Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Steve Jobs

There have been some interesting and informative articles written about Steve Jobs since his untimely death. Jobs was a genius who contributed to the advancement of electronics in countless ways. In all of these recent articles, I have noticed that no one mentions something that so many of us enjoyed during the early ‘80s. Most of us who bought our first computers during that era longed for software that would transform an expensive chunk of plastic and circuit boards into something useful. It is hard for anyone who did not experience this era firsthand, to visualize a time when computers came without software, and computer shops had few programs to offer to the customer.

Steve Jobs and Steven Woziniak were dedicated computer hobbyists who visited flea markets and computer clubs whenever they set up their booths. Some rather advanced computers were being produced by hobbyists, and the operating systems (DOS) evolved over a period of months as many would-be programmers contributed their ideas and code. Without getting boringly detailed, DOS is the bedrock of code that most computers still use today to make them operational. Basic is a simple program, and if I remember correctly, composed of about 64 lines of programming code. Jobs and Woziniak launched their business in a modest way by assembling their first Apple computers by hand and marketing them at computer meets. Their great accomplishment was not that they invented anything, but instead brought order out of the chaos of an evolving system.

In those early days, there were dozens of computer magazines that had three to four programs in each issue. Apple computers came with a Basic Compiler, which allowed the owner to create his own programs. The computer owner could type them in and create a simple word processor, spell checker, or a primitive spreadsheet that actually worked. Many of them were assembled from bits and pieces of code borrowed from magazines. Basic was such a simple language that you could grasp how it worked in a matter of a week or two and produce some rather complex programs. Much of the fun of programming was typing in lines of code, then hitting run and watching for some minor miracle to occur on the screen. If it didn’t work, you looked for errors, retyped, and tried again. The first program I created on my own was a simple program that alphabetized a long list of names I had collected for a history project. My second effort was to write a word processor program I hoped would be better than the one I purchased on a floppy disk for a ridiculous price. The program actually worked and it was a heady experience to hit ‘run’ and see it appear for the first time in all of its clunky glory.

That particular era of ‘do your own software’ did not last long. Sensing a lucrative market, software developers soon hit the market with their own products and made Basic programming redundant. I quickly moved up through the jungle of programming languages, from Basic, to QBasic, to ‘C’, C++ and to UNIX. I still remember, with a great deal of nostalgia, the days when I sat in front of my monitor and programmed with a ‘seat of the pants’ kind of logic. It was a heady experience and something that I enjoyed immensely.



I was right there at the beginning with a row of type (looking similar to Notepad today) and the necessity of knowing a bit of programming to accomplish anything useful. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. www.dkchristi.com,author of Ghost Orchid and more

Jim Knight said...

I remember that time very well. I bought a little Texas Instruments TI-99 which was taken over by my son. We got him a Basic compiler and he wrote a simple game program with it when he was about 12. You will remember that everything went away when you turned off the power, so he had to save his program on a cassette every day. Eventually, the tape go so that it wouldn’t load again the next day, so he lost it. He said. “I feel like my dog died.” I’m sure you know what it is to become emotionally attached to something you have created.

It's too bad some of the young folks can't know the feeling of power when you upgraded your computer from 48 to 64K of memory.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

When we went from the Commodore to our first Apple computer, our sons taught me how to use Appleworks. What a revelation that was! I no longer had to type on my Smith Corona. I could actually make corrections with ease. Tech has been a joy for those of us who write.

Christy Tillery French said...

Interesting blog, Joe. Back in the day, I owned a transcription service and wrote my own program for transcribing for court reporters. I remember being so excited it actually worked.

Anonymous said...

Me, I came in a little later. Still, CP/M on a KayPro 1 (writing articles with WordStar on a 5 1/4 inch floppy) was fun.