Supersonic Man

April 8, 2017

eight-bit nostalgia

Filed under: fun,Hobbyism and Nerdry — Supersonic Man @ 1:03 pm

There’s a lot of nostalgia out there for the era of eight-bit computers — especially the home-oriented ones from the likes of Commodore and Sinclair and Atari.  And I get why: they were tremendously liberating and empowering to those who had never had access to computing before.  And the BASIC interpreters they all came with were likewise quite empowering to those who hadn’t previously realized that they could write their own programs.

But as someone who was already empowered, I couldn’t stand those crappy toy computers.  Never owned one.  I didn’t start wanting my own computer until the sixteen bit era.  The first personal computer that actually made me want it was the Apple Lisa, which of course was prohibitively expensive.  The first one I wanted enough to pay hard-earned money for, at a time when I didn’t have much, was the Amiga 1000.

(Last I checked, my Amiga 1000 still runs.  But one of these days the disk drives are going to fail, and any available replacements will be just as old and worn.  Turns out that what a lot of retrocomputing hobbyists do is to use hardware adapters to connect their old disk cables to modern flash-memory drives.  It may be kind of cheating but at least you won’t have range anxiety about how much you dare use it before it breaks.)

To me, the sixteen bit era, and the 32-bit transition following, was the most fun time, when the computers were capable enough to do plenty of cool stuff, but also still innovative and diverse enough to not be all boring and businesslike.

If I were of a mind to recapture any of that fun with modern hardware, it sure doesn’t cost money like it used to: I’d look at, for instance, getting a Pi 3 with Raspbian on it.  You could have a complete Linux system just by velcroing it to the back of a monitor or TV.  But there are even cheaper alternatives: there’s a quite good hacking environment available across all modern platforms, more empowering and ubiquitous than BASIC ever was… in your browser’s javascript.

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1 Comment »

  1. It occurs to me, when looking back at those crappy eight bit computers, that not one of them ever managed to pull clearly ahead of the Apple II which most of them were imitating. It was and remained pretty much the only eight-bit system that was equally well suited for business and home use, or for that matter, hacking use.
    The longevity of this crap kind of astonished me at the time. I kept expecting eight-bit systems — especially those earliest to market — to fade away as they became rapidly obsolete, but they stuck around for over a decade. And true sixteen bit systems didn’t even predominate for business use until about 1986. I kept expecting affordable sixteen bit systems to be available sooner than they were, since I’d seen Tandy stuff a 68000 into a cheap plastic CP/M box as early as 1982, and Texas Instruments sold a home entertainment computer with a sixteen bit CPU (but eight bit everything else) way back in 1979. Not to mention how easy it should have been to make 8086 systems to compete with IBM’s lame 8088.

    Comment by Supersonic Man — April 11, 2017 @ 12:22 am | Reply


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