Your First Computer?

Rich’s semi-nostalgic post yesterday has some of our readers reminiscing about their first computers, ones they owned or ones they first used for geeking out, ahem, I mean programming.

For example:

So, I’ll take my turn next.

All this has me whimsically recalling the days of BASIC written on my elementary school’s Apple IIe. I think that’s what it was anyway. Growing up, computers and gaming consoles were luxuries we couldn’t afford, still I managed to get some time on the school computers.

Anyway, as a geek-child of the 80s, I appreciate this shirt.

Through the rest of my educational years, I used Macs of all types (SE, II, IIx, IIcx, LC, IIsi, IIci, Quadra, Centris, Performa, Powerbook) exclusively for all manner of desktop publishing. Remember Quark Express? We used to go nutty with that in the high school journalism room.

I got my first exposure to command line tools in college, using Emacs and Pine for email, still from a Mac though, and I even used a NeXT briefly, believe it or not.

Anyway, all that changed my senior year in college when I supported some animal called a Windows 3.11 at the library. This was the beginning of the Windows era for me.

Then I graduated into the happy, fun world of Win 95 and NT 3.51 and 4. I got a smattering of Solaris too, but not enough to stick beyond basic Unix commands.

I tried to jump on the Red Hat bus in the late 90s, but having two machines allowed me to use the Windows crutch. So, I stayed with Windows, moving through the usual suspects ME, 2000, XP.

After a ten-year hiatus, I finally returned to Apple in 2006, and I haven’t regretted it (yet). I’m still not XP free; despite using Ubuntu and OS X on my machines, I still have to keep XP installed on my wife’s desktop. Although, she does rock an OS X Macbook too.

So, my first computer was really the Apple IIe I used in elementary school. Unlike Rich, I’m not a die-hard hobbyist; in fact, had I gone a different way out of college, I might be just another n00b, er more of a n00b. Still, I enjoy messing about with my machines and trying new software, maybe I’m a wanna-be hobbyist.

How about you? Feel free to regail us with your tales of yore. This is a fun conversation I’m glad Rich started.




  1. My first computer was an Tandy Color MC-10. I got it for Christmas along with a 32kB expansion and a tape recorder with a bunch of games on it. I was very proud of myself to program in a text haunted house adventure and consuming practically all of the available memory. I was even more amazed to find a full-color pinball game on one of the tapes. I couldn't figure out how they got the incredible graphics or the sounds in such a small memory footprint.

    A couple of years later I learned from my math teacher they used 'peek' and 'poke' to directly access memory. Unfortuanately in eight grade assembly language was over my head.

  2. This guy?

    Looks like fun. I'm not sure 8th graders should be learning assembly, which now that I think of it, meant something entirely different in secondary school.

    Seems like Tandys (or is it Tandies) are a popular first computer. I guess that makes sense.

    I keep waiting for someone to say, “my first computer was made out of sticks and grape stems”. That sucker was fast too.

  3. i had an abacus- then we upgraded to a slide rule and a compass for high resolution graphics capabilities 😉

  4. I assume you're joking, but even so, I had both in the 80s, more for show than function, but still.

    Used to read tea leaves too.

  5. Such a weird experience coming from Mac System 7 to Win 3.11, very odd. I remember thinking, who uses this turd anyway 🙂

    Joke was on me, although Win 95 was a leap compared to 3.11. Ah Win 95. I had to support 16-bit Oracle Office on 95; that was a trip.

  6. My first was the Apple (I) computer. Back then, they didn't call it Apple I (presumably because they didn't know there would someday be an Apple II). It was all black and had a Bell and Howell logo on it for some reason. I used to write programs in Logic and saved all my work on cassette tapes. It was awesome. We had a bunch of the Apple models growing up (my dad was a gadget freak): Apple IIe, IIgs (I remember we bought the 1Mb RAM upgrade), and IIc. Appleworks was state-of-the-art at my house and we thought it was the best back then!

    I remember Windows 3.11 too, but was more of a WFWG guy :).

  7. I had the ZX81 (the original UK version of the Timex Sinclair 1000).
    1K of RAM and THAT keyboard.
    Years later I had a 286 which I used to access CompuServe and also my first web browsing experience via TELNET and lynx.
    Mouse. I don't need a steenking mouse!

  8. Those are sweet. There are so many cool options now, EEPC, OLPC, plus affordable/powerful options in mainstream O/S too. I see kids with laptops and wonder how many of them really hack though, since stuff just works. Even with a lot of really sweet options, my guess is that hacking/hobbyism isn't any more prevalent than in our day, percentage-wise.

