My Soft Spot for Hardware

My house can be compared to a computer graveyard.  Over the years I’ve owned a number of PC compatible machines.  While I’ve stripped most of them for usable parts: RAM, hard drives and so on, I do have a couple of complete machines.  I kept my first PC – a 486 SX – less for nostalgia and more for money.  It cost me $2,500 back in the day.  All of my other computers put together didn’t cost me that much.  I can’t just let it go.

I have my first computer – a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III – set up in my office closet (yes, I’m a closet TRS-80 user).  My second computer – a Color Computer 2 – is down in the basement on a shelf in its original box.  I also have two old laptops.  I kept my laptop running Windows 95 because it is the only machine that will run certain apps.  And I have my TRS-80 Model 100 on a prominent place on my bookshelf along with my TRS-80 related books.  They’re all about the same size; it appeals to my technical feng shui.

All of these machines could probably be emulated by my current home computer.  I have a number of virtual machines I use for work development.  Supposedly, you can load up other operating systems besides Windows: Linux and even DOS.  Virtual TRS-80’s are available on the Internet in many flavors from the original Model I through the early Tandy machines that I sold when I worked at Radio Shack.

I can understand the appeal and – eventually when the hardware finally dies – I might go that route.  However, emulation only goes so far.  I can run the programs; I can see a (similar) interface on the screen.  But it lacks the true input and output and what made the machines themselves important or intriguing.  My TRS-80, for example, had its own key for the [@] symbol (ironically, this was before e-mail addresses had “@” in them).  While they may be able to run programs, they wouldn’t be able to run them off the original floppy disks or the cassettes that I have.  There is no cartridge interface available for the emulated Color Computer.

Ultimately I feel there is still room for growth when the original hardware still exists.  A quarter century on, there is new and exciting hardware being developed for the TRS-80 Model 100.  Without the special characteristics, the quirkiness and – yes – the limitations of the hardware, there would be no need for this kind of creativity.  Emulation is – at best – static.


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