Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Still no love for the IBM PC

Posted by Trixter on August 23, 2015

It’s been 2.5 years since I talked about how there’s no love for the IBM PC, and not much has changed.  I’ve discovered one more youtube channel that covers 808x-era games (dfortae’s game reviews), but that’s it.  There are still no podcasts that cover the first decade of the PC; even the Retro Computing Roundtable hardly mentions it.

What has changed in 2.5 years is my understanding of why that is.  I think the 808x-based era (8088 or 8086 computers that are IBM PC compatible, 1981-1989) is mostly overlooked because both the system and its users are stuck between worlds.  Let’s start with the IBM PC itself:

  • Is it a home computer or a business computer?  It was a business computer for the home, so try classifying that one.  It definitely had business-class power and expandability (and price tag), but also had BASIC in ROM, cassette tape support, and could connect to home televisions.
  • Is it an 8-bit or 16-bit computer?  It came out squarely in the middle of the 8-bit era, and had an 8-bit bus and an 8-bit path to memory.  But, the 8088 is internally a 16-bit CPU, with 16-bit registers and a 16-bit ALU,  Most people categorize it as a 16-bit computer and part of the 16-bit era, but considering the Atari ST and Amiga are the poster children for the 16-bit era, it doesn’t feel like it should be in that category as it is significantly less capable than those systems.
  • When was the system considering viable for gaming?  There were games available for the system in the same year it was launched, but many people consider games with ugly CGA graphics or text-only adventures a party trick and not actual games.  I disagree, but ask most online people what “DOS games” are and you’ll get a picture painted in a VGA palette.

The users/fans/retrohobbyists of the PC are also stuck between worlds:

  • Generation Y Millennials grew up with the web, blogging, social media, YouTube… but the IBM PC was not their system, so they don’t cover it.  Most old PC gaming channels on YouTube, for example, consider “MS-DOS Gaming” as starting in the era of 386+VGA+soundcard systems.  These are good channels, don’t get me wrong (Pushing up Roses, Lazy Game Reviews, Ancient DOS games, DOS Nostalgia come to mind), but they only rarely cover the first decade of PC gaming. By the way check out Gaming Headset Reviews which will help you decide which one is the best for you.  That’s 10 years of games not getting coverage — quite a gap.
  • So that leaves us Generation X’ers to cover it, because we did grow up with the PC… but, there are two forces working against early PCs getting coverage.  The first is that Gen X people also grew up with other systems.  The second is that not every Gen X’er is comfortable doing a podcast or video channel.  So out of the few that are, the attention is spread across all 1980s systems (including consoles), leaving a tragically small slice of people who are both capable and motivated to do so for the early PC.

Come on, I can’t be the only one.  Won’t someone start a 1980s-era PC podcast or YouTube channel?

(We were having a chat with a friend from the OnBlast blog, and I too thought the original classic Mac would have this problem too, but a cursory search of the interwebz shows a plethora of websites dedicated to classic macs, and even a retro mac podcast coming up on its 376th episode.  Yikes!)

21 Responses to “Still no love for the IBM PC”

  1. catweazle666 said

    Interestingly, AFAIK the IBM PC was the only common desktop computer that was equipped with a proper analog joystick port.

    Was this a result of slavish copying of the basic design of the Apple ][ (I still have one, 32KB and dual single-sided 160KB floppies – a super little machine), with its paddles or a result of the alleged expectation that the machine would use a GUI – Xerox PARC ripoff DR GEM, subsequently found on Mac, Atari ST and Amstrad PCs – which would have benefitted from analog inputs and was only dropped after Gary Kildall fell out with IBM, resulting in the world getting stuck with Micro$oft?

    • Trixter said

      You make a good point about the analog joysticks, but I think you have your history a little muddled — GEM for the 8086 line didn’t exist in during the PC negotiations, and was demoed in 1984. Maybe you’re thinking about GSX? Either way, the hardware spec was either finished or close to finished by the time they started shopping for operating systems.

      Interestingly, I can’t decide if analog joysticks made the PC *more* or *less* of a home computer, since the only other home computer to have them was the Apple, and most others had digital joysticks. Once again, stuck between two worlds.

      • bhtooefr said

        IBM was explicitly aiming the machine at both business and home, really. To quote the announcement letter…

        IBM Corporation today announced its smallest, lowest-priced computer system — the IBM Personal Computer.

        Designed for business, school and home, the easy-to-use system sells for as little as $1,565. It offers many advanced features and, with optional software, may use hundreds of popular application programs.

        The IBM Personal Computer will be sold through participating ComputerLand dealers and Sears, Roebuck and Co.’s new business machine stores beginning this fall. It will also be sold through IBM Product Centers and a special sales unit in the company’s Data Processing Division.

        “This is the computer for just about everyone who has ever wanted a personal system at the office, on the university campus or at home,” said C. B. Rogers, Jr., IBM vice president and group executive, General Business Group. “We believe its performance, reliability and ease of use make it the most advanced, affordable personal computer in the marketplace.”

        IBM has designed its Personal Computer for the first-time or advanced user, whether a businessperson in need of accounting help or a student preparing a term paper.

