of the dungeons underneath a couple of trestle tables piled high with those. The display screen wasn't that much larger than a postcard.
posted by Ritchie at 9:22 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Anyone else use the Mattel keyboard?

Back in the day at Garden City Shopping Center [you Americans call 'em malls] all the electronics-sellings stores were putting computers out the front for passers-by to tinker at.

"Woah! check out teh new PC invention thingy you must buy for your childrens are they learning?" Except I don't thing leetspeak "teh" was invented then. Or the infamous George W. Bush quote. But I digress...

I tried the Mattel keyboard and it was: press... wait... press... wait... pre... oh, hang on, wait, that last one didn't register... press... wait...

How - HOW - did that ever get past god knows how many levels of quality control? The biggest piece of shit of ANY appliance I've ever happened across.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:27 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Fun fact: when I went off to college, I had a PC Jr and a sidecar memory expansion (128k!) as my dorm room PC. The thing broke and I brought it to the local computer guys who took, I swear, two months to fix it and it cost hundreds of dollars [of warranty repair]. My next machine was a Mac Plus.
posted by jessamyn at 9:31 PM on June 15, 2009


I remember a few years ago riffing with friends that just like motorcycles, computers should have optional sidecars. Who knew my bullshit was based in reality?
posted by mmascolino at 9:41 PM on June 15, 2009


Yeah, while all you guys were complaining about your flaky sidecar connections and chiclet keyboards, I was wishing I had a computer as cool as yours because I had an APF Imagination Machine...
posted by mmoncur at 10:10 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sue me -- I still think the sidecar expansion approach had some merit. Some. If you needed multiple sidecars this probably wasn't the computer for you, but then this was the era before there were multiple models at multiple price points (which seem to have coalesced around 1993 and remained, though the capability you get keeps improving).

That sounds extortionate, but it wasn't a whole lot more than the high-end graphics-capable workstations it was modeled after.

Yeah, as a "business machine" it was not marketed at consumers trawling through the electronics aisle. You really have to understand what things looked like before the mass-market PC caught on. The year or two before the IBM PC came out it seemed like everyone and his Japanese brother was trying to find the sweet spot -- $500? $250? -- at which they could actually make money selling their uniquely engineered low-cost platform. All of them incompatible with each other, of course. Not even by sneakernet.

The guys who made the first PC in Boca Raton really deserve every ounce of credit they get (which is not as much lately).
posted by dhartung at 10:14 PM on June 15, 2009


Also, considering that it took PC makers forever to figure out that putting USB/sound/memory card ports on the front of a computer was a good thing, I'll let these slide.

And now, they put them on the front of laptops, which is retarded.
posted by atrazine at 10:16 PM on June 15, 2009



Yeah, while all you guys were complaining about your flaky sidecar connections and chiclet keyboards, I was wishing I had a computer as cool as yours because I had an APF Imagination Machine...
posted by mmoncur at 10:10 PM on June 15


Holy shit! Someone else! Awesome, it's pretty rare to run into someone that knows about that sucker.

That was my first computer as well. I and my friend down the street each had one, and we learned how to program assembler on it.

No, I didn't get out much when I was a kid, why do you ask?
posted by dragstroke at 10:31 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


null terminated: "Yay, it's split into four pages to maximize ad revenue."

You do realize that putting ALL 15 ON ONE PAGE WOULD CAUSE THE INTERNET TO EXPLODE, RIIIIGHT? (I agree wholeheartedly, BTW)


I also note that their writeup of the PCjr keyboard seems entirely cribbed from the PCWorld article they link to when talking about the Mattel keyboard. How did this article make it past internet quality control?
posted by Eideteker at 10:59 PM on June 15, 2009


Also, considering that it took PC makers forever to figure out that putting USB/sound/memory card ports on the front of a computer was a good thing, I'll let these slide.

i'm still waiting for them to figure out that putting the usb ports ABOVE the dvd/cd reader/burner means i have to move a wire out of the way every damn time i want to load a cd

(well, maybe someone has figured it out, but gateway hasn't)
posted by pyramid termite at 11:10 PM on June 15, 2009


The Amiga 500 we had when I was growing up (the first non-Atari machine in the family) had a sidecar for a 20meg HD and memory expansion, probably a whopping 2 megs or so, tops. I think my biggest complaint was that for whatever reason the sidecars weren't very well physically mated to the original computer, so you could find yourself nudging the computer just the wrong way and BLAMMO Guru Meditation time as the memory disconnected itself from the bus. *sigh* Good times. We sort of vaguely dreamed about owning an A2000 with internal expansion so we wouldn't crash our computer that way.
posted by Kyol at 11:16 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I remember upgrading my CoCo from 2k to 4k (or 4k to 8k?) by piggybacking RAM chips on the existing RAM chips, but with one leg bent up and a wire running to a pin on the CPU to toggle the memory banks.

