The Knight Line

My First PC

Dan Knight - 2001.11.13

Time to take off the editorial hat and share my PC story.

Although I thought the TRS-80 Model I sounded pretty cool, I never had the wherewithal to purchase one. But the idea of a personal computer really appealed to me back then, math and science geek that I was. It sounded like a lot of fun.


My first hands on experience with a personal computer came around 1979 when the guy I was working for bought an Apple II+. This was the wave of the future, he told me. We both had a lot to learn.

Back in the pre-Mac, pre-Windows era, you interacted with your PC (personal computer - there was not IBM PC this far back) by typing in commands. There might be a rudimentary operating system for floppy disk access, but you'd spend more time coding in BASIC, since there was a dearth of application software.


That was changing by 1979 thanks to the introduction of several word processors and VisiCalc, the world's first spreadsheet. Suddenly Apples and Commodores and TRS-80 and CP/M machines went from cool hobby machines to practical business computers.

It was 1982 when I bought my first computer, a Commodore VIC-20. The 5K computer and a cassette tape drive set me back about $200. Over time, I acquired more memory, an expansion chassis for cartridges, a printer, a floppy drive, and finally a Commodore 64 to replace old Vikki.

I learned BASIC on the Apple II+, but went even further with the Commodore. I read Compute! magazine religiously and learned how to port Applesoft and TRS BASIC programs to Commodore BASIC. I wrote some fun games as I learned to program.

Zenith and MS-DOS

We moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia, in February 1987, where I found a job at the local Heath/Zenith electronics store. The store carried Heathkit and Zenith terminals, CP/M computers, and MS-DOS computers, along with the Apple II and Macintosh lines. I spent about two weeks learning DOS 3.3 inside and out, then went on to learn PC BASIC, QuickBASIC, and Borland TurboBASIC.

My first DOS computer was a Zenith Z-151, which our technician upgraded to Z-158 status - that meant 8 MHz, a big step up from 4.77 MHz. I eventually added an 8087 math coprocessor, replaced the Intel CPU with an NEC V20, dropped in a seemingly huge 20 MB hard drive, installed a multifunction card (clock/calendar, EEMS 4.0 memory, extra parallel and serial ports), picked up an enhanced EGA card, and finally popped in