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Thread: Your earliest computer and programs

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    Gold Member irneb's Avatar
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    Your earliest computer and programs

    Not to get around to disclosing your age, but I was wondering what the oldest PC you've ever worked on was. I'm not talking about consoles / TV-plugins like Atari / Comodore. Something you actually used for WORK.

    Mine was bought in 1987. An IBM compatible XT running at 8MHz, 640kb RAM, 360kb Floppy, 720kb Stiffy, 20MB HDD and a monochrome Hercules Graphics card. Used it with DOS 3.3 to begin with, running some stuff like PFS Write for word processing, Lotus 123 as spreadsheet, R:Base for database system. Later started using Q&A for database due to its (still) unsurpassed natural language query system. Was also my first introduction to programming using Logo / Basic.

    Still later (around 1989) dropped all for the combined Ability+, first thing where everything worked together and could be interlinked (i.e. a spreadsheet inside your document with mailmerge from a database). Not to mention my main business program: AutoCAD, though upgraded to R9 & then R10 running on a 386-25MHz, still DOS though - 4MB RAM (using ACad's Extended Memory to address the +1MB barrier), 40MB HDD and a Bernoulli Drive for backups. Started using ACad's built-in macro/scripting language AutoLisp for extending tools inside the program - fell in love with it.

    Also started my CS degree and was introduced to Pascal, SQL, etc. A bit of a let down in comparison to AutoLisp & Q&A.
    Then came the Win95 "revolution" with ACad R12/13 and "lots" of RAM on a Pentium and the race between software wasting performance and hardware trying to keep up (or was it the other way round ) was getting into full swing - or at least that was my feeling: Needed 64MB RAM just so I could open a drawing which I created years ago on something which only had 4MB - else the PC would simply crash after loading for 30min. AFAIAC the 90's was when programmers got lazy - writing software which was not just buggy, but extremely inefficient (at least in comparison to the old stuff which needed to fit into highly restricted RAM/Storage/CPU speeds and tended to "Just Work -and- FAST").

    The whole 90's felt like a step backwards in terms of actual usability, sure you got "nice" graphical interfaces. But all the good stuff which was already available much earlier seemed to have been forgotten. I still blame MicroSoft for killing OS2 Warp and introducing their abomination of W95 - goes to show: Marketing trumps Performance. Anyone remember the VHS / Beta Max wars?

    And before some bitten fruit fanboi jumps up about the GUI available in the 80's, try looking at where they stole their system from: Xerox in the early 70's. And even they "stole" it from a much earlier GUI called GRAIL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLRy4Ao62ls

    Now THAT's a CAD for you - and it was made nearly 50 years ago and still the "new" stuff doesn't come close to what it could to then! See why I mention our software engineer's are LAZY? I'm actually sorry for people only getting into computers now, thinking these are "state of the art" ideas. If they only knew! See this as a gauntlet thrown down to the "programmers" out there: Stop redoing old stuff and doing it badly! Get to at least the capabilities they had 50 years ago, but preferably "invent" something NEW and/or better FFS!
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    Diamond Member adrianh's Avatar
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    Commodore Vic 20, ZX Sinclair 81, Commodore Vic 64, Sinclair Spectrum, XT, over clocked XT, 286, 286 with a math co-processor nogal, 386, 486, Pentium and the list goes on.

    I remember programs being stored on normal 4 track cassette tape for the Vic

    The biggest thing for me was the advent of extended memory and being able to create a fast RAM drive. We used to compile (huge at the time) programs and being able to load the entire lot into RAM drive cut the compile times down dramatically...and of course a power failure meant everything ended up in space....
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    Diamond Member Justloadit's Avatar
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    Sharp MZ80B, first console with a keyboard and a green monochrome screen with a 5.5inch floppy drive, the previous model had a cassette recorder to store the data. Came with Basic, a damn nice machine, I think this was the first system in which all the components required in a PC came in one box. I remember writing training programs for electronics on the screen, in which the schematic was drawn one line at a time, building up the schematic. At the time it was suggested that it would be better to slow the drawing down, as an instant schematic on screen would confuse students with the speed. I remember creating the component symbols and character maps and placing them on the screen using co-ordinates. Since the project was to big for us at the time, we passed it onto the US Naval training academy known as Nida Corporation, as it was way ahead of its time. In return we got the rights to sell the finished training systems locally. Unfortunately the price was too high for the local market. They made good money from their training systems, and are I believe still in business today. They went onto interfacing directly to plug able PC boards on a console, and would introduce failures on the board using relays from the computer. The students then had to do a diagnostics procedure to identify the failure. It was a real great system.
    Last edited by Justloadit; 02-Feb-13 at 11:33 PM.
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    Gold Member Chrisjan B's Avatar
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    You're all old geezers, hau and to think not so long ago i HIT HALF A CENTURY....
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    Gold Member Singhms's Avatar
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    286 cannot remember the specs, I know it had only a floppy and 20MB HDD.

