Childhood computers


I started with an MSX 738, programming BASIC, moving on to Atari ST and Atari Falcon with assembler and some C.


I would like that too. Not just the good ideas from RISC OS (IMO that’s drag/drop filer integration to applications, appdirs, good font rendering), but also Amiga OS (public screens, assigns, datatypes) and BeOS/Haiku (media server, pervasive multithreading).

I think it’s tragic a lot of these ideas are missing from all the major desktop OSes these days.



I’m happy with the font rendering on my Ubuntu desktop. The other two: yes. Yes indeed, they’re exactly what I was thinking of. :slight_smile:

(don’t mention Rox. I know.)


At school we had the BBC micro and could play The Life of Repton until they got the RM Nimbus and play Dreaded Dragon Droom.

At home was Atari ST: fm broke after a few weeks sent it back along with STOS game creator and got an e. My dream of making computer games died that day.

Also had Master System (1) with Hang On, Safari Hunt and snail maze.

Later had Megadrive 2. Briefly had a MegaCD 2 but took back as it was rubbish. I had a 6 game bundle but all were crap except Echo the dolphin which was available on Megadrive anyway.

By the way electronics retailer beginning with T. Tempo maybe. They were not everywhere and I don’t specifically remember them doing internet but they went bust around that time so could be what you meant.


Actually, my parents wanted to get an Amstrad, because they decided they couldn’t afford a BBC, and an Electron was only ever going to be nearly a BBC. I had friends who had ZX Spectrums’, that I knew I could “swap” games with.

I still have my Acorn A3010, and even though it had to be purchased second-hand, like the Amiga A1200, it is a very prized part of my collection. Archimedes computers were very much something beyond the income of mortals but, like the DEC Alpha a little later on, it was what you wanted to use if you were serious about using a “Personal Computer” to get things done. Sadly, Acorn basic didn’t compete with Blitz Basic or AMOS. (or even STOS) And I loved HiSoft Basic. But being able to program ARM assembler in Basic was quite cool.

What I did manage to save up, and beg for funds to complete the purchase, were an Atari ST 520FM, (which turned out to be shite … but I eventually managed to prove it was the last machine off the line on Friday, and lost the silicone lottery on every component) and an MGT Sam Coupé. (basically a Sinclair Spectrum that had taken so much cocaine it could take on an Atari ST without batting an eyelid)

The Sam Coupé is still a beautiful, low power computer, with a very mature (obviously) Basic programming language in ROM. With the Sinclair symbolic memory footprint, which precursors things like Java byte-code, and MSIL, Spectrum resolution without colour attributes and a 16 colours on screen, (or twice that in 4 colours, for WP/DTP) from a palette of 4096 colours, and semi-Amiga style HAM capabilities and hardware blitting all available from Basic.

I agree, there was a lot more fancy hardware in a C64, but for me, the point of a ZX Spectrum was that it could do more with less, because everything was put together so artfully. My Sam Coupé certainly did put, even a well made Atari ST to shame by achieving much the same with little more than a single chip on the board, but I think the true continuation of Sinclair was the Russian clones, Scorpion and Pentagon.


So do explain your reasoning…

I’m not sure about “other Commadore”, because C128 / C128D, C16 and even Vic-20 were all Commadore compatible. The Amiga was originally developed by Amiga Inc. and Amiga Inc. was sold to Escom and eventually became an independent organisation again, which still exists today. (they make and sell AmigaOne and Amiga OS 4)

Through one method or another (there is conflicting historical evidence, depending who you ask) the original Amiga Inc. was almost split between Commadore and Atari after the original / prototype A1000 was being shrunk into an all-in-one, and they needed funding to get it where it deserved to be. The A500 (the result of that) looked like it would be an Atari, but they didn’t want to buy the company, just the machine. I think they did end up with a couple of the key staff before Commadore took them on as a whole, and made the actual A500.

The point is, while the custom chip thing looks like a Commadore idea, it was actually more closely related to Sega / Atari 2800 type systems, and the PAD coppers existed in the A1000 before Commadore had anything to do with the machine, or the company that designed it.

It’s not really a Commadore, we just have to thank them for making it economically viable without breaking up the company and team the way Atari wanted.

Perhaps, you should think of it like you wouldn’t consider your Specturm +3 to be an Amstrad. It’s not a CPC, and not a PCW, Amstrad did very little besides put a decent keyboard on it and build a 3" disc drive into it. :wink:


I would like that too. Not just the good ideas from RISC OS (IMO that’s drag/drop filer integration to applications, appdirs, good font rendering), but also Amiga OS (public screens, assigns, datatypes) and BeOS/Haiku (media server, pervasive multithreading).

Well, you can often drop files on the main window of applications, and the open / save file browser is somewhat nicer than having the application window, the drop target window, and a desktop file browser window all open and sharing space when you really want to drag from one, and drop into the other. It was kinda neat, but I learned quite early on that you could usually drop documents on the target application in the task area below the desktop background. Not that the Acorn guide indicated that “feature”.

