The good old TRS-80 Model III

TRS-80 Model III

I’ve been reflecting recently on my twisty path from being a kid with a computer to being a grown-up who is (apparently) a bona fide software engineer.

My first computer was a TRS-80 Model III. It had a 1MHz 8-bit Z-80 CPU, 64KB of RAM, and two 5.25” floppy disk drives (after upgrades).

I used it to play games, write papers, and learn how to write software (mostly in BASIC, though I eventually learned Z-80 assembly language. I even got a Pascal compiler from somewhere but I barely knew what to do with it).

Some notable differences from the young person’s computing experience of today:

  • If you had a modem you might frequent bulletin board systems (BBS) but that was the only “online” of the era. All your information came from manuals and books and magazines. All your software came on a disk, from a store or a mail-order business.
  • No color, primitive graphics. The screen was 64 characters by 16 lines. The graphics resolution was 128 by 48 pixels (i.e. each character cell was also a 2x3 graphics cell). There were games though!
  • If you were into programming, like I was, it was exciting because the “big guys” (i.e. the ones advertising in the magazines) weren’t all that big. You could imagine learning enough to do that yourself. I did eventually sell some games through the Radio Shack Applications Software Sourcebook.
  • The computer magazines had lots of information about programming. They printed full source code of BASIC programs (for you to type in). The computer and the operating system were small enough to be understandable.
  • Hard freezes and spontaneous reboots just happened, a few times a week. It sucked but it was part of life.
  • Integrated design meant swapping out peripherals was not a casual thing. I replaced the white-phosphor CRT with an amber-phosphor aftermarket model, and it was basically like doing TV repair.
  • For no good reason, an orange hard-reboot button was right out in the open, in the upper right corner of the keyboard. After more than once accidentally tripping it by dropping some small object at an inopportune time, I fashioned a small cover.

(Photo: Jeff Kubina)

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