4k! That was such an exorbitant amount of memory! Why, you could do almost anything with that much memory!
posted by five fresh fish at 12:38 AM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I simply CANNOT believe that there were products made by Apple that were failures!
This article needs to be deleted from the internet immediately and the author tracked down and beaten. FLAGGED!

The funny thing is how many of them were Jobs projects, too. Apple III heat problems? The Steve. Lisa? The Steve. The Mac was Jess Raskin, but since The Steve is happy to claim credit for it, he should probably get blame for that part of it too - and the non-expandability (Apple have thought of everything you need, peasants) is something that has been a trend in many of the Steve-driven offerings since.

The Amiga 500 we had when I was growing up (the first non-Atari machine in the family) had a sidecar for a 20meg HD and memory expansion, probably a whopping 2 megs or so, tops.

Yeah, the stock 590 was 2 MB, so 2.5 or 3 MB all up depending on what you had in it, plus either the default XT 20 MB HD, or a SCSI-I internal. I forget if it had external SCSI as well. I lusted for one of those.

What was more remarkable were some of the ridiculous sidecars you could get - like the GVP unit that gave you 8 MB of RAM, a 68030, as well as such absurdly, mindblowingly huge drives as 105 MB Quantums.

And on the Amiga:

It was really a sort of sci-fi moment for me. First mouse usage, ever.

The sci-fi moment here were the TV ads for the Amiga in '86. They featured DPaint and, more importantly, Defender of the Crown. The latter was so far and away ahead of anything else you could see people were arguing the sequences in the ads must be produced by a Cray or some other supercomputer, that it couldn't possibly be the machine being advertised.

But it was.
posted by rodgerd at 1:07 AM on June 16, 2009


My first computer was a PCjr. Yeah, a PCjr. I'm sure it sucked, was terrible, awful, all of that. But I was a kid so it was several pounds of PURE AWESOME.

I'm surprised I don't remember the keyboard given how universally it is reviled. I suppose that given it was my first keyboard I didn't know any better.
posted by Justinian at 2:16 AM on June 16, 2009


Holy shit! Someone else! Awesome, it's pretty rare to run into someone that knows about that sucker.

I've never even heard of it, which is kind of unusual for me.

*opens link*

Holy shit. It's like the Canyonero of home computers. I bet they could still wedge a printer, a data microcasette reader, a disk drive and a couple more joysticks and paddles into that monster. Maybe a synthesizer keyboard and a few drum pads. And a blender.
posted by loquacious at 3:17 AM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Actually, loquacious, the APF did have a cassette reader/writer built into it. No disk drive. No blender.

I got an Atari 800xl a few years later and it was an amazing upgrade.

now my iPhone has 160 times the storage of my first disk drive...
posted by mmoncur at 4:05 AM on June 16, 2009


I remember when my family first got a tower computer and it freaked me out. I thought to myself who in the hell would want that? Where is the screen going to go? Yeah I was young then.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 6:45 AM on June 16, 2009


I look back on the incredible, wacky diversity of computing in the 70s and 80s with more than a little fondness, it's true. I'll admit that a lot of the things that made each computing platform unique were questionable engineering tradeoffs, but it was a time when such choices had greater meaning.

But my telephone has a more powerful CPU than any computer I owned or operated between my first in 1977 and something I picked up around 1999. The operating system in my telephone is better than many that are widely used today on corporate desktops. It has almost 60,000x the filesystem storage of my first disk drive and over half a million times more storage than the tape drive I owned in the 70s. The graphics processing subsystem is superior to anything available before 2000, although admittedly the display itself isn't comparably great. It's connected -- near-continuously -- to an almost ubiquitous data network that has several times the burst throughput of the Internet connectivity I had in my home less than 10 years ago.

