What I Miss About Old Computers (Part 2: The DOS Years)
So some time after moving to Ingalls, so at least 1994, my parents brought home a pair of PCs. One was a Tandy 1000. It was again already fairly dated by the time that we got it. It still had the monochrome green screen monitor. I remember thinking it was an old thing, but still very well put together and very useable. It didn’t feel slow or anything, it just couldn’t run more modern software. Figuring out of a piece of software would run at all on your machine in the 90’s always felt like such a gamble, but more on that here in a bit.
I never found myself using the Tandy a whole lot. It did have a pretty awesome music composer that I remember playing with. I had fun taking themes from different shows or games I was into at the time and arranging them in chiptune form. Nothing impressive or anything, or worth listening to today, but it’s probably what I spent doing the most on that machine. I wish I could remember what it was called.
(Quickly searches youtube)
Holy crap! Of course everything already exists! Here’s a video of that exact software! Not the best video, but dang, this was exactly my experience!
The biggest reason that the Tandy got neglected is because we also had at the same time an unbranded 486 PC clone that was… sorta… modern? It’s hard for me to remember really what would have been cutting edge, and I can’t for certain say when we got these machines. I really don’t think they were new at the time. Pretty sure we acquired them in a similar fashion to the Apple IIe we’d gotten a few years before. I don’t know if my parents got these 2 PCs in a package deal… but true or not… I recall them showing up at the same time.
Getting a new computer has always been magical to me. People now ask me how I learned so much about computers, well it’s experiences like this. Getting something new and I just wanted to learn everything I could do with it. When we first got the 486, it sat on our dining room table, which sat in the living room at the time… so the more I think about this, it had to be around the same time we moved into the house in Ingalls, because I don’t think that we had the table in the living room for too long. Anyway, just me reminiscing. Just interesting because I specifically remember not only the computer itself, but how the room looked and everything. Crazy.
Eventually we got a desk for it and set up what became the “computer room”. We had all three computers in there at one time. North wall by the hallway was the Apple IIe, left from there on the west wall was the Tandy 1000. And then left from there, the 486right next to the door that went to our bathroom. That room was… pink… I think. Crazy. So if you’re wondering how I became such a nerd… here you go.
With the 486 it was definitely the most capable computer we had ever owned. It had this menu matic software installed that it would boot to automatically. It came bundled with a few productivity apps, a word processer, an infernal spreadsheet, things like that. It also had a pretty decent file manager system. This definitely wasn’t windows, but it did make the PC quite useable if you weren’t comfortable with command line.
Using the command line became a necessity though soon after I spent my hard earned allowance money on my first ever PC game. “Test Drive: The Duel” I remember my excitement putting the disk in, hearing the heads buzzing, searching, loading, then seeing “Not enough memory”. We tried everything to get that darned game to work. According to the box… we had enough memory. So why wouldn’t it run!? Vaguely, I remember my parents taking it to a computer shop and they actually got it running! So it was possible! From what I remember at the time, they wrote a “special script” that freed up more memory so the game could run. Knowing what I know now, the Menu Matic software took up enough memory, that it wasn’t possible to launch the game from Menu Matic. So you had to close Menu Matic, or prevent it from executing on startup, and then the game would run. So the only way I could get Test Drive to run, was to start it from Command Prompt. And from there I started learning a lot more about what the PC could do and how it worked.
I feel like I used that PC a lot. But I can’t really remember anything specific I did or software I used. I want to say I started a journal that I kept on 3.5″ floppy. I spent a lot of time just messing around with DOS. Doing things like prompt Press ANY KEY to delete all files. And then walking away waiting for the next person to use the computer. Haha.
There’s just something that I really miss about launching software off of a floppy disk. Maybe that’s why I’m still clinging to physical media on my game consoles to this day. It’s very satisfying to hold the ‘thing’ in your hand that has the software on it. I miss the mechanical buzzes and hums these old computers used to make. You really felt like things were happening. It felt magical… but believable. I carry a smartphone in my pocket now that does so much stuff, does it silently and I feel like no matter how much I learned about it I’d never understand all of it. But with these old boxes, I feel like you don’t have to go far to get down to the base hardware and how it all works, and understand it.
This was really our first and last DOS era computer. We’d soon move on to Windows and a world where every house had a computer. But this time period before is a pretty magical one. PCs weren’t really mainstream. You definitely didn’t need to have one. But they were so foundational for what would be to come later. I’m so glad I got to experience this chapter of technology, and I really feel like I need to get an old 486 PC, and CRT monitor. Not a monster or anything. Something that was probably just as low end as I had back then. It’s something that you can really recreate 1:1 the way it used to be back then, unlike any retro PC that would have been connected to the internet at the time. A real time machine. Someday… when I have a room I can have 3 complete computers set up… just like the olden days.