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My Hardware History: The 1990s

As my collection of vintage computers grows, I wanted to look back on the hardware and operating systems I grew up with.

My first computer was a Commodore Plus/4 in 1993. I went with my grandparents to a garage sale when they were looking for patio furniture. While my grandfather and the seller were talking about the price, the seller offered to throw in the computer if they bought the whole patio set. They bought the patio set, and I got my first computer.

The Plus/4 couldn’t do much out of the box. There was some software included, but it didn’t include a disk or tape drive, so I couldn’t save anything. But still, I copied code out of the manual and a magazine that came with it to make the Plus/4 play music and also made a very simple Tetris clone.

Because I showed interest in it, my grandparents purchased a Commodore SX-64 later that same year from the local classifieds. It was completely kitted out with an external monitor, joystick, printer and some software. I went over to my grandparents every weekend just to play with it.

Over the summer of 1994, my elementary school loaned out an Apple IIe to my family. My sister and I spent a lot of time playing Number Munchers and Oregon Trail on it.

In 1996, When my family was looking to buy a modern computer, I really wanted us to get a Macintosh. We had a computer lab with Macintosh “pizza box” computers at school (LC or LCII), and Macintosh computers were in all my favorite movies.

Quadra 700 in Jurassic Park

However, we got a Packard Bell Multimedia C110. It was the family computer until 2003, though it went through many upgrades. I spent so much of my money from mowing lawns on this system. I put in more RAM, a bigger hard drive, a Sound Blaster 32, and a video card. I had also installed a few different operating systems on it. Windows 98SE was eventually installed on it, and later it dual booted to SuSE Linux 6.4.

Even though we had a Windows machine at home, I tended to prefer the Macintosh experience I had at school. I think it was because I was using a computer at school to get something done, while I spent most of my computer time at home just playing games. Windows was just a game launcher, and every hardware upgrade was in the service of playing more demanding games. Eventually I started to play around with Linux after we got on the Internet.

Right before high school, I got a Fujitsu Lifebook that was strictly my machine (not a shared family computer). I installed SuSE Linux on it and started working on a Star Wars fan site and tinkering around with perl scripts.

For most of the computing world, the 90s was about Microsoft taking over with Windows, but for me, I don’t think any one particular operating system took over my world quite the same way. My time early computer time was all about LOAD "*",8 and later almost equal time between Mac OS, Windows and Linux.

However, as 2000 rolled around, I started saving my money for a Mac of my own. The non-linear video editing capabilities in iMovie blew my mind, and Apple announced the public beta of Mac OS X with a UNIX subsystem. I was about to become a Mac guy.

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