  9. Nice. It's a bit funny to me that all of you had computers at home (I assume). For me, computers were strictly school only, but that was a function of my parents. They still don't (and won't) own a computer. Works for me, no parental PC support required.

    If we're doing first Internet experience, my was through something called America Online in 1995.

  10. Those early Apple I and II were big monoliths. They use to roll them around on media carts. Sounds like a great setup for a young hacker.

    I had a calculator at home, orange on black LED, ftw!

  11. I remember using BASIC to code a game called “Snakes” in 7th grade. It was on some early Apple computer using a cassette tape to save our game. We also had the Commodore 64 at home. I would program it to display crude ascii art but mostly play the games on cartridges.

    This post makes me want to order the 25th anniversary of War Games and show it to my kids and show them how it was back in the day.

  12. ASCII art rules. I rewatched War Games this year b/c of the 25th anniversary, and it really holds up well. Nostalgia factor is high, Cold War, a young, thin Michael Madsen (in the first scene), pop-top soda cans.

    What every happened to Dabney Coleman? He was in every movie made in the 80s.

  13. I learned programming in high school, watfor on the LA unified school district IBM/360/40. We used these sticks with graphite in them to write letters in boxes on paper, which were shipped to keypunch operators and run, then the greenbar was shipped back to us. When I started being paid to program, I was fortunate enough to get an online programming job on a PDP 11/34. When the first apple II's came out, the newbie MBA's had me help them run… whatever. I used to hang out with a couple of Barton brothers, Fred and Mark. Apple gave Mark a Lisa, because he was writing Lisatalk. Later I lost track of them, but I hear Mark did the talking computer for the Mac introduction. Fred has the coolest job in the world . So I didn't actually buy my own computer until I got a PDP 11/23 around 1983. Later, I traded some programming to a hardware guy to upgrade it to a 23+ (so it could address 4M of memory). I still have it in my basement. Later I got an Amiga 1000, I still have it in my office, sometimes boot it up to amaze people. 1992-ish I finally got a PC, built at some local place, upgraded various hardware as I needed to, eventually gave it to kids, not long ago finally banished it to the basement since it would be too much trouble to go past W98. Gave up on linux about 7 years ago, too much hassle to keep from being rootkitted.

    Since you asked.

  14. Good stuff. All this begs the question: What do you run now? Or maybe it's more, what hasn't yet been shelved, given away, banished or used as a curiosity? I'm a bit surprised you gave up on Linux.

    Or have you modded the Amiga to do Intertubes and what not?

  15. Sorry for the late reply, somehow missed this.

    XP, Vista, XP, XP, XP, sometimes an old W95 for silly apps I haven't moved yet.

    But I spend most of my time with computers at work, mostly hp-ux, XP with various levels of virtualization. I'm in an old-school environment, they only went to XP because a vendor forced them to for some new stuff, but there are some interesting virtualization, video and distributed db projects. I try to stick with Oracle/unix and the ERP as much as possible. I'd like to do the APEX & Web/social stuff, but oh well (Oracle corp really pissed off the management before I ever got involved). I read a newspaper on the train, people there have had a bit of cognitive dissonance when I tell them what I do (there are a lot of techie types on this train, places like Quest and various biosciences are in this area, plus university students).

  16. I'd have to say my first computer was probably the calculator I had in the 7th grade. I bought it because it looked cool and was cheap, but it had a whole lot more on it than everyone else's Texas Instruments and the teacher forbade me from using it on tests. 🙁

    First computer was a keyboard/monitor using and acoustic coupling modem to some mainframe up-state. I learned BASIC. My high school was a beta site for DEC and we had the beta PDP-11/44. My sister was in college using cards. I was baffled by cards.

    In college I got the 512K Mac after using my friend's 128K. Upgrading to double-sided floppy drive was awesome! I stayed with Mac through college (of course in college we used emacs to program PASCAL) and for 5 years after that. But everyone was using PCs (Windows) and I kept getting discarded company laptops.

    So, I eventually tossed my 512K Mac (1992?) right about the time my brother's company gave him an Osborne luggable with Wordstar on it.

    Today, my wife and I average 4 Dell (usually) laptops in the home — 1 each personal and work. WE both like Macs from the old days, but there is still the uncomfortable feeling of losing compatibility if you go back. I've been toying with getting one for home audio, though.

    Actually, I think I'd like to get a machine set up with Ubuntu, but getting time to play with one more machine is a little tough at this point.

  17. Ibex has the ability to create a bootable USB, which you can take anywhere, and it saves your data (via persistence). Very cool, O/S on a stick is huge. Maybe a reason to create a VM of Ubuntu, just to see.

  18. >W95

    Oh no, that line was about at home. I thought that was disambuigated by the next paragraph. Sorry. The Amiga is in my home office.

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