    Just got rid of what must of been 500+ floppies recently
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    Platinum Member Mike C's Avatar
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    Started off with a (second hand) ZX 81 which had 1 k memory on board and a 16k memory pack that plugged in behind the pressure keyboard. If you moved it too much the pack would disconnect and you had to start again.

    Began to teach myself to program in Basic on that very first "computer"

    Used a printer that used to burn images onto silver paper.

    Moved onto the Sinclair ZX Spectrum with 32 k. Moved into the world of colouron the screen, but was still stuck with the silver paper and recording and loading programs from a Cassette Recorder.

    It had a word processor, a spread sheet, games and all kinds of interesting stuff.

    Flight simulator used to take something like 7 minutes to load, and it didn't always load the first time.

    First "Big" computer was a Spectovideo (I think it was called) - was unahappy with it and took it back and bought my first genuine IBM (286), with its own monitor (used TV sets before that) and 1 floppy drive. I think that it had 64k RAM.

    Bought an Epson Dot matrix printer which I used for many years.

    Eventually added another floppy drive and finally a 20 meg hard drive. So much space!!! ... I thought I would never fill it all.

    Used that computer for many years and wrote quite a few programs for myself in Gbasic which I then compiled ... still have the keyboard (in working condition) which is pretty heavy.

    From there went the usual route of 386, 486, Pentium.

    When people buy computers these days with Gigabytes and Terrabytes available to them, it doesn't amaze them as it amazes us "oldies" who started at the beginning.

    I also think that those who used to program the word processors and spreadsheets had to be very economical with their programming so that it could fit into the RAM of those early machines. I salute them.
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    Diamond Member Justloadit's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike C View Post
    I also think that those who used to program the word processors and spreadsheets had to be very economical with their programming so that it could fit into the RAM of those early machines. I salute them.
    Not only that, the programs would not hang up in midway, as we regularly experience on modern equipment.
    It just too easy to add a patch on top of a patch. Why can't they write the program properly the first time round?
    I know why, they are too damn lazy to test the program with all possibilities that may arise, and rely on the customer to do that, and secondly today's programmers have no control on the functions they call, they just assume that if the function is in the library then it works, and never really think out the program before writing it, as there is plenty memory to handle it - WRONG!
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    Gold Member irneb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by irneb View Post
    See why I mention our software engineer's are LAZY? I'm actually sorry for people only getting into computers now, thinking these are "state of the art" ideas. If they only knew! See this as a gauntlet thrown down to the "programmers" out there: Stop redoing old stuff and doing it badly! Get to at least the capabilities they had 50 years ago, but preferably "invent" something NEW and/or better FFS!
    Quote Originally Posted by Justloadit View Post
    Not only that, the programs would not hang up in midway, as we regularly experience on modern equipment.
    It just too easy to add a patch on top of a patch. Why can't they write the program properly the first time round?
    I know why, they are too damn lazy to test the program with all possibilities that may arise, and rely on the customer to do that, and secondly today's programmers have no control on the functions they call, they just assume that if the function is in the library then it works, and never really think out the program before writing it, as there is plenty memory to handle it - WRONG!
    Exactly what I was on about in my rant. But worse than that some of the old stuff even had better and more capabilities than the new stuff (or at best only now do they start getting to what was available). Just go look at this video link and the one from my first post - you'd be amazed at what's in that in 1963:
    1. On screen UI
    2. Line / Shape recognition
    3. Handwriting recognition
    4. Gestrures
    5. Auto-routing of linework, constraints like perpendicular / parallel.
    6. Object oriented interface (i.e. point at a line/shape you've drawn and perform an action on it)


    Or even more impressive - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a11JDLBXtPQ
    1. First use of a mouse
    2. First use of hypertext
    3. Video conferencing with markup and multiple party editing
    4. Rearrangement of a tree structure by drag-n-drop


    And all that worked on huge machines equivalent to entry level stuff of the 80's.

