Farewell, Mr. Gates

Today Bill Gates officially retires from Microsoft. As much as we might like to hate his policies, without him I doubt our industry would be what it is today. He took the power out of the hands of IBM and put it into the hands of everyday consumers. He amassed a great fortune, and it looks like he’ll be using the rest of his life to spend it, mainly on charitable causes. By doing so he has created an example for others, like Warren Buffett. I wish him well.

The first piece of computer software I ever bought was published by Microsoft. It was the “Colossal Cave Adventure” for the TRS-80.

A picture of me yoinked from my high school yearbook

The TRS-80 was my first computer. I got it for Christmas 1978 when I was 12 years old. It had 4K of RAM and a black and white screen. By April of 1979 I had upgraded it to 48K of RAM (the other 16K of addressable memory was in ROM) and added two 80K floppy drives. That system ran “TRS-DOS” which shared a lot of similarities for what would become MS-DOS.

Now, back then most software was “open” in some sense. Most programs for the TRS-80 were written in BASIC, which is an interpreted language so it was not possible to hide the code. We didn’t have the Internet back then, so my main contact with others was through magazines, such as Creative Computing and Kilobaud. They would often publish program listings that I would stay up late typing in and modifying. Of course I’d make mistakes, but that would help me learn to troubleshoot code.

My Dad was working for General Electric at the time, and I sometimes got to play on their PDP 8. It ran FORTRAN, but it was similar enough to BASIC that it was easy to pick up. In 1982 he bought one of the first IBM PCs: CGA monitor, dual floppies, 256K soldered to the motherboard.

Also in 1982 I went off to high school. They had a VAX, and so I was introduced to the concept of multiuser systems. We had e-mail and shared space were we could put up documents – sort of a precursor to the web.

In 1984 I went off to California to attend Harvey Mudd College, one of the many colleges I eventually was asked to leave (I’ve been kicked out of some of the finest schools in the country). There I met my first VAX running UNIX (Berkeley I believe) and experienced the Internet for the first time (as well as wasting hours playing rogue).

When I eventually returned to North Carolina in 1986 I didn’t have a computer, but a friend had bought one of those fancy “Macintosh” computers. It was pretty cool, but I couldn’t afford one so I used a PC. Several friends of mine from Mudd had gone off to work for this company called Microsoft outside of Seattle. They would send me software, including a Paint program launched on a system called Windows (version 1.0). It really didn’t compare to, say, MacPaint on the Mac, but little did I know how it would catch on. I also got Windows version 2 and eventually 3.0. I could run an app called Procomm that would let me use a modem to communicate with other systems.

Using a modem you could dial in to bulletin board systems (BBSes) and post messages, send mail and download files. I tended toward those systems running WWIV, and in just day or two I could get a message to a friend of mine across the country through Fidonet and other grassroots networks.

Some BBSes were multiuser, but that required multiple, expensive phone lines. So flame wars were funny: you’d have to post, log off, wait awhile until the other guy could log in and post, then repeat the process.

I can remember when 2400 baud modems came out because it was the first time the text would download faster than I could read it. True Internet access was only available on campus, but I eventually found a way to dial in to the campus network (I had friend in IT) so I could use it from my apartment.

Ah, those were the days. Anyway, what are your first memories of Microsoft and what was your first computer?

7 thoughts on “Farewell, Mr. Gates

  1. Mine was an Amstrad CPC 6128 running CP/M, then I got an Acorn Archimedes (with an early ARM chip doing a whole 1 MIPS, not too shoddy for 1987) but it didn’t have much software & an Atari ST + a crappy Hyundai PC 8088 @ 4.77 Mhz with 512K RAM and two 5 1/4 in floppies. God I loved that PC it was great. Next I traded the lot in for a better PC a 386 SX 16 Mhz running Windows 3.0 (and Windows 386 before). Started writing Windows programs in C and got my first programming job on the back of it. 🙂

  2. Being a little younger :-), but not all that much young, the first computer we had at home, approximately by the time I was 8, that was in 1983. It was a Brazilian clone of the Apple II, from a company called Unitron.

    But before that, I must mention that one-line LCD “pocket computer” which my father had, in which I first learned Basic.

    Back to Apple. Not much later, Apple pulled strings in US politics and the pressure on Unitron came directly from Brazilian government. (Although I certainly understand Apple has its rights, this action from them has successfully accomplished one thing: barely anyone ever heard of Apple computers in Brazil for the next decade and a half). Apple ][ had 48 Kb of RAM, and 16K ROM adding up to make the 64K memory address space. Eventually my big brother took the computer away when he got into college, so my dad bought another one, this time an Apple ][+, with amazing improvements: keyboard repetition (if you hold the key pressed – later I learned that feature alone used a Z80 processor. Yup, just for repeating the key) and 64K of RAM, by switching memory banks between RAM and ROM. Both models had a green screen, 40×24, and I saw the transition from the bulky 5″1/4 to the ones half-high “slim” ones. When my brother bought his PC-XT, he gave the old Apple II to us, and he had some neat improvements on it: 80-column card (so the text screen would be that wide), and a Z-80 card, which allowed us to run CP/M.

    In those two boxes I learned Basic, 6502 Assembler, Pascal (Turbo Pascal 3.0 from Borland, at the time), dBase 2 (father of dBase III, grandpa of Foxbase and Clipper), C and near the end of it’s useful life, C++. Yup, my OO skills at the time suck, but it was a good start. We didn’t have internet, and in my city we had no BBS’ at the time, nor I had the persuasion skill necessary to convince my father to buy me a modem. There was this entity called The Beagle Brothers, in the US, that would ship neat stuff for Apple ][, even to Brazil, and this folks here (forgot the name) would re-sell to the rest of the country. Most of the “new” stuff would come from them, or from magazines.

    A friend of mine from high school had his father buy him a clone of Apple //e (65c02 processor) a couple of years later. It became his game console *sigh*. It had 128K memory, by switching the entire memory address space (not in one piece, of course), and it had “double high resolution” graphics -> with more memory, they gave us more pixels. 🙂

    After that, about 89 or 90, I started with PCs in my uncle’s office, programmed Clipper (version was “Summer ’87”), then I went to college in 93 and I was “taught” Pascal – more like I was skipping classes and taking high grades in the exams. From there, PCs and all the usual stuff. 🙂

  3. wow, just now I realized I wrote *that* much 😮 geez, I must have been running with -vvv and didnt notice it.

  4. I feel like a baby. Commodore VC 20 (“VIC” I think for you). And the first “modem” which was actually a “Akustikkoppler” was a Dataphon connected to my Atari ST. On which I later ran the famous Hermes UUCP package oh those were the days, uucico rulez 🙂

  5. I had a friend back in about 1980 or 1981 who had a VIC 20 and a 300 baud acoustic coupler modem. We had a lot of fun, especially when we discovered phreaking. Never did get to build the fancy “colored” boxes that took advantage of the back-end telco designs, though.

    When WarGames came out some time later, I smiled at the acoustic coupler, which by then was ancient history for me.

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