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Retro Viator Posts

IBM Personal Computer

A handful of product names are so ubiquitous and defining they become synonymous with their industry: Coke, Aspirin, Band-Aids, Post-Its, etc. In computing, the IBM Personal Computer was that product. In the early days of the microcomputer revolution, tech enthusiasts and business insiders were curious if “Big Blue” would step outside its dominant position in business and university computer rooms and enter the nascent small computer market. In the 1970s, IBM rolled out the portable 5100 series of computers, showing that it could build machines designed for desktops, but these systems were expensive and niche at best. After the explosion of interest following the 1977 West Coast Computer Faire, the microcomputer industry was moving at a breakneck speed and becoming…

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IBM Personal Computer XT

With Apple, Tandy, and Commodore’s early microcomputer success, the industry speculated how IBM would respond. The mainframe giant had dominated computing for decades, but its initial efforts to make a viable microcomputer had fallen flat. That changed when Bill Lowe and Don Estridge set out to develop a micro outside the usual IBM bureaucracy. Just twelve months later, in August 1981, they unveiled the IBM Personal Computer (5150). The PC was made from off-the-shelf components with a custom IBM BIOS. Though it could run the popular CP/M operating system, it came packaged with BASIC and a new disk operating system from Microsoft. The early 5150s set the standard for business-class personal computing, and IBM quickly iterated and released the IBM…

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Apple Macintosh LC III

The Macintosh LC III is the (not surprisingly) third version of the LC computer introduced in October 1990. The original LC was part of a trio of low-cost Macintosh computers intended to challenge the growing dominance of PCs and also stand up against the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST. The low-cost trio included the Classic, the LC, and the IIsi. The Classic carried on the original Macintosh form factor, replacing the venerable Macintosh SE, and the Macintosh IIsi was a scaled-down Macintosh II. But the LC fit nicely between the two. In its small pizza-box case, it included many of the characteristics of the Macintosh II family, including color graphics, but offered limited expandability. I attended college during the early…

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Compaq Presario 3060

Compaq succeeded in getting the better of IBM throughout the 1980s. First, reverse-engineering the PC’s BIOS when creating the trailblazing Compaq Portable. Then, introducing Intel’s 80386 processor in the Compaq DeskPro computer. Finally, spearheading industry opposition to IBM’s proprietary Micro Channel architecture and developing the competing EISA bus. Though Compaq soared through the ’80s, it suffered when PCs were commoditized in the early ’90s. Lagging sales in 1991 prompted Compaq’s chairman, Ben Rosen, to orchestrate the ouster of long-time CEO Rod Canion. Rosen and Canion disagreed on how Compaq should respond to the industry’s race to the bottom, with Canion favoring in-house technologies and Rosen wanting to purchase off-the-shelf components. In June 1992, under new CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer’s leadership, Compaq…

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Harpoon

Harpoon is a naval strategy software simulation adapted from Larry Bond’s paper-based tactical miniatures game. A navy veteran, Bond was exposed to the classified Naval Tactical Game (NAVTAG) while serving aboard the destroyer U.S.S. McKean. But Bond was frustrated by NAVTAG’s vague rules. He contacted NAVTAG’s designer, Neil Byrne, and learned the unclear rules were purposeful, so players could improvise. Bond decided he could make a better all-purpose air, surface, and submarine simulation accessible to the general public. Using two unclassified sources, Combat Fleets of the World and Jane’s All the World’s Ships, Bond developed his own rules and calculations for Harpoon. Bond drafted the initial game in a week, and he and his crewmates tested the game over the…

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Apple Macintosh 512K

In January 1984, Steve Jobs triumphantly unveiled Macintosh. An “insanely great” computer for the rest of us. And while the original Macintosh was amazing, it also struggled to complete basic tasks. Limited to 128K of RAM and a single 400K floppy drive, the computer was a contradiction, with state-of-the-art software and limited hardware. The Apple IIe (with 64K of RAM) was Apple’s most popular product when Macintosh was released. But the Mac’s bitmapped graphics and robust operating system devoured memory. Jobs was committed to keeping the original Mac at 128K of RAM to control costs. Burrell Smith knew it was a trivial matter to replace the 4264 DRAM chips with 41256 chips instead, and he surreptitiously modified the logic board…

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Apple Macintosh Quadra 650

In the early 1990s, the processor wars were heating up. Intel was establishing its dominance thanks to its 80486 processor. Motorola had kept pace early on, moving briefly from the 68000 to the 68020, then finding success with the 68030 chips, providing a migration path for the Macintosh, Amiga, Atari, and Sharp systems. But Motorola’s third-generation 68040–with its onboard cache, floating-point, and memory management capabilities–lifted Apple’s prospects and prompted a new line of computers: the Quadra. The Macintosh Quadra holds a special place in my Apple history. During the ‘90s, I supported hundreds of Macs at a small college, and I was lucky to use a Quadra 840AV regularly. I always admired the Quadra line and now recognize it was…

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Apple Macintosh SE SuperDrive

Steve Jobs was forced out of Apple in 1985.  In a now-famous boardroom brawl, Jobs was outmaneuvered by his chosen CEO, John Sculley.  Directing the Macintosh team had been Jobs’ most meaningful accomplishment to date, but Jobs and the team were exhausted by the rush to launch the Mac in 1984.  Exhaustion, coupled with Apple’s management confusion, led most of the original team to leave Apple to pursue other interests.  John Sculley knew the Apple II line was far from state-of-the-art and would not sustain the company much longer.  He also recognized the genius of Macintosh.  Though he resisted lowering its price (solidifying its reputation as an impressive but expensive computer), he did support enhancing the Macintosh to ensure its…

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Apple iMac DV (G3)

During the mid-1990s, Apple’s products were largely derivative and uninspired. John Sculley ended his ten years as CEO in 1993, and Michael Spindler did considerable damage during his two-and-half-year run. Profits were crashing, and by 1995, Apple had reached its revenue peak. Not surprisingly, the introduction of Windows 95 magnified the company’s problems. Apple was desperate for new ideas. Gil Amelio stumbled but did his best to save the company when he stepped in as CEO in 1996. One of his first actions was to authorize the development of a new low-end computer. But it took the historic return of Steve Jobs in 1997 to turn this project into a seminal success. I was transitioning out of my early IT…

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Apple Macintosh (128K)

Apple’s Macintosh computer changed the trajectory of technology. The hobbyist systems of the late ‘70s had grown into the gaming and productivity platforms of the early ‘80s. IBM focused the industry when it debuted its PC in 1981, but Apple hoped to upend the definition of the personal computer with the Macintosh. I used an original Macintosh at my first job. In 1988, I was a teenager working for a boutique furniture store. The Mac was a cool but limited computer housed in a small office shed behind the store. While the owner had a newer Macintosh Plus at home, I used the original Macintosh to make product labels and price lists with the connected ImageWriter II printer. Many websites,…

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