This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Trash 80

As I was going past the downtown yesterday, I noticed this old computer sitting outside near the sidewalk. I recognized it immediately as an old Trash 80. The official name was a Radio Shack TSR 80 Model 4. One of the notes on the top indicated that it had had its floppy drives readjusted in 1989. Anyone younger than 25 probably has never seen one of these, and almost certainly has never used one.
The first successful personal computer was the Apple II, which was designed by Steve Wozniak, the less famous founder of Apple. Wozniak was the engineer, Jobs was the marketer. It was introduced in 1977. Others were simultaneously working on similar products, including people for Radio Shack, which introduced its first PC late in 1977. For a few years it, Apple, and Commodore were the big names in the industry. The model 4 was one of Radio Shack's last models, introduced in 1983. I never had a Radio Shack machine, but for a few years was amused with the Texas Instrument home computer, the TI 99/4A. I wrote programs for it and even had one of them published.

The Radio Shack, Texas Instrument, and Commodore offerings faded away after IBM made one of the most colossal blunders in business history by introducing its personal computer. The computer was very successful because it had the IBM name, and this was a time at which the saying in the computer world was that no one ever got fired for buying IBM. Why then was it a blunder? Because IBM did not take the personal computer seriously and thought it was not much more than a toy, they did not bother to write the software that ran the machine, but licensed it from a tiny company called Microsoft (which got the operating system by buying from still another party.) And they did not control the CPU but bought that chip from Intel. As a result, other companies were able to manufacture similar machines, or clones, that ran the same software that the IBM machine ran, and over time their PC sales grew until they were bigger than IBMs. I still recall that the reaction of IBM in the early days was that they were not worried--they thought that they could always reset the standard. But they were wrong--they had one chance to set the standard, and they did not do it in a way that was good for their company. They had given the keys to the future away to Microsoft and Intel, and as a result, both of those companies ended up more important in the computer industry than IBM.

I was surprised to see this antique sitting by the sidewalk. I do not know if it was being thrown away or just moved. I could not resist stopping and taking its picture.

(Of course the thing that made the personal computer ubiquitous was the Internet, and especially the world wide web. Until then it could crunch numbers or words, but it did have the communication function that is now the most important thing that computers do. That revolution did not happen until the mid 1990s. But that is another story.)

1 comment:

Ed said...

ah, the old TRS 80s! I remember wanting one in middle school because they were giving them away. If they were worthless in the early 90's.... Then again these days I do almost more internet surfing on my phone than I do on a laptop, and don't even mention a desktop.