I have a a full blown goddamned BSD UNIX workstation in my pocket. It's a better computer in almost every measurable respect than several I have running right now, today, in this very room, despite not even being the most powerful telephone computer money can buy.

I live in the science fiction future, and it's fucking awesome. If the cost is the loss of quirky, unique hardware that could have conceivably been designed and prototyped in a garage, well, that's a high price on progress but not an unreasonable one.
posted by majick at 7:15 AM on June 16, 2009 [15 favorites]


I feel like I should link to my Dad's Flickr photos of a Japanese computer show he went to around 1980. Not a lot of supporting text, but still "Wow, we've had computers for 30+ years. Wow"
posted by jessamyn at 7:39 AM on June 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


> I have a a full blown goddamned BSD UNIX workstation in my pocket. It's a better computer in almost every measurable respect than several I have running right now, today, in this very room, despite not even being the most powerful telephone computer money can buy.

In 2002, an optical mouse had a faster CPU (for processing the surface details it was scanning and telling your computer which direction you were moving it) than the PCs you could buy in 1992.

I love that.
posted by ardgedee at 9:32 AM on June 16, 2009


I live in the science fiction future, and it's fucking awesome.

Just the other day I used my pocket based computer / telecommunicator to tap into the global information structure via a broadcast signal, poll a collection of the world's published knowledge, and then order sock suspenders, all while working over a barbeque. It was possibly the most awesomely enjoyable demonstration of future living I could think of, and I proceeded to tell everyone about it at length. Also, I was fairly drunk.

but it's still awesome
posted by FatherDagon at 9:33 AM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


My first hard drive was at work, in 1981, before the PC came out. It had a mind-bending 5 MEGA bytes! It had a Z-80 running CP/M. The brand was called Archive, intended for the business market.

Surprised to hear no mention of Ohio Scientific machines. They did some very clever things, and got bought out by someone else.
posted by Goofyy at 9:36 AM on June 16, 2009


thomas j wise: "I have all sorts of fond memories of the TI and the Commodore 64. Recording programs on cassette tapes! Programming blocky dancing men in Basic! Learning to type! (Quick Brown Fox, anyone?)"

Yeah, I basically couldn't use my C64 with that Datasette thing. Things improved immeasurably with the 1541 disk drive, but even by disk standards of the time it creaked along. It had its own 6502 processor inside it, a close cousin to the 6510 in the computer itself, in the thing to run the unit and it was still as slow as molasses. Went through three of those things, one or two of them paid for with my own money I seem to remember, earned by writing and selling computer games.

I find myself wishing I could still do that now....
posted by JHarris at 10:06 AM on June 16, 2009


I used or owned at least half of that list. If I had invested the money my uncle spent on that PC Convertible in IBM stock...I might have enough for a netbook now =p
posted by nomisxid at 10:37 AM on June 16, 2009


Kyol: The Amiga 500 we had when I was growing up (the first non-Atari machine in the family) had a sidecar for a 20meg HD and memory expansion, probably a whopping 2 megs or so, tops.

Yeah, I was thinking about that, reading later into the thread. I wasn't really thinking about the Amiga because I don't think of it as a failure -- it was an unbelievable success, really, and if Apple had been behind it, with their amazing marketing and laser focus on user experience, the computer on your desk now would be a great-great-great-grandchild of the Amiga instead of the PC. It really was that far ahead, but the suits at C= were too stupid to sell it.

Anyway, sidecar expansions stayed pretty common for a long time. The expansion I had on my 500 was just RAM, and I didn't have trouble with it detaching... it was nicely reliable. Most expansions were 2MB, as you mention, though there were much more powerful ones. I sold a very large number of the 2MB type for the 500 (I worked in an Amiga store) and I don't remember anyone having trouble with them. The connection was really quite solid, and the width wasn't bad at all, typically about four inches, so there wasn't a very long lever working against the connection point. I think you might have had a bad unit.

I think the Atari STs also had some kind of sidecar arrangement. I remember the hard drives on those machines always being on the right side of the computer. They were huge things, about the size of a lunchbox -- a little narrower and quite a bit longer. And 20 meg drives cost like $600 in 1987.

majick's points about having a BSD workstation in your pocket are very good, but I really do miss the wacky creativity of those early machines. Nobody really knew what a 'good computer' was, and it was a war of ideas as much as technology.

