[ Retro Scan of the Week ] MacCharlie's FrankenMac

January 14th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Dayna Communications MacCharlie IBM PC accessory for Macintosh ad - 1985I'd like to have heard Steve Jobs' reaction when he first saw this.

Long before Boot Camp and Parallels, if you wanted to run IBM PC compatible software on your Mac, you had to strap on this unholy contraption — the Dayna Communications MacCharlie.

If I recall correctly, the MacCharlie was essentially an IBM PC clone in a beige box that hooked to the Mac's serial port. As a result, the Mac merely served as a serial terminal for the MacCharlie via custom terminal software running on the Mac. That's not a particularly efficient setup, but the lack of expansion ports on the original Macintosh meant that there was no other reasonable point of entry.

Since it worked through the serial port, the MacCharlie could only run text-based MS-DOS applications. Conveniently, the MacCharlie shipped with a keyboard extender that added the IBM PC's special function keys and a numeric keypad to the Macintosh keyboard.

[ From Byte Magazine, April 1985, p.71-73 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever used a hardware system adapter (something that lets you use software from one platform on another through hardware, not software emulation) for any computer system?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Altos Computer Systems

December 31st, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Altos Computer Systems ACS8000-6 and Sun-Series ad - 1979"The first business computer system that will not instantly crush your secretary."

Happy New Year from Vintage Computing and Gaming!

[ From BYTE, November 1979, p.21 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Quick! Name your favorite computer, calculator, or console with a Z80 CPU.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Finally…a 1200 Baud Modem

November 19th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Radio Shack TRS-80 DC-2212 Modem 1200 Baud - 1985FINALLY, I mean, COME ON.

You too could be the proud owner of this Radio Shack TRS-80 DC-2212 1200 baud modem for the low, low price of $399.95 (about $859.81 in 2012 dollars).

…If you traveled back in time with the proper currency, that is. But I wouldn't recommend it.

I recently bought a cable modem that is the equivalent of a 150,000,000 baud modem. It cost $70 in 2012 dollars. Not bad for progress.

[ From BYTE, September 1985, rear cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What speed was you first modem?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] A 1985 Solid State Drive

November 5th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

SemiDisk Solid State Disk SSD Disk Drive Emulator Ad - 1985This IS your daddy's SSD.

Back in January, I traced the evolution of the Solid State Drive from its 1978 origins to the present in a PC World slideshow. From that experience, I learned that SSDs, as a product class, were far older than most people realize.

Case in point: Seen here is an advertisement for a 1985-era SSD called the SemiDisk. The company behind this early SSD, SemiDisk Systems, sold a wide range of "disk emulators" (as they were called back then) for platforms like S-100 bus systems, the TRS-80 Model 2, and the IBM PC. All of them used solid-state RAM chips to achieve read and write speeds far beyond those of rotating platter drives at the time.

The 2 megabyte SemiDisk for the IBM PC retailed for $1,795 in 1985. That's about $3,860 today when adjusted for inflation. Amusingly, at that vintage price rate — about $1,930 per megabyte — a 256 GB SemiDisk SSD would cost over $494 million today. Yep, that's a 494 followed by six zeroes.

Of course, you can buy a 256GB flash-based SSD right now for under $180. Not bad.

[ From BYTE, September 1985, p.329 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: When did you buy your first solid state PC drive? How big was it?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Osborne 1

June 25th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Osborne 1 Portable Computer ad -  1982Two out of three doctors recommend Osborne 1 for muscle fatigue.

We've come a long way from what many consider to be the first commercial portable PC, the Osborne 1 (seen here), and the recently announced Microsoft Surface tablet.

Here's a brain twister for you. If you packed a case the size of the Osborne 1 (think small suitcase) with Surface-sized portable tech, how powerful would the machine be?

[ From BYTE Magazine, February 1982, p.31 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was your first portable computer? When did you get it?

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Macintosh II 25th Anniversary

June 8th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Macintosh II 25th Anniversary at Macworld

25 years ago this March (1987), Apple released the Macintosh II, the first open architecture Macintosh. Naturally, I've written a short feature about this pioneering machine over at Macworld.

