Monday, January 13, 2014

nostalgic about computing in my youth..pic related!

i have been reflecting a lot on the computing i had done as a young boy back in the 80s and 90s. i remember that our first computer in the house was a Commodore Vic 20, the precursor the the 64, THE non-DOS computer of the 80s. i make the distinction of non-DOS because for me, the computer of the 80s and even the early 90s for me, was the Tandy 1000 series of computers. For those unfamiliar, the Tandy 1000 was an IBM PCJr clone from Radio Shack, but eschewing the consolized concept that the Jr uses, instead giving it a regular desktop computer form factor, no cartridge slots, and using pre-existing TRS-80 peripherals, like joysticks and even the monitor. The PCJr bombed but the Tandy succeeded, with its no-nonsense approach to computing. They would continue to release the 1000 after it's initial success, making the EX and then HX model, using the compact design that Commodore, but more similar to the Amiga, with an integrated disk drive, and onboard components, much like computers of modern times use, not needing to have expansion slots taken up, reserving them for other things the owner may want to install, including 3rd party cards that allowed for VGA, FM sound, more ram (making the 1000 go from 640k all the way to 4 megs!!), and a hard drive. Later models after this would come with Intel 8086 and 80286 (and later on 80386SX) processors from the Tandy's initial 8088. Along with these upgrades, the Tandy received a new onboard component, a DAC similar to the Covox Speech Thing and Disney Sound Source. The 1000's original sound chip, a variant of the Texas Instruments SN76489, a chip that has been used in things like the BBC Micro, Sega's Master System and MegaDrive/Genesis, and other great pieces of kit, had 3 voices and a square wave. This gave it a sound comparable to these systems, and augmented by the new DAC, it really had an amazing sound, although not many developers took advantage of this, simply supporting the onboard 3 voice chip. This is a shame, as coders in recent times have compiled programs that allow for things like playback of music ripped directly from NES/Famicom ROMs. as well, the Tandy Graphics Mode gave games a really nice look, able to give a bit of an edge against the IBM-made computers, only using CGA, which was 4 colors at once (although Tandy graphics is simply CGA with access to all 16 colors). Some great games came out for DOS, but running them on the Tandy made them fly! I have seen games like Wasteland (the spiritual ancestor to Fallout), Zeliard (form GameArts in Japan, ported by Sierra), LHX Attack Chopper (i used to play with the Osprey on this game for hours), Leisure Suit Larry (Al Lowe was a gaming god back in the day), Tunnels (think of it like a tunnel racer in FPS mode that is also a shooter), and a butt load more! I spent more time on my 1000 RL growing up than my NES, not only playing games, but doing up book reports and essays (even had the Tandy 4-color dot matrix printer!) in Jr High and High School with Deskmate (i even used the Music composition program to enter and play music when i would practice my trombone for the music class i took in grade 11). This computer was a hell of a device. looking back, i think that if if i could have afforded it, a 120 meg hard card (think hard drive and controller card on one card) plugged into the single ISA slot my RL had, along with another floppy drive would have been the best. i also have to say it's layout was nice, with its integrated controls in the back like Volume, the joystick ports, audio input, etc. i had my Tandy outputted via either headphones or a stereo, which was pretty slick, considering the games had some great music and sound effects, and i could record and manipulate audio as well with it, usually recording CDS via analog, mostly to recut them. i wasn't overly fond of the mouse (most mice do not thrill me), but the keyboard was rather nice, comparable to an IBM Model M (i am using a french Model M now, and i love the feel of it). I would have loved to have seen if the 1000 line could have been kept going longer, as the RLX and RSX seemed like logical progressions (VGA/SVGA, but still using the Tandy sound chip and onboard DAC, which could emulate a Speech Thing at this point). A simple update of the look and small tweaks to its interface, Deskmate could have been an alternative to Windows and DOS, and geared more towards people who liked the concept of a compact computer, like the Amiga/C64/AtariST/etc, but wanted to use DOS instead of other operating systems, making it more open to use, with a lot of software already available. Tandy stopped the 1000 line in 1993, selling their computer division to AST computers, and started selling brand name 3rd party computers like Compaq, IBM etc. I look back with a lot of nostalgia at my RL, which i no longer own (My aunt bought it from my mother for her daughter to use, and then it was lost to the abyss... sigh.. oh well, time to play a game in DOSBox i guess!

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