I was personally a rabid Amiga proponent. In looking back, this was an entirely correct position, because the ideas in the Amiga are in everything now. It offered pervasive multitasking, abstracted device drivers (for printers and disks, at least), abstracted and replaceable filesystems, huge expansion, great graphics, great sound, powerful coprocessors. I remember people dismissing the idea of having color at all on your computer, or multitasking, as irrelevant fripperies. But look at what they buy today.

In a sense, we're all using Amigas now. It was the first recognizably modern consumer operating system. The current ones are WAY better, but you could transplant an Amiga user from 1988 to a machine in 2008 and he or she would be at home very, very quickly, much faster than probably any other home computer population at the time. The changes wouldn't be very startling or unusual to an Amiga user, where a DOS or even an early Mac user might have some trouble adapting immediately.

This whole Internet thing, though, that would take some explaining, even to Amiga freaks. :)
posted by Malor at 10:43 AM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Actually, loquacious, the APF did have a cassette reader/writer built into it. No disk drive. No blender.

I observed that when I went to the APF fansite linked above. My suggestion is that they could have possibly wedged an additional microcassette reader in somewhere, perhaps directly inside the cassette reader. The blender needs to be right in the middle of a split keyboard, perhaps. Also it needs a disco ball.
posted by loquacious at 11:19 AM on June 16, 2009


I feel like I should link to my Dad's Flickr photos of a Japanese computer show he went to around 1980.

Holy crap. Look at those keyboards. Some of those things have more pages than the last book I read.
posted by loquacious at 11:28 AM on June 16, 2009


Malor, thinking back on it more, I'm pretty sure we had our A500 expanded to the hilt. 68030 CPU upgrade (and RAM in the daughterboard slot, if memory serves), a succession of graphics chip upgrades, a sidecar with more ram and a drive, an external drive hanging off that, etc. It was a great machine when it worked, but it could be fragile due to all the little aftermarket addons and enthusiast-level soldering that was involved. I still sort of jonesed for the 286-on-a-card, though. And yeah, it was a fun time - the Windows/Mac flamewars have _nothing_ on the degree of attachment those old companies generated. (LISTEN you IBM-loving numbnuts I'm listening to AWESOME 4 channel MODs while I'm dialed in to this BBS! And I have a desktop publishing app going in the background, too! And some scene demo on another page! Beat that!)

And the ST had a left-hand sidecar just like the Amiga. We had the Mac emulator for ours, but that never really worked all that well. We also had a HD for the 520 in an external pizzabox-style enclosure that we used as a monitor stand.
posted by Kyol at 12:13 PM on June 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


Ah, yeah, I could see where that could easily get flaky. Sounds like you really went to the nines with that machine. If you were actually replacing graphic chips, you went way past anything I did with a 500.

Myself, I switched up to a 2000 in about '89, installed an XT Bridgeboard (I couldn't afford the super-cool AT Bridgeboards), and ran a BBS off of it. I had two hard drives, one for the PC side, and one for the Amiga side. The PC ran WWIV all the time, and I had two phone lines and two modems. I could actually call my own BBS with my own computer, and see myself typing in both the terminal emulation program and in the window that showed the PC screen. (slightly delayed, because the hardware/software combo that remapped the PC's bitmap display to the Amiga's planar display was fairly slow, only a couple of frames per second.) It was pretty cool, and didn't even require hardware hackery, although I had to run the PC hard drive outside the case. It was too big to fit inside. (5.25", full height, sounded like a jet engine when it spun up. I still have it in a box somewhere.)

This setup let me run many Amiga games or whatever while the PC was happily answering calls. Sadly, because the XT Bridgeboard didn't support the full Autoconfig protocol, it wouldn't boot by itself. I had to run a CLI program to start it. This locked me out of many games, because they often didn't boot to AmigaDOS. The AT Bridgeboard had independent boot support, but it was $1200.

I was remembering the expansions for both the Amiga and ST as being on the right side, but I see you're correct that it was on the left. And I remember the monitor-stand hard drives now for the ST. I never owned an Atari -- I refused on ethical grounds, because they were The Enemy. :-)

LISTEN you IBM-loving numbnuts I'm listening to AWESOME 4 channel MODs while I'm dialed in to this BBS! And I have a desktop publishing app going in the background, too! And some scene demo on another page! Beat that!

