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Ben's history of PC's, Part 1: 1986

posted Feb 14, 2009, 6:00 PM by Ben Griggs
I recently saw a pictorial slideshow on PC Magazine showing the evolution of the Personal computer. It made me think back to my history with the PC, and how even the ones I've owned have changed throughout the years.

the following is part I of the series, 1986

Circa 1986 - My dad wanted to get a computer to help us out with school work. At the time, Apple computer had a foothold in the educational market. I can remember playing the original "Oregon Trail" on an Apple IIe in my fifth grade classroom. Dad settled on the latest and greatest of the Apple II line - the Apple IIc. So, like many my age, my first personal computing experience was on an Apple. According to Wikipedia, the IIc came with a 1.023MHz CPU and 128KB of RAM. It was an 8 bit computer and was priced at $1295.00

I have some very fond memories with that computer, It was a green-screened text-based computer with a 5.25'' floppy drive integrated into the side of the chassis. The monitor stand kind of curved around the small (for the time), flat chassis which was designed to sit at a slight incline going away from the user. The casing and the keyboard was all one piece, but since it was not GUI based, there was no mouse.

I learned some basic proDOS programming tricks on this machine (oooh, blinky text!) and at one time wrote a program that alerted whoever launched it that they had breached the integrity of the PC and warned that the FBI had been notified. My grandfather got such a kick out of some of my little hacks that he brought this particular disk with him to a computer store one day and when the salesman wasn't looking he slid my "FBI" warning into one of the machines on the floor. On the next re-boot (you had to re-boot to launch each program back then) grandpa pointed at the screen at said "what's that???". The salesman, after a few seconds of panic, just grinned and said it must be some kind of hacker program. Grandpa and I managed to keep a straight face.

The IIc had the standard Apple keyboard, complete with open-apple/closed-apple. I spent hours enjoying such primitive but classic games like Rescue Raiders, Choplifter, Castle Wolfenstein, Ali Baba, Summer/Winter/California games and a casino game called "Monte Carlo" I eventually got a joystick, but I had gotten so used to the complex key combinations for some of them that it was difficult to switch over. Wolfenstein, in particular, I remember you had to use one side of the keyboard to move your man, and the other side to show which way to point your gun. Good thing some of those Nazi's were a little slow on the uptake.

We had a dot-matrix printer and got our money's worth out of one of the early versions of "Print Shop", printing up greeting cards (how do you fold those things?), certificates and banners for ourselves. Oh, the banners! The only thing that made printing banners possible was the continuous-feed computer paper used by the impact printers of the day. Well, continuous feed is kind of a misnomer. It should have been called continuous feed until misalignment occurred after about 5 sheets. Some of you might remember that the paper was one long sheet, perforated at the 8X10 mark, and had a little strip of holes on each side, also perforated. The holes were used by the printer, which would catch the holes with little teeth to feed the paper into the printer. Unfortunately, all too often the teeth would eventually become mis-aligned with the holes and the paper would crinkle up and stop feeding. However, the printer didn't stop printing so you ended up with one big black line on the spot of the paper where the misfeed occurred. Also, if you've never heard an impact printer in action, picture a screeching cat sitting on top of a jet engine. Then give the cat a megaphone and tell it to sing a Mariah Carey song.

Our great money-saving trick for IIc floppy disks was to buy a single-sided 5.25 disk and cut a notch in the other side with an exacto knife to make it dual-sided. The 5.25 disks made all kinds of interesting sounds when they were being read/written to. When you formatted them, they sounded like they were being hit by a tiny jackhammer prior to the rhythmic "chunk, chunk, chunk" that followed. We did eventually get a 3.5 inch disk drive, and wondered how they could make such a tiny disk hold over a megabyte of information. I loved ejecting the 3.5'' drive, it gave you a sweet futuristic eject sound. Inserting them was cool, too, with that spring-loaded "ka-CHUNK!".

We used that computer for a long time, though I don't remember what ever became of it.

The Apple IIc, my family's first PC.