    As for the stuff crashing all the time, a personal anecdote: The CAD system I used in the 80's (AutoCAD) ran on top of DOS. But due to DOS only allowing 640kb maximum RAM for any program the guys at AutoDesk implemented their own virtual memory manager to handle larger sizes. Implementing a disc-swap as well as the use of extended RAM (i.e. above 1Mb). What really cooked my noodle was that the DOS versions of ACad (up to release 10) never crashed ... EVER! It never ran out of RAM and simply crashed, it would warn you once the Extended RAM & HDD became full and still allow you to save the work you'd done thus far. Allowing you to go clear some more space so you could continue working.

    Once they implemented their Windows versions (first one was R11, but the first I used was R12) there was no end of crashes. This was because they had to go use Windows libraries for memory management. And once they had the thing working for W95 / NT in R13 they had a pig running, the R13 version is still classed as the worst mistake AutoDesk ever made (not even the Vista fiasco came close to the problems it caused). Nowadays I'm using AutoCAD 2013 and Revit 2013, neither of which uses less RAM than 300MB without opening any drawing - Revit usually gobbles around 6 to 8 GB if you just look at it with a frown. And yet it's slower and more prone to simply crashing without notice in the middle of anything you're doing.

    But it was a sign of the times: Programmers tended to use the OS libs for everything, and those libs were riddled with bugs (at best) or simply designed by a lunatic / sadist. These days it's not much better, most of the current libs are just as filled with fungus which is never corrected. Every programmer relies on the guy who wrote the stuff just one layer below his - so it's a situation of programmer errors piled on top of each other. And no-one's got (or wants to make) the time to fix these, just carry on using the SHT! You've got a dead-line to meet even if your program is only 50% debugged we'll sell it to the schmucks and possibly get to some fixes in the future ... No wait, why not sell them the fixes a second time round as an "upgrade", not to forget to place some new bugs in there so this could become a never ending chain?
    Gold is the money of kings; silver is the money of gentlemen; barter is the money of peasants; but debt is the money of slaves. - Norm Franz
    And central banks are the slave clearing houses

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    My oldest computer was from HCL. I don't remember the exact model number of the computer.

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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    In late 1985 I was seriously considering buying an IBM PC from a crowd called Core Computers (the local IBM agent) at the staggering price of R18000 (excluding software) when the first IBM PC clones out of Taiwan landed in South Africa at a cost of just under R7000. I was told I was the importer's second customer and I remember how my hand shook as I wrote the cheque - this was the equivalent of two Nissan 1400 bakkies at the time.

    When I asked about software for business, they installed PC Write - which came with a primitive database application which was good for a clumsy mailmerge functionality and that was about it, Pegasus which was kinda the leading edge of PC accounting software at the time, and I was also handed a floppy with Mirror Image on it to make "backup copies" of any software that had copy protection issues.

    The machine itself had 256bk ram, dual floppy disk drive and a 10MB hard drive. I recall asking if a 10MB hard drive would be enough - the rep laughed and said it would take many years to fill a hard drive of that size. When the hard drive packed in for the first time about 9 months later, the PC Turbo was just coming out. Funny reading the comments about how robust the technology was - that's how I remember it too, with the exception of hard drives. I don't recall having one that lasted longer than a year up until about the mid '90s.

    The theory was my secretary would use the pc in the mornings to type up documents, and I'd use the pc in the afternoons to do the financial stuff. It took two months before my secretary even tried the thing - she far preferred her tried and trusted golfball typewriter. The turning point was the afternoon I did a statement run. It took half an hour to set up, process and print, a task she used to have to do and would take usually take three days. If there's one thing the pc did for small business more than anything else, I reckon it was expanding our ability to have and properly manage debtors.

    The next morning she tried PC Write, and fell in love. All the typewriter was used for was typing envelopes - which continued until white window envelopes became freely available at a reasonable price. (shyte, there's a story for another day all on its own!)
    Last edited by Dave A; 06-Feb-13 at 01:12 PM.
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