!App (I think is what you’re meaning) is pretty much still in existence on Macs. (*.app directories) I do miss the idea that Acorn curated the 4 letter application and 4 letter document type codes, but I also miss BeOS/Haiku background MIME type recognisers, and using extended attributes (or “alternate data streams” in Windows terminology) to remember what you’ve already scanned. In Windows, a PE is able to store an entire file structure so it was designed so it could do that. (it could, but it isn’t used that way) I think Flatpak and docker are close on Linux, and BSD has Jails, which kinda work like that, or like a chroot on steroids? (they’re good, but I’ve not used them much) Depending on your point of view.

Amiga public screens, on modern hardware, I don’t think would be significantly different from multiple workspaces. (or desktops, in Windows terms, because even they are getting in on that now) Assigns, with a Posix root would just be a mount, or softlink. No? You can “assign”, and “subst” in Windows still, but that’s where the Amiga got it from. (Microsoft sub-contracted considerably on Amiga DOS and the original Amiga Basic, from what I understand) DOS drive letters need to die though, and you wouldn’t run out of letters with the Amiga system. (not dissimilar to the content of Linux / BSD /dev/ directory dh0: would be /dev/sda0 in Linux, etc.)

Win32 doesn’t need DOS drive letters. They’re a “compatibility feature”, but it’s compatibility which needs to be deprecated, IMHO. You are supposed to program against the Windows Object Namespace, because then you support virtual folders like Fonts, and Control Panel and virtual views of .zip and .cab files, to comply with the old NT / 9x style guides, but nobody does. :frowning: That’s the \?\device\harddisk\0\1 being most peoples C: drive on XP thing, but if you’ve never seen it, I’m not surprised… Again, you can “link” complex object paths to more simple ones, and essentially that’s what C: is, it’s \?\dos-device\C, or something, in the namespace. (because that’s how Windows “mounts” devices) That’s what the NT versions of “subst” and “net use” do too… But you could equally “mklink” it yourself, you just can’t “cd” to a namespace object, just as you can’t “cd” to a UNC… Only browse them with Explorer.exe, and that tends to change the address bar to a known DOS style path when ever it can. Maybe PowerShell can? IDK, but I doubt it, they didn’t extend cmd.exe in a sensible Win32-centric way, they started again from a .Net framework-centric way.

DataTypes… Yes. Admittedly most applications have file filters for importing comparable alien data, but the fact that it was a core part of the OS is the key. I think the flaw was that the IFF format was never “standard” enough is why it didn’t really take off. Did you know QuickTime .MOV files and Windows .AVI are also IFF animation / movie formats, as is .WAV?

The other thing I miss from BeOS is the tagging of everything, not just MIME content in extended attributes, so you can search for every file by any of those tags, without there being a separate, obscure database which isn’t open and transparent, either to the user, or to application developers to extend the system. (Spotlight / WDS / Cortana / even Zeitgeist) The fact that your eMail client could just be the file browser, a collection of monitored folders and a program that can read and write .eml files was just stunning simplicity. It would only really take to include it as part of their standard for it to be taken up, I feel.


First computer:
Sinclair ZX80

Sinclair ZX81

Sinclair Spectrum and Vic 20

Via several other computers including Acorn Electron, BBC model B, Dragon 32 I finally built own 8086 PC running DOS 3.0 now running Ubuntu on a 64-bit Dell laptop and an Ubuntu server on my old desktop. Also have a Pi running Raspbian as a house web server


Old person bias in selection of poll options :slight_smile:

The first computer I remember using was a Spectrum +2. My Dad still used it to play a few games until the early 2000s at least. As with everybody (I presume!) I entered game pokes from magazines and although I didn’t understand them, it was at least exposure to the idea of programming.

Veering away from proper computers, I remember spending a good amount of time playing on an Astro Wars and similar devices. Fun times! Even more retro we had a pong type console something like a Teleng Telestars.

Maybe a bit more unusual, my mum had an Amstrad PCW9512 which she used for serious stuff like transcribing Birth/Death/Marriage records from microfiche. It came with a daisy wheel printer - good quality text output but god was it slow and loud.

When I was older I got an Amiga A1200 which occupied a lot of time and was the way we connected to the internet for quite a long time.


Agreed. On the other hand, I think it’s allowed in explicitly nostalgic sections. :slight_smile: (Also, it’s not clear to me that the poll makes any sense if it’s aimed at people who grew up in the 90s, right? Choices: “PC”. Oh, maybe an Apple Mac if you were a graphic designer. That’s it.)


Our first family computer was an Amstrad CPC-464 when I was around 7 (1984). I cut both my gaming and my programming teeth

When I was around 10 (1987) I wanted my own computer, so I bought a Tandy TRS-80 MC-10 from a friend.

