We asked CNET News.com to share memories of their first computer: When was it and what kind? What do you remember most? Response was so avid?many clearly told with a twinkle, or a tear, in the eye?we are offering a smattering of examples here, from hanging chads to getting fired for buying the wrong brand. See more reader posts, hear from some industry pros, and offer your own experiences here.
Timex/Sinclair 1000: In 1983, these sold for $50 at Sears. You needed a separate cassette player to save and load programs, and a separate TV for the display. It ran Basic, and Timex had this thing where you didn't type the words letter by letter, but rather pressed a combination of keys to get the commands to come out. Alt-P was ?Print? as I recall. I got pretty good at programming in Basic that year. The following year, girls came around, so that was that.
The TRS-80: It's hard to believe that one of the best-selling computers of its day, the TRS-80 (later called the Model I) hasn't been mentioned yet. Maybe folks are embarrassed, because I know people who claim their first machine was an Apple, but I saw that TRS-80 on their desks first! Followed by a KIM-1 (2K piggybacked memory, yes!) just a few months later, the TRS-80 was my first machine. You could bash it, solder it, saw it, and it would still run. Hang on modifications, add chips, build attachments, change the software--lots of fun, lots of learning. It also launched my tech writing career, as I wrote column after column of software and hardware pieces about the Radio Shack machines that stayed open and malleable long after others had closed up tight. It was ultimately swept away, but it was the CB radio of its day (sometimes almost literally with its RF interference).
Commodore64 Piracy: I also received a C64 for Christmas in the sixth grade. I was kind of impressed but had absolutely no idea what to do with it. I hooked it up to the TV and messed around on this blue screen for a few days. Then I took it back to Sears and traded it in for a stereo with a dual cassette deck. I began copying AC/DC and Judas Priest tapes that my friends owned. So the personal computer actually does lead to music piracy.
Wang desktop programmable calculator: Back in 1972-1973, the first machine that was "mine" was a big (suitcase-size) programmable desktop calculator in my high school. I did some programs for calculating war-game distances, etc. This was a shared resource, but I pretty much monopolized it. At the same time, the high school had at TOPS-10 terminal, and I had an account on that machine. The first machine I actually owned was a TRS-80 Model 1, purchased in Lawton, Oklahoma, in October 1978. And I'm at the age where the tech support people were born after I bought that first computer. Something I like to remind them of when they start to annoy me with their "expertise."
CARDIAC, the Bell Labs Cardboard Computer: Back when I was about 12 or 13, I was given a CARDIAC, a complete digital computer implemented on cardboard. This was an amazing machine for its time, albeit a little slow. When you erased the memory on this machine, you really erased the memory--with a rubber eraser! I was hooked. Soon my poor mother was driving me 20 miles to the local university every Saturday, so I could use their PDP-11 and the Dartmouth Time Sharing System.
The first computer I bought myself was a TRS-80. I was working at one of the first ComputerLand stores at the time, but my boss wouldn't give me a deal on an Apple II. When I told him I'd bought the TRS-80, he fired me; he said it was like a Ford salesman driving to work in a Chevy. My first published programs were for the TRS-80: 15 games for $15, on tape. Later, when Wizardry came out, I gave my Mom a percent of the company to thank her for all the driving she did, which turned out to be a great deal for her.
My first PC was a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A: It had 16 colors and plug-in voice module. We had the Maze Man cartridge (a Pac-Man clone) that my friends and I played (with the keyboard) for hours. My mother decided that a PC would be a better investment then a game console, much to my chagrin at the time. But I came to appreciate her decision and had vastly more fun with the TI then I would have had with an ATARI.
My mother would type in Basic games from a big book. Then I would try to debug them in TI-BASIC. For a woman in her 50s, with no computer training, she really picked up Basic quickly. Then we got a Commodore 64. She soon had our entire household finances and tax info on computer and was using spreadsheets to budget--20 years ago.
The C-64 became a large part of my social network for years; back then file sharing was done by walking from one house to another with floppy disks tucked carefully in your jacket to keep them warm! As for ATARI games, they were all executable on the C-64 since they were written for the same processor. Our C-64 also helped my in school since I could type my assignments and would make little Basic programs to figure out physics and math problems. I credit her buying those computers (and we were far from being well off) with my getting into and succeeding in high tech. Mom passed away this summer. Those times are some of the best memories I have; we really worked together on getting those games working and I was very proud to have a computer literate Mom!
Litton/Monroe 1860 Desktop Programmable Calculator: In 7th grade science class I discovered the wonders of computing. Programming was done either from the keyboard, or on *hand punched* (usually with a bent paper clip) cards (which one had to check for hanging chads). There was an adding machine output with scientific notation and two words: overflow and error. I believe the total program store was eighty instructions, and for long programs, one would have to load additional in the middle of a run.
See footage of the ENIAC's creators with their computing machine in action, bright lights, vacuum tubes and all.
"I was already wearing a plastic pocket protector and thick black glasses--taped together--so I didn't need something to increase my social dysfunction."
"I bought my first computer when I was 15 in 1980. It was an Apple II, which back then was the most popular PC in the U.S."
"I still had to re-key them everytime I wanted to change programs, but this wasn't too bad as the TI-58 only had enough memory for about 240 instructions."
See the men, women, and metal behind the making of the ENIAC.
Editors: Kari Dean McCarthy; Mike Yamamoto
Production: Bernie McGinn; Jennifer Guevin; Vincent Tremblay
Design: Ellen Ng