I was part of the first wave of people tackling the gigantic task of preserving personal computing gaming history in the early 1990s. (I suppose pirating software in the 1980s counts too, but scanning materials and interviewing people began, for me, in the 1990s.) Without connecting to others or knowing what was out there, I started to hoard software and hardware where financially possible and appropriate. I collected software I considered hidden gems, that should be given their due in some public forum before being forgotten. I grabbed many Tandy 1000s and other early PCs to ensure various works could be run and studied. I was an original member of the abandonware movement. I wrote articles on how to get old software running on modern machines, and contributed to software that did the same. I co-founded the world’s largest gaming database so that information about these works could be consumed and researched by millions.
I did this all before Y2K. When you’re the only guy shouting in a crowd, you tend to look the lunatic, and that’s pretty much how most of my friends and family saw me.
Look around the preservation landscape today and much of what I was working towards for years has come to pass. There are many vintage hardware and software museums, both physical and virtual, including some dedicated to gaming. There are some wonderful emulators that get closer and closer to the real thing each year. There are even some curated collections online. (There are many more curated collections offline, orders of magnitude larger than what is online, but in a decade or so I believe these will move online as well.) Most importantly, there are established communities that support these efforts. All in all, I’m pretty happy with how things have turned out.
Looking around all of my possessions inside my home, I see the fallout of what I was trying to accomplish many years ago. I see no less than five PCjrs, three identical Tandy 1000s, three identical IBM PC 5150s, and multiples of Macs, Apples, C64s, and Amigas. I see crates and bookshelves and closets filled with hardware and software. I see clutter where there should be a nice desk for displaying a computer in a respectful way, or an easy chair for reading or watching TV. It’s too much. It’s time to let most of it go, and focus like a laser on the things that are the most important. I will be disseminating most of my collection, both software and hardware, in the following year.
What I will continue to do, however, is archive and preserve software, as there is still a ton of IBM PC software from the 1980s that has not yet been released into the wild. I am also committed to creating the “sound card museum” project I keep threatening to do. To those ends, I will retain a few systems that will allow me to achieve both of those goals.
So, I’ll still keep buying and collecting vintage software — the difference is, I won’t retain the software after preserving it. Consider me a vintage personal computing clearing house.