My favorite laptop is 25 years old. It’s a TRS-80 Model 100. It doesn’t have much in the way of power. The chip speed is something like 4 megahertz. It has 32 kilobytes of memory. It has a built in modem that transfers data at 300 baud. If I want to save something off of the RAM, I can save it to a cassette tape moving not much faster than that.
It doesn’t have much in the way of an interface. It launches with a list of available programs and documents and you use arrow keys to select the one you wish to launch. There’s no mouse. I use it for word processing mostly; though – to be honest – it’s actually just a text editor. There is no formatting available, no spell check either.
I have a couple of games for the Model 100, but I had to write them myself. One is a number guess game and the other is Hangman. My son loved Hangman, but I don’t think the game was very successful. As the “hangee” materializes, he would spout off random insults or other pithy phrases. My son liked that so much, he would deliberately not guess the right letters so the guy would keep on going.
Despite all these limitations, the Model 100 is my favorite laptop. It may not be fast, but I can run it for months (yes, months) on four AA batteries. It weighs a couple of pounds and is the same size as a three subject spiral notebook. The keyboard is full sized and – this is my favorite part – has actual keys. You press them, they make a click and a character appears on the LCD screen.
The Model 100 is computing reduced to its essence. Radio Shack and Microsoft took out all the frills (believe it or not, computers in the early 1980’s did have “frills”) and just gave it the core functionality it required. I turn it on and it comes up instantly (and I mean instantly; the OS is stored on a ROM chip). I can enter text, I can store data, and I can program it if I need it to do other things. It has some onboard storage (32K stores about 25 pages of text) and a way to quickly and cheaply get information moved on and off the computer. Even now, 25 years later, there really isn’t much more that I need my computer to do. It’s just so darned practical. Now, if only someone could help me write an HTML reader, so I could connect to the Internet, it would be just about perfect.
P.S. The first draft of this blog entry was written on the Model 100… in 1908 (it’s not Y2K compliant).