Hah, I still talk about that. My favorite example was downloading something, unarchiving something else that I'd downloaded (a long and slow process on a 7.1MHz computer), reading a README, and listening to music all at once... and still being able to start more stuff if I needed to. I used to use a program called ClockDJ, which could issue all sorts of commands. I had it set up somehow so that control-function keys would start programs, and alt-function keys would end them. So if I wanted a CLI, it was something like control-F9, and my terminal program was control-F10. They'd pop right up, and when I was done I could just hit alt-F9 or F10 and they'd instantly die. I loved that feeling of control. And this was in 1987.

Modern computers do everything the Amiga did, and far better, but dammit, we were doing them WAY before everyone else caught up. :)

Oh, one last interesting aside: you could tell nearly all heavy Amiga users by a nervous tic they all developed. See, the Amiga wasn't very stable, especially in the first couple of years. Multitasking was new, and there was no hardware memory protection at all, so any rogue program could take the machine down, and often did.

You spent a lot of time waiting on the slow hardware of the era, and the only way to tell whether the machine was locked up or still loading something was to see if the mouse pointer moved. So almost all heavy Amiga users would jiggle the mouse around constantly while waiting, making sure the machine was alive, and not hard-locked. Most of them kept this habit for years, even on other computers, and I got very good at spotting ex-Amiga nuts. :)
posted by Malor at 12:54 PM on June 16, 2009 [9 favorites]


Hey, come on now! We still have sidecar expansions around. Just look at an Xbox 360 and tell me that HD enclosure is not a sidecar expansion.

Leave it to MS to solve a problem by going back 20 years.
posted by Talanvor at 1:09 PM on June 16, 2009


Leave it to MS to solve a problem by going back 20 years.

I found it amusing that the very first error, the overheating Apple III, was the sort of design flaw also responsible for the red-ringing of many, many Xbox 360s.
posted by permafrost at 1:52 PM on June 16, 2009


Was anyone here a Microware OS/9 user? That was one kickass OS, years ahead of the competition. Heck, even today some of its design features are better than those of our popular modern Unices.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:09 PM on June 16, 2009


A500 hell yes. I put a pretty significant chunk of my preadolescence into F/A-18 Interceptor, only to find out late in that machine's life when we finally bought a HD & RAM sidecar that it had title music.

I made a really primitive CGI presentation for school at one point with that thing, creating a bunch of graphics and rudimentary animations in Deluxe Paint III or IV that I had, at the time, decided I would just record onto VHS with The Video Out Port. It wasn't until the night before the project was due that I thought to check the back of the machine, at which point I found out that there was no magical RCA out for video.

I ended up pointing a cheapo camcorder at the screen and pulling the graphics that way. Terrible. But still kind of awesome.
posted by cortex at 3:37 PM on June 16, 2009


I was a TRS-80* baby, in that that was the first comp I ever had at home. I was totally into Scott Adams adventures, having been lucky enough to have a Dad at a university that had Rogue, Collosal Cave and occasionally Dungeon on the VAX mainframe in the late 70s to whet my adventuring appetite (a large bit of circuitboard of that same mainframe now sits on his wall after he kicked it to verifiable death** immediately after it was decomissioned,)

*Specifically the System 80, by the ur-nerd and australasian Richard Branson of his time, Dick Smith. It had faux wood panelling on the sides. We never did get the disk drive, so I had to play Planetfall at a mate's.

*not actually verifiable
posted by Sparx at 4:35 PM on June 16, 2009


Cortex, if you're interested in Amiga emulation, there's a good payware package at Amiga Forever. It comes with everything you need to emulate almost any Amiga ever done, including fully licensed and paid-for Amiga ROMs. You can get all the pieces and do it yourself for free (WinUAE + ROMS + software + quite a bit of fiddling time), but getting the ROMS legitimately can be pretty difficult. Cloanto's got everything ready to go for anywhere from $10 to $50, mostly depending on how many ROMs you want. You still have to find the games yourself, though. That's almost certainly going to involve piracy, if you consider copying games that aren't sold anymore to be piracy.