While speaking with Michael Dhuey, the Apple engineer that conceived the Mac II, I learned that Apple patterned the Mac II after the 1977 Apple II, which sported the same sort of flexibility and expandability as the Mac II. That self-referential influence amazed me — especially coming from a company that recently institutionalized the practice of ignoring its own history.

But only two years after Steve Jobs resigned from Apple, the company had no problem making the un-Jobs move of both looking backward and opening up the Macintosh. The result changed the course of Macintosh history.

[ Continue reading Macintosh II 25th Anniversary » ]

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Software Piracy

February 9th, 2009 by Benj Edwards

Software Piracy - Byte - May 1981It's the software Vikings!

Heh. And you thought digital piracy was a new problem. It's actually as old as the PC software business itself. Some of the earliest evidence of this comes from a famous February 1976 open letter to the Homebrew Computer Club in which Bill Gates (then "General Partner" of a small company called Micro-Soft) protested the rampant "theft" of his company's popular Altair BASIC.

Reflect on that date for a moment: February 1976 — less than a year after the Altair 8800 launched the personal computer revolution, people were already illegally copying Microsoft products with great abandon. (Some things never change.) Of course, selling pre-programmed software for personal computers was a new concept back then. And heck, personal computers were a new concept back then.

But as time passed and PCs grew in influence, the piracy problem didn't go away. In fact, it continued as a hot-button topic throughout most of the 1980s. BYTE magazine devoted its May 1981 issue to the subject, commissioning its regular cover artist, Robert Tinney, to provide a visual hook for the monthly theme. Meditating on "software piracy," Tinney concocted a potent and iconographic image of a fierce viking ship cutting through rough seas, its massive floppy disk sail standing at full mast. To this day, the image (seen above) remains Tinney's most famous illustration from the BYTE years.

If his prints of this image hadn't sold out long ago, I'd buy one in a heartbeat.

[ From BYTE, May 1981 ]

Discussion topic of the week: Do you pirate commercial software? Why or why not?

If you use this image on your site, please support "Retro Scan of the Week" by giving us obvious credit for the original scan and entry. Thanks.

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VC&G Interview: Robert Tinney, BYTE Cover Artist and Microcomputer Illustration Pioneer

September 26th, 2006 by Benj Edwards

Robert TinneyIf someone wrote a book on the history of personal computer art, chapter one could only bear the name of one man: Robert Tinney. As cover artist for over eighty issues of BYTE magazine — microcomputing's first and finest major publication — and as one of the first men to illustrate topics related to the fledgling field of personal computers, he near single-handedly shaped the popular visual idiom of what computers were, could be, and would be for the for a whole generation of microcomputer enthusiasts.

That proud generation has long since grown up and moved on to a myriad of different fields and disciplines, spreading its knowledge, love, and expertise of all things technological around the world. Collectively, they have arguably become the world's most influential, yet sometimes underrated, segment of the modern populace. So imagine if you could go back in time and visit that same generation in 1978. What would you see? A lot more pimples, no doubt, and a lot more hair. And most likely, you'd find a copy of BYTE in their hands — with a Robert Tinney illustration on the cover.

Byte Magazine CoverTinney's BYTE artwork is amazing. It displays unparallelled creativity in the use of visual metaphors to convey typically intangible, abstract, and sometimes abstruse technical concepts. His illustrations penetrate all pretense and cut straight to the heart of the main idea of the topic at hand, laying it out in an appropriately minimalistic fashion that, while sometimes visually spartan, richly sparks the imagination and places the viewer firmly in the scene. His work communicates, and it does so in ways that words never could. For most commercial artists, the idea of illustrating for a completely new field without artistic precedent would probably be daunting, if not completely nervewracking — and who's to say it wasn't for Tinney — but despite that immense challenge, he pulled off the assignment not only handily, but with the kind of proficency and mastery that made the genre, in this writer's humble opinion, firmly his own.

It was with all these superlatives in mind (and a stack of 1987 BYTEs as my bedside reading material) that I recently requested an email interview with Robert Tinney. I am delighted to say that he accepted the offer, and you can read the result below.

[ Continue reading VC&G Interview: Robert Tinney, BYTE Cover Artist and Microcomputer Illustration Pioneer » ]

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