The Virtual PC Museum

 

Welcome to The Virtual Personal Computer Museum 

Please, No Smoking Except in Designated Areas

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Motorola Educator II Single Board Computer (1977)

My first computer, the Educator II, had an 8-bit Motorola 6800 CPU and 512 bytes of RAM. (Not kilobytes, mind you, 512 bytes.)  On permanent loan from Bill Brain, my fellow City of Houston Air Pollution Control instrument technician, friend, and mentor. He bought the kit and soldered the thing together, and then quickly figured out that nothing useful could be done with it. (Darkroom Timer, suggests the manual unhelpfully.)

I wasn't hung up on useful, so he gave it to me. In addition to almost no memory, the Educator II had no screen, no keyboard, no disk storage, and no power supply. To program it, you'd enter a binary value on the eight data switches and then toggle the enter switch to store the number and bump the counter to the next address.  Another switch ran or single-stepped your program.  For output, there were eight lean, mean LEDs.  Not much of a game or business platform, but great for learning machine language.

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Educator II Assembly and Operation Manual  (1977)

My first programming book. Seems to have gotten wet at some point between now and 1977—serves it right, because it contained several confusing errors of fact, starting with copy on the front cover.  At any rate, now preserved for posterity in a special 62 degree, UV-filtered, Xenon-filled chamber here at the VPCM. 

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Apple II Reference Manual (1978)

My Apple II is long gone, but I kept my Red Book, the first edition of the Apple II Reference Manual. Almost 100% line and dot matrix printer output, a lot of it second-generation-or-worse Xeroxes. But it was all here, once I knew what I was looking for.  Full monitor listing, for one thing. This book got lots of use, let me tell you.

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IBM PC Technical Reference Manual (1982)

Apple had its Red Book, so perhaps it was inevitable that the IBM PC's Technical Reference Manual would be blue. The  official documentation came in cool three-ring binders, complete with slip covers.  Completely typeset, compared to the "Midnight at Kinko's" style of Apple's Red Book.  But this was less a reflection of IBM vs. Apple quality than a statement of how far the personal computer industry had come in four years. This book wasn't free, either—I think it cost $60. Supposedly, no Compaq BIOS programmer ever saw one of these.  Yeah, right.

I've had a number of PCs over the years.

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Applesoft Reference Manual (1978)

  I programmed my Apple II almost exclusively in Applesoft Basic. Despite its corny name, this superior 10K Basic had floating point capability and hi-res graphics commands, unlike Steve Wozniak's built-in Integer Basic.  In retrospect, it's not surprising that Integer Basic never got these features—incredibly, there was no source for it!  In Woz's own words:

I had no assembler, that was another thing ... I didn't have any money like that, so a friend taught me that you just sort of look at each instruction, you write your instructions on the right side of the page, you write the addresses over on the left side, and you then look up the hex data for each instruction—you could assemble it yourself. So I would just sit there and assemble it myself. The Basic we shipped with the first Apple IIs was never assembled—ever. There was one handwritten copy, all hand written, all hand assembled.

Applesoft came from none other than Microsoft (I think they even used an actual assembler).  I don't think Master Gates worked on 6502 Basic personally, but I might be wrong.  He did write much of their original 8080 Basic. This product was rock stable. I  never upgraded from the first version I received on cassette tape in October, 1978. The wire-O-bound manual was exemplary in form and content.

DOS 3.10 Master Disks (1979)

Floppies came into my life after many painful months of cassette tape use. For the first few days, I'd save my football game under a dozen different names on the same disk, because it didn't take any time, I had the disk space, and I just didn't quite trust it.  The first version of DOS I saw was 3.10.  I'm not sure there ever were versions 1 and 2. 

I'd put a picture of my ComPrint electrostatic printer here, if I had one. The rich doctors at the user's group all had their Paper Tigers and $200 Apple serial interface cards; I had my ComPrint, plugged via a home-made cable into a home-made serial card. This P.O.S. actually caught on fire once; I kid you not. Luckily, I was sitting right there when it happened.  Into the trash it went.

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WordStar (1980)

At $495, WordStar was just about the most expensive piece of software you could buy for a CP/M machine. And worth every penny.  Written by San Francisco developer Rob Barnaby, WordStar was pure poison for dedicated word processing companies like Wang and NBI.

Along with dBase and VisiCalc, WordStar started the microcomputer move into American business. You couldn't run it on an Apple II without a Z80 SoftCard and an 80-column card, two expensive options.  But for a while, every other Apple II we sold went out with both, just so people could run WordStar.

