Tuesday, 04 December, 2001

My First Computer

I bought my first computer, an Osborne I, on December 4, 1981.  Dad and I each bought one from Academy Computers in Colorado Springs.  I ran across a copy of the invoice last week.  Although I sold mine in 1984, I inherited Dads when he passed away.  Thats his machine on the left (click for a larger view).  The startup screen shows, but I couldn't get the machine to boot CP/M--it doesn't even try to access the disk when I hit the Return key.  I'm thinking there's something wrong with the keyboard connector, but I can't say for sure until I dig in and get my hands dirty.

For $1,795 you got the Osborne I computer with a 4 MHz Z80 processor, 64K of RAM (4K was used for the video display), 2 diskette drives that held 90K each, a 5 built-in monitor (the 9 external monitor was an additional $250), one RS-232 serial port, and an IEEE-488 parallel port.  Unique at the time was the bundled software:  CP/M 2.2, WordStar, SuperCalc, Microsoft BASIC, and CBASIC-80.  Purchased separately, the software alone would have cost about $1,200.  The machine in the picture has had some modifications:  a  300 bps direct-connect modem, double density disk drive upgrade, and the 80-column display option.

Its hard to believe now, but I was thrilled with that computer.  I couldnt imagine using all that memory.  And disk drives...to die for!   Slow by todays standards, it was twice as fast as the TRS-80 I cut my teeth on, and disk storage was much faster and more reliable than the TRS-80's cassette tape.  I spent every free moment working on that computer (and my grades showed it), writing stupid little programs and exploring the hardware.  By the time I sold it in 1984, I knew pretty much everything there was to know about programming the Osborne I.  I regret selling my original machine, because along with it went all the stupid little exploratory programs I wrote for it, including a pretty decent draw poker game, a maze generator that used a unique algorithm (read hack) to generate some interesting mazes, my first assembly language programs, and a whole mess of stuff that I dont recall.  None of it would be very useful today, but itd be interesting to see again.

Im hoping that my new office will have space where I can display this and some of the other old computers that Ive collected over the yearspreferably with power so I can fire them up from time to time.