When I got to maybe 14/15 I bought myself a ZX Spectrum +2 - the king of home computers :wink: It also came with a WafaDrive - a continuous tape drive thing. I also bought a printer interface and the infamous Multiface 128. Although I always regretted not getting the +D 3.5" disk drive…

At school we had BBC Masters and then Archimedes A3000s (plus 1 A5000). And no, Jono, this wasn’t a posh school. Just an ordinary high school in Devon…


These were a magic item I could only dream of.


Electronics retailer “Tempo”? Dont think so.Maybe he meant Tandy. That was the radio-shack-like one since eaten up by history.


Disagree slightly about Amstrad only putting a 3" (why Amstrad, why) disk drive on it; they made a number of “fixes” in the ROM (and an Easter Egg animated-font message which I had fun making use of in computer shops), gave it drive letters including a RAMdisk and some other tweaks and little features. Those also made it less compatible sometimes, the timings for screen hardware/memory changed a bit and system variables (forget exact details but used to have reference printouts for it, being an occasional Spectrum demoscene programmer in z80 for several years). Had a group of pen friends/friends I also met in real life at fanzine-organised Spectrum shows/holiday-visit parties through the 90s - lots of nostalgia for me there. For me the internet had to wait til university in the mid 90s but I still used my +2A then, saved up for a dot matrix printer as well as emulation on my first x86 PC).

The +D disk interface was my pride and joy with lots of saving up to buy it, it was such an essential part of continuing my programming education (saving to tape every 20-30 minutes to avoid losing too much data in crashes is not fun) and ability to swap utility and demo software and store games on, lighter in the post (though not as sturdy sometimes with that cover/spring mechanism) etc… As Spectrums became older and cheaper I purchased extras so have a bit of a store of them and other interfaces (Multiface 3, a 128k, at least two +2’s, a Vidi ZX I always wanted years before but couldn’t justify among the highlights).

People have done crazy modern stuff with Spectrum hardware interfaces too, you can load games from SD card nowadays with the right bought/made bit of kit.

But I think despite all the nostalgia for old real hardware, it’s the connections with people and experiences gained through it or through shared interest in it that are worth the real rose-tinted spectacles, and ultimately helped bring me to where I am today as a professional software developer and proud geek. Parents, support your kids interests in hobbies where you can because they might just end up making them their millions… (or a fun career out of it anyway)


I thought he said similar to Bestbuy not Radio Shack but then I don’t really know what Best Buy sells anyway.

One way or another I don’t remember Tempo or Tandy doing free internet. Dixon’s had Freeseve around then so possible either copied.


I grew up in the 80s in the northern UK, and for some context, we were not on the wealthy side for sure (some may say we were on the other side of Thatcher’s Britain :wink: ).

First ‘computer’ was an Atari 2600 VCS, which we sold to get me a Commodore VIC20 which was a real computer, then sold that to get a second hand Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K, which is still in my parent’s loft I hope. I pretty much missed 16bit due to lack of money (itself due to too much social life), though I had a used Super Nintendo for a year or so I remember. The next computer I had after that was a self built i486-DX266 based PC which I ran Windows 3.11 then 95 on and built at university from money earned working behind the bar in some rough Nottingham pubs. VL-BUS hahahaha.

I liked the VIC20; I got an emulator set up a few years ago just because I liked that 3583 bytes free’ message on boot. I remember I had a 16K RAM Pack for it too and learned some BASIC. On the Speccy I mainly played games, but as I bought it second hand it came with a voice syth from Cheetah which was fun to learn allophones with. I made some simple adventure games which used it.

I show my own kids games based on these emulators, and they actually like some of them.


Well started with slide rule, then when at Uni a TRS 80, added memory and hard drive board by soldering the components to purchased circuit board: Pineapple (Apple II clone) added Z80 board. Next was Superbrain a CPM Z80 machine. Then the Circuit Cellar Hitachi Z180 single board. Then 286, 386SX and on and on :grin:


Ah, a ‘slip stick’, now your talking! Were they mostly pocket ones, or did you also use the longer ones? I’m looking at a foot long one and a round one on my desk right now. I liked the round ones, more compact yet better resolution than a pocket one. Years ago, I started a CAM program to make a 2ft diameter slide rule out of aluminum, but kind of forgot all about it. That would have given the resolution of one over 6 feet long! It wouldn’t be a bad idea to teach the use of slide rules just in case of the great solar flare EMP! :smile: I’ve heard the navy is teaching the use of the sextant again just in case the gps system goes out. Many may not realize that man got into space with the use of these instruments (slide rules).

And, by the way, does a calculator the size of an oversized brick count in this? :smile:


Unfortunately, it won’t be long before you are saying things like “when I was a kid” or “back in the day”. Being hit by the ‘old truck’ waits for no one.


I’m of an age with sil so haven’t got much of a leg to stand on with regards my comment.

Most of the people I work with are half my age, I’m used to feeling a bit old :slight_smile:

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