In 1982, the native IBM PC version gave that machine a huge boost.

In its heyday, Marin County's MicroPro was arguably the most significant company in the microcomputer software industry.  Only a series of  screw-ups, a colossal  one being WordStar 2000, could dislodge MicroPro's grip on the word processing market.

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Byte Magazine
Issue #1 (1975)

From day one, Byte was the leading microcomputer magazine.  It's a bit disheartening that they're now out of business. Carl Helmers and crew put out an excellent product, month after turbulent month, right up until the last issue in 1997—long after seventies colleagues Kilobaud, Interface Age, Creative Computing, and the rest had gone to the big rag paper recycling bin in the sky. Never content to simply matrix-review 56 ink jet printers and 31 Pentium II laptops and call it an issue, through the years Byte covered the machines and technology that mattered, in useful detail.

 

 

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Cromemco, Godbout Electronics Advertisements, Byte Magazine (1976)

A beginning is a delicate time.

—Princess Irulan

Many companies were started in the early years of the personal computer revolution. Most were gone before Ronald Reagan's second term, including one-time S-100 high-flyer Cromemco of Mountain View, California.

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MITS Altair 8080 Advertisement
(1975)

Tiny New Mexico-based MITS sparked the microcomputer revolution with their Intel 8080 Altair system. MITS is long gone, but some of their early business associates are still around.   For example, the 8K Basic interpreter featured in this ad was co-written by a clever nineteen-year-old Harvard dropout from Seattle named Bill Gates.

 

 

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Borland Turbo Pascal (1983)

Turbo Pascal, a fast, inexpensive, and easy-to-use Pascal compiler by Danish whiz-kid Anders Hejlsberg, started Philippe Kahn and Borland International on the road to success.

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Southwest Technical Products Advertisement
(1976)

It wasn't always pretty at the beginning of the revolution. This San Antonio, Texas firm had the coveted inside front cover slot of Byte, and squandered it running ad after ad like this one.

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Quattro Pro for Windows Flyer (1992)

In only 12 years spreadsheet technology advanced dramatically.  Compare 1980's minimalist VisiCalc with object-oriented masterpiece Quattro Pro for Windows.

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Tuesday Night Football User Manual, Advertisement, and Overly Optimistic Letter from Software Publisher Concerning (1979, 1980)

Let the games begin!  The first actually-for-sale Apple II football game, Tuesday Night Football.  In those days, you slid a cheesy booklet into a zip lock bag, added a floppy or a cassette, and boom, you were a software publisher. Later, sold by Automated Simulations under the name Tuesday Morning Quarterback.

 

 

 

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KIM-1 Microcomputer and Brochure (1977)

Courtesy Charles Batterman

MOS Technology's KIM-1 single-board, 6502-based microcomputer was similar to the Educator II, only with hex (rather than binary) input/output, more memory, and enhanced expandability. And it came fully assembled. MOS Technology was the creator of the 6502; a few engineers (led by Chuck Peddle) from Motorola's 6800 team thought they could do a better job, and they did. The 6502 went on to power PC legends Pet, Commodore 64, Atari 800, and of course, the Apple II.

My Apple Shrine (1998)

Borland's stock was flying high in the early 90s and I was looking at houses. One contender—I liked it enough to come back for a second look—was on Graham Hill Road, just up the hill from Santa Cruz. It was a cool house with a great view, although held back somewhat by its extreme 70s decor. 

Anyway, the owner—who managed to be gone during my visits—had a couple of Apple IIs, a rare Apple III, and some old software in a spare bedroom, all obviously in a state of long disuse. No trace of a PC or Macintosh.  Here's a person stuck in 1980, I thought to myself.

Soon it was time to go. As my realtor fiddled with the lockbox,  I innocently read a plaque near the front door.  It was some computer award. I read down to the recipient's name: Bob Bishop!  Bob Bishop, the first Apple II software superstar, whose name I had not heard, read, or thought of since 1980, living here all this time, and me, Charlie Anderson, seriously considering buying his house.

To have my old life and my new life suddenly shorted together was eerie. Perhaps one day, going through a Stargate or making the jump to light speed will feel a little like I felt standing there, realization dawning, in Bob Bishop's house.

 

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All Content © 1998-2002 Charles R. Anderson  •  This page was last modified on 11/13/2003