Saturday, August 12, 2006

25th Anniversary of the IBM PC; it's been a long and winding road...

There is a post by Maynard on Tammy Bruce's blog, "Happy Birthday, IBM PC!", which was a stroll down memory lane for me. Things have come such a long way since then.

I couldn't afford the first PC's when they came out, I didn't get my first IBM compatible PC till around 1992, when people started to throw away their old PC's by leaving them out on the sidewalk.

But well before that, I had computers like the primitive Timex-Sinclair, and the more usefull Tandy Model 100, and the very excellent (and very fun) Commodore 64. I used Geoworks software on the C-64, which was a Graphical User Interface (GUI) much like windows, only better. I used it to make a newsletter which I was paid to publish; everyone thought I did it on a Mac! Geoworks started making the software for IBM compatible PC's, so I eventually started using that software on cast-off PCs.

I became a kind of hands-on DOS geek, it was fun because it just came to me naturally as I learned things. I completely ignored Windows, it was expensive, clunky and I didn't like it. However, as the Internet became more and more relevant, the best way to get online was either by Windows on the PC, or a Mac. In 1997 we bought our first NEW PC, with Win95 on it, so we could access the Internet (we had gone on-line previously with the C-64, but that wasn't the internet, it was... "Quantum Link", which eventually became AOL. Anyone remember that? Remember dialing up "bulletien boards" on 300 bps modems? And thinking that was FAST?).

The Commodore 64 was great fun in it's day

But the C-64, and many of the older PC's too, were destined to be left behind, with the advent of the Internet, which required more substantial hardware resources. The internet opened up a whole new world. I loved it, but I was not very happy with Windows; it seemed very bloated and unstable. Over time, Windows did become more stable, but with each improvement in stability came more restrictions. DOS commands were phased out, and you had to do things the Windows way, or not at all. With each upgrade and new release, you were less able to go behind the Graphical User Interface and tinker with anything, to make it do what you wanted it to do; for me, it took a lot of the fun out of computers. And a lot of the freedom.

I really wanted an alternative, but Linux was quite primitive back then and nothing else dealt with the internet as well as Windows did, except for the Mac, which I found too expensive and limiting in terms of having to be locked into their hardware and software.

But things in the computing world change quickly. Windows XP is much more stable... and as restrictive as ever. But Linux has also come a long way, and the good news is... the FUN is back!

At last, a useable, open-source and FREE operating system, that provides a decent desktop environment and internet browsing as good as Windows offers. The source code is not restricted, and I can tinker with it as much as I want, and benefit from the tinkering others have done and share on line.

Currently, I am using PClinuxOS. You can download it free of charge, burn it on to a CD, then run it "live" from the CD - the entire operating system! - to see what it is like, and how it works on your PC with your hardware. It runs off the CD and in RAM only, changing nothing on your computer, so you can safely try it out. If you like it, you can create a partition on your Hard Drive, and install it. It can share the HD with Windows, and you can choose between using Windows or PCLOS.

I'm using PCLOS right now, to create this blogpost. I'm using a GUI called KDE, which has a very similar look and feel to Windows.

There is an extensive help forum, where you can ask questions and search the archives for solutions to problems or find answers to questions you might have. There is an on-line repository of over 5,000 software programs and applications you can download and install for free. PCLOS has a utility called Synaptic that makes it easy to do.

I can do almost everything with this linux that I could do with windows. I still have Win XP installed on my HD, available in case I need it for anything that specifically requires that I use windows (A small number of websites and companies still do that). I also have some video editing software that uses Windows, that I like to use. I have yet to find a linux program that works as well, but I haven't had much time to look either, and I'm not in a hurry. I'm also still using Quicken. There are ways to make it run under linux, and also other programs for linux that I could use instead, but I'm not in a hurry.

For now, I'm using Linux for the internet, email and blogging, which is about 90% of what I use the computer for. I don't have to worry about viruses and spyware, and it's very stable and secure. [It would be more accurate to say I don't have to worry AS MUCH about viruses and spyware. See comments below.]

Perhaps best of all, I'm learning to change things and make them work the way I want them to. I'm allowed to tinker with it and learn things, and I don't have to buy expensive upgrades.

At last, the FUN is back in computing again.

Related Link:

10 Days without windows... The Machine Stops
This is a post of mine from last Decmeber. It has a link to (what I think is) an amusing article by a young man who tries not to use Microsoft products for 10 days. Not quit using the computer (he decided to use Linux instead), but just not use anything by Microsoft. And only just for 10 days, but I was astounded at all the problems he had, and all the things in his life he used a computer for. Things I never imagined... his generation had personal computers for as long as he could remember. Soon no one will remember what a world without personal computers was like. I don't say that is necessarily bad, but it is almost like we are losing something... a pre-computer innocence? A pre-computer way of relating to the world, and each other?

And keeping to that idea, the post also has a link to a short story by E. M. Forester, called "The Machine Stops". It's a sci-fi story written in 1909, that predicts the internet and the kind of culture that could grow up around it. Don't let the date the story was written fool you into thinking it's not relevent to today. It's amazingly relevant - quite creepy, actually. I'm amazed that anyone could see the internet and TV so acurrately from THAT time period. There is a warning in the story about what could happen to people if they become too dependent on technology, and allow technology to change them too much. I see much of it happening already... that's the creepy part!


Fits said...

Interesting, Chas, thanks.

Anonymous said...

I have many, MANY fond memories of the C-64. I had one hooked up to a black and white TV, with a stack of 5 1/4 floppies packed to the gills with games.

I've since tried to get a C-64 emulator to work on my PC for nostalgia sake, and either I can't get it to work or I truly can't remember how slow the C-64 actually was.

AB5SY said...

Ahhhhhh what a trip down memory lane from the 80s. As a ham radio operator I was able to attach my radio to my Commador64 through a interface and with the correct software, I was able to copy news from the wire services as it was sent to the subscribed news papers, it was fun telling my co-works what the news would be before it hit the papers, even picked up messages broadecasted by the military. Although I have long since moved up to the latest in home PC's, I have fond memories of the Commodor 64 and 128

MAX Redline said...

I've found the week to be a trip down memory lane as well. The first computer I used, back in 1976, took up 3.5 walls of space in a large room. We used toggle switches to program it.

It was replaced by an OSI Challenger system with 32k onboard memory and the ability to store another 360k on 8" floppy disks.

In 1981, I purchased my first computer system for $3000. It was the first to deploy 128k of bank-switched memory, and came with dual 5.25" floppy drives. It ran a little OS known as CP/M+. I added a 100Mb external hard drive for around $150.

In the past couple of months, I've built a new main system - which cost about $450. It has 1Gb ram, a high-speed processor, an 80Gb sata drive, a couple of 160Gb eide drives, a dvd/cd burner, and much more.

Windows XP is of course running on it, as is Linux. Switching from one OS to the other is fast and easy. I suggest, however, that Linux is not as bulletproof as you may think. Better than Windows? Sure - because Win is the dominant OS, that's what people shoot at.

However there are also ploys directed toward OSX, which is a derivative of Unix, and Linux falls into the same category. In brief, I think it's a real mistake to believe that by running a derivative OS you are somehow safe from attack. You aren't.

In your case, it's even easier. You just told me what flavor of Linux you run, and how it's deployed. It's a trivial matter to tag you, note when you're online, and backtrack to your home system. Since you were kind enough to tell me what OS you use, it's actually pretty easy to simply take your system over.

I bank at Wells Fargo. You too? What's your PIN look like?

Chas said...


What you say about security is true. Ideally, I shoud have said that I don't have to worry about viruses and spyware AS MUCH as I did with Windows. I don't doubt that those problems may increase, if Linux/Unix becomes more commonplace as a desktop environment.

Spyware was my biggest problem with Windows, I don't think there is much of that for Linux/Unix yet.

There are firewall and antivirus programs for linux. I have done other things as well to secure my connection, but I don't like to give the details on-line. The only truely 100% secure solution to protect your computer from hackers, is to not have it plugged in to the internet; there are no magic bullets I know of. But taking reasonable precautions is still advisable.

PCLOS is currently my favorite Linux, but I've tried many others. I find Kubuntu interesting, but not quite polished enough for my purposes. I was using Lycoris, till it went under and was bought by Mandriva. Tried Mandriva for a while, but PCLOS is a better fit for me. I also like PC-BSD, which is comming along nicely. What kind of Linux do you use? (or don't you want to say?)

You have a lot more experience with computers than I do, I'm just an amature geek, so I like to stick with the "easy" linux distros (or an easy BSD).

I would have leaned more if I had gotten a job in the computer industry. But when I took a course in High School on computers, they made us use punch cards, it was very boring, and it kinda put me off the idea. I was ready for a computer like H.A.L. from "2001: A Space Odessy"... just not the beta version that kills you while you sleep.


When we visited the Queen Mary in Long Beach in 1996, they had a C-64 in their radio room. I believe it was attached to a Ham Radio. The ship's radio room was set up to be used as part of an emergecy response station in the event of a major earthquake. I thought it was pretty cool that they were able to use the C-64 that way.

T. F. Stern said...

That IBM computer with two floppy ports reminded me of the TI system we bought for just under 4K in the early 80's. The program disk was on one side while the data disk was in the other; always having to switch disks to get the job done. We bought the TI becuase they had come out with a color monitor while all the others were either green screen or orange at the time.
Thanks for the trip down memory lane and God bless all the geeks who've made these newer machines user friendly, enough that even a dummy like me can enjoy them.

Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

08 16 06

Chas you outdid yourself on this one!!!! My husband will LOVE this article. A few years bck, he bought a replica of his first computer. It was a TIMEX Sinclair 1000! He wrote code in a Basic type language and it could do small calculations,but not much else. heheheheh Funny how things change. Goooooood read! I hope all is well with you and wish you and Patrick a great rest of week.

Chas said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Mahndisa.

I sometimes think that those of us who were using computers starting with the TIMEX Sinclair have an advantage over those who are only starting to learn about computers now. Using those old, primitive machines taught us so much about what a computer is, and how it works. To start off with a fancy GUI must make it seem unnessasarily mysterious.

The old days were fun, in large part because you could tinker with the software to make it to what you want. That is what has been such fun with linux; it's like DOS, but with a LOT more muscle. And it has several windows-like GUIs available (my favorite is KDE). Also, it's so much cheaper to use. There are lots of plusses.