My brief history with computers: Part one

You see, you use these things to compute … stuff

I first encountered computers in books. Glossy books these were, the kind you would expect to find twenty years ago in the “reference books” section of a library. Which was how I came across them; my mother was a teacher and was able to get me books though I wasn’t in the same school.

These books were dated, of course, and so my initial impression was anachronistic to begin with. The story ended at these magical microprocessors, though at the time the first modern pipelined processors were coming into existence.

The first glimpse

The very first computer I saw was probably an 80486 with a color display, sometime around 1994 or so. It was some guy I knew at school, whose father had bought this for his elder brother, and at his birthday party all the assembled guests crowded around this curious device, as he let some sort of demo program run, showing images, wireframes, and so on, as people oohed and ached.

The very first computer I had was an 80386 my father bought in 1995. I remember it very clearly, having waited in eager anticipation of it for weeks since I came to know it was coming. I read the MS-DOS 6.22 manual cover to cover (yes, I know, sick) before it arrived.

My fitness tracker has more memory than …

Its specs were formidable. It had a 14” black and white monitor, a 256gb hard disk and 4mb of memory (yes, that’s four megabytes). All it had was Ms-Dos and QBasic.

Now it’s fair to say I probably picked up bad programming habits that I’m not even aware of; or at least that’s the standard impression people have about Basic. Either way, it was a blast. Because I did on that machine was programming!

The lonely prompt

Hang on, I don’t want to skip ahead. Let it sink in for a while. The only program I used was QBasic. No phones, no internet, no Windows either! You booted up the computer, and you stared at a “C:>” prompt! and you typed “qbasic” or whatever, and you were in this notepad like environment where you wrote stuff line by line, and your program was interpreted.

This state of affairs lasted about a year, after which it was supplemented by a few rudimentary rasterized graphics games, and then the trio of “Lotus 1-2-3”, “Wordstar” and “Dbase 4”. But more on that later …