A recent addition to the emulation engine actually makes the correct floppy noises when a floppy-based game is loading. It's amazing how much that adds -- it's such a small thing, but suddenly I'm 18 again, waiting for Arcticfox to load. :)

They also have a new C64 product at C64 Forever.
posted by Malor at 6:06 PM on June 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Was anyone here a Microware OS/9 user? That was one kickass OS, years ahead of the competition.

I had a CoCo, but I never made the leap to OS 9. I knew I should, I knew it was supposed to be something BIG, but at the time I never quite understood why I needed it.

So, it's an... operating system? It'll let me load other programs? But I can do that with Disk Extended Color Basic.

I just didn't get it. I was happy writing graphics programs for my X-Pad. The CoCo ruled.
posted by bondcliff at 7:51 PM on June 16, 2009


Heh. I think I used OS/9 on a mobile robot platform in the early '90s. Talking over a packet radio to, um, some HP/UX systems? I forget.
posted by hattifattener at 10:07 PM on June 16, 2009


Very surprised my beloved Apple IIGS's ridiculously slow processor didn't merit a mention on this list. The lost potential of that machine was pretty tragic, when drawing a fancy graphic on the screen was the equivalent of watching a slow modem connection draw out some ASCII art ou have to wonder how it got approved.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:59 AM on June 17, 2009


Man. I still have my Apple IIGS sitting around somewhere in my house. I cant bring myself to get rid of it because it has so many memories attached to it. Hell, that's the machine I first learned to program with (and holy god when I eventually got to start using some version of quickbasic...you mean I have a way of viewing my program other than seeing the entire thing scrolled by like some kind of dir command from hell? I can just CHANGE things?). I'm pretty sure I still have the disc sitting around that has the text-based adventure game and programs I wrote in 4th - 5th grade. A thousand+ lines of frustrating goodness all based around GOTO and before I learned anything at all about arrays or...okay, wow. FLASHBACKS.

Man, I loved that computer. I'm really thinking that I should set it back up and see if my discs are corrupted, give some old stuff a whirl. OOOh. Maybe I can find my copy of Battle Chess.
posted by Stunt at 3:12 PM on June 17, 2009


with an Apple Macintosh
you can't run Radio Shack programs
in its disc drive.
nor can a Commodore 64
drive read a file
you have created on an
IBM Personal Computer.
both Kaypro and Osborne computers use
the CP/M operating system
but can't read each other's
handwriting
for they format (write
on) discs in different
ways.
the Tandy 2000 runs MS-DOS but
can't use most programs produced for
the IBM Personal Computer
unless certain
bits and bytes are
altered
but the wind still blows over
Savannah
and in the Spring
the turkey buzzard struts and
flounces before his
hens.

- Charles Bukowski

posted by milquetoast at 7:06 AM on June 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I jiggle the mouse while I am waiting. I had forgotten this came from my Amiga times. I feel happy.

I could not afford a proper monitor for my Amiga 500, not even the TV adapter. I bought a badly shielded homemade adapter with the computer, but it had a coaxial output and my TV's input consisted of two screws for the bunny ear antenna's wires. I fixed that with electrical tape and telephone wire.

It was the type of TV where you switch channels by turning a dial and finding a station. I had to very carefully nudge the dial and try to find the point where the signal from the computer was strongest. The best I could get was a slightly fuzzy desktop, with TV shows ghosted in the background. Bumping the desk could cause the TV signal to overwhelm the computer signal.

Still, it was the best computer I had for many years. I think it was until Pentium came out that I started getting almost the same kind of functionality. It was not until I got my first mac around 2002 that it felt that personal computers had many any progress.
posted by dirty lies at 1:29 PM on June 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've still got my multiple Commodore 64s and 1541 drives up in a closet. I still have the many scratch disks I used to save programs I wrote. I think that's why I keep them, although it'd be pretty troublesome to drag a C64 out at this point to see what 14-year-old me put on those disks.
posted by JHarris at 6:54 AM on June 22, 2009


Space Coyote wrote: Very surprised my beloved Apple IIGS's ridiculously slow processor didn't merit a mention on this list. The lost potential of that machine was pretty tragic, when drawing a fancy graphic on the screen was the equivalent of watching a slow modem connection draw out some ASCII art ou have to wonder how it got approved.
Or perhaps the equivalent of a slow modem drawing out some line art in the form of RIP. (graphical BBSes, baby!)
posted by wierdo at 8:53 AM on June 28, 2009


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