        Was the PC the first machine explicitly aimed at both business and consumer markets? (There were plenty of S-100 machines aimed at business and hobbyist markets, AFAIK, but I don’t think anyone had really designed a machine explicitly for both businesses and CONSUMERS before. Granted, the Apple II was marketed early on as a business machine, but it was never designed to be one, it was designed as an Apple-1 that could run Breakout, and it lacked a lot of features for business unless you put a bunch of upgrades in it to get 80-column and lowercase input.)

  2. bhtooefr said

    It’d certainly be something interesting to me, even though I am a millenial (and my first exposure to pre-AT-class (pre-386, even) PC hardware would’ve been in 1997 or 1998 or so). Not something that I’d really have an interest in presenting, though, because you’re right – it’s not my platform.

    A couple of other factors, though, would be exposure. The Apple II is the platform I started out on, despite being 27. I’m probably one of the youngest people to have experienced widespread deployment of Apple IIs in schools, for instance, in addition to my family having one (as my dad got a //c in 1984, and we didn’t move on from the 8-bit Apple II until 1994). And, that business-class price tag really explains a lot about the early PCs, and why they wouldn’t have been able to penetrate the home. The PCjr was certainly an attempt to do so, but we know what happened there. And, I suspect that, while clones started to take off, I wonder if the fragmented nature of the platform, combined with the commodity nature of a clone machine, has affected how much nostalgia people really have. After all, there’s nothing special about, say, a DMP Logic Series XT Turbo (a random machine pulled from the April 12, 1988 PC Magazine issue (page 61, to be exact)), and not many people experienced the real XT due to cost.

    I’m actually wondering if there’s a single platform anywhere where a clone gets significant nostalgia, relative to the original, other than restricted markets (Eastern Bloc nations or Brazil, for instance) where the clone was the only version available. (And, even then, in those markets, the original may still be favored even though people have nostalgia for the local clone.)

    • Trixter said

      Good point about price; it was definitely a factor in our home. We didn’t get a system until December of 1984, and it was a clone, and only because my father worked for the company.

      There are definitely clones that get their own nostalgia. The PCjr is one — very small but dedicated following. Tandy 1000 series is another, mostly coupled with Sierra AGI/SCI fans. And in the UK, the Amstrad 1512/1640 is fondly remembered. All three of these clones had something special/enhanced about them (the Amstrad had a 640x200x16 graphics mode that a few games used, like Frank Bruno’s Boxing, and a digital joystick port that many more games used).

      • Scali said

        I don’t view PCjr as a clone, since it is an original IBM model with unique features. Likewise, the Tandy is somewhat of a special case as well, because it is unique in offering both PC and PCjr-features, and was targeted as a specific platform by various games.

        With ‘clones’ I think of all the thousands of non-descript x86-based machines that were nothing special, and just tried to do what IBM did, at a lower pricepoint. Just like today… Is anyone really a ‘fan’ of Dell, Acer, HP or whatever brand? I think nobody really cares what brand is on there, they just buy whoever offers the best specs at the best price. It’s all the same really, all just clones.

  3. catweazle666 said

    Anyone else ever come across a Medfly (a joke name – apparently medflies eat Apples).

    A curious machine with a Z80 and a 6502, supposed to be able to run both CP/M and Apple ][ OS – and in fact ran neither.

    Someone brought me one to (try to) fix once…

    • bhtooefr said

      There were quite a few Apple ][+ clones that had a Z80 Softcard clone on the motherboard, under many, many different names, but as I understand, sharing the same motherboard design for the most part (the cloners would often clone each other if they did anything different). I believe most of them had a motherboard that looked something like this:

      I believe if you have one of those, it’ll behave like a normal ][+, just with a Softcard in slot 4 (note that slot “T4” is skipped).

      • catweazle666 said

        No, it wasn’t an Apple copy with an addon card, it had the Z80 and 6502 on the motherboard.

        As I say, it just plain didn’t work.

        • bhtooefr said

          Right, look at the motherboard I linked. It doesn’t have a physical slot numbered “4”, because logical slot 4 (that is, $C0Cx and $C4xx) is assigned to the Z80 on the motherboard and the associated glue logic. (This physical/logical disconnect gets even more confusing on the Apple IIGS, where every slot has both a logical function on the motherboard and a physical slot that (for most cards) conflicts with that logical function, and requires the slot to be switched from its integrated function to “Your Card”.)

  4. alder645 said

    I made an 80s era PC youtube channel! :D


    It’s dedicated to the games I love that the internet forgot.

  5. etay2k said

    Well, I was born in 1983 and got my first PC clone around 87 or 88. Most kids on my class didn’t have a PC till early 90’s. However, because the PC was the only computer besides Apple II that could display Hebrew easily, it had a great educational software support. Not sure if it’s true for US.

    Anyway, there were some true classics exclusive for PC (or Tandy/PCjr) such as Alley cat and Digger or even Round 42 (which used 16 colors text mode). Other were good clones, Paratrooper, Bouncing Babies etc,

    Most other games ported from other systems were much less impressive or just downgraded versions of PC AT games (Playing Golden Axe in CGA mode is not a fun…).

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