Computers: We, the Digital Immigrants

Do You Remember When You Bought Your First Home Computer? Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief, Bought His First Home Computer in 1983. It Was an IBM XT Model

By Joe Feeley

Like many of you who are in my age group, the recent “celebration" of the 30th anniversary of the commercial release of Apple's Macintosh PC made me recall my involvements with personal computing around that time.

With some exceptions, in the early 1980s most manufacturing companies saw no real use for personal computers—they were called home computers—except for starting to see their value in still-cumbersome-to-use word-processing programs, but the quality of that dot-matrix printer output wasn't exactly elegant. We also were trying out the time-saving number-crunching that early-generation VisiCalc spreadsheets offered.

It was sort of a given that, if a company did introduce PCs to the office, they were labeled IBM, not Apple, even though the Apple ii PC had been around since 1977 or so.

There certainly were engineers using Commodores and TRS-80s, but most were occupied with finding factory-floor uses for game-changing PLCs that were proving a very useful step up from relays.

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My first home computer purchase in 1983 was an IBM XT model. Its galaxy-class specs included a 4.77-MHz processor; a fancy-dancy 10-MB hard drive; 128-KB RAM and a 360-KB, 5  ¼-in. floppy drive. I even sprang for the CGA color CRT. I was living in Europe then, so the exchange rate of the time might skewer this a bit, but it cost roughly $6,000. I gasp at that to this day.

Compaq had fired up its competitive product perhaps a year before, but I was clearly thinking under the spell of a consumer version of “nobody gets fired for buying IBM." And it was IBM and Apple—remember its 1984 Super Bowl Mac commercial?—that put home PCs on the mainstream radar.

A year or so before I bought my PC, I was at a coworker's house when he unveiled his recently purchased Osborne 1, touted as the world's first portable PC. Well, it did fold up to look like a plastic suitcase with a handle. It weighed 25 lbs. Under the hood there was a 4-MHz processor, two 5  ¼-in. floppy drives for 90-K capacity disks and a 5-in. monochrome CRT. It cost about $2,000. It also wasn't IBM-compatible, so neither it nor its maker lasted very long on the market.

My kids were pretty young when that home computer arrived, but they were immediately engaged by early versions of programs like Math Blaster and a similarly based spelling adventure. I recall having to create a few menu screens in MBASIC, so they could find them on the hard drive and not have to use a floppy. Today, their kids are the true digital natives.

My perspective is shaped by those types of experiences. Share some of your recollections with us, regardless of when you entered the digital world.

Some of you will make me look like a late-to-the party kid, with  your tales of playing with the pre-cursor toys in the decade before.

Others of you are thinking, “Gee, I didn't think he was so old." It comes with the territory.