Look back in Ascii: Computing in the 1980s
When computing was truly personal
When I landed the job of Doctor Who Script Editor in 1981, I knew I needed a computer. Actually it was something I'd known since the age of 12, but back then you couldn't get started for less than half a million dollars. Now you could pick up a Sinclair ZX81 for a shade under fifty quid in kit form. But if you wanted a serious computer for writing - and I did - you needed much deeper pockets.
'Peoples of the universe, please attend carefully. The message you are about to hear is vital to the future of you all'
In fact, a number of usable machines had been coming onto the market since the late 1970s: for around £600 you could get the butt-ugly Commodore PET, and if you had around twice that to spare there was, of course, the Apple II — although lower case characters on the screen would cost you extra for a much coveted hardware plug-in called “Dan Paymer’s Lower Case Adapter”.
At one point I had my heart set on the Exidy Sorcerer. I liked its standardisation: it was built around the S100 bus and the Z80 processor and ran the CP/M operating system. Unfortunately it went out of production around this time.
Meanwhile, my desk was piling up with submissions from would-be Doctor Who writers. One of these was a computer buff. Andrew Stevenson's stories never made it to the screen, but he steered me in the direction of a company up in Nottingham that was importing an affordable dual-floppy CP/M machine direct from America, the Vector Graphic System B. I got to try it by promising to review it for a popular computing magazine of the time, Practical Computing.
I liked the Vector Graphic System B because it came with the company’s own word processor, Memorite. The machine had a unique video controller, the Flashwriter, and the whole of the text you were writing was retained in Ram rather than being written to disk. This allowed you to move through large quantities of text very quickly, essential for editing. The memory limitations restricted the maximum size of your text file, but it turned out that a single Doctor Who episode would just about fit. Yes, 48KB of Ram was plenty in those days.
The author's choice: the Vector Graphic System B
Source: Gord Tulloch
The machine grew with me - after a couple of years I added a hard drive. No easy matter, as CP/M wasn't geared up for this: I needed to add about 1KB of code to the Bios, by hand, in hex.
You kids today don't know you're born.
Next page: The Mac Arrives
Re: Cue Monty Python Yorkshiremen sketch...
Monty Python? I guess you're not old enough to know that was originally a At Last the 1948 Show sketch.
Try telling the young people of today that and they don't believe you :)
Re: Psion 5MX
someone with a bit of start up capital has to think that an Android running on the 5MX style hardware would be a great business idea.
Maybe we should get a few interested parties together and put it up on KickStarter. I wonder if the El Reg Labs are currently vacant...
How could you leave out the QL?
This is personal - look at my sig. I still have three of them plus screen and printer in the loft. Admittedly appallingly timed, and with initial production problems, and other corners cut (like the 68008) but a good idea and an affordable one.
First shown to me in a maths class by Mr Ratcliffe in 1979 who then went on to describe the internet of today. Great teacher, great machine. I owe my career to both. One more thing, the PET was not butt ugly. It looked great - proper 1970s futurism.
Re: Microwriter Agenda
Oh yes, it was good...
Unless you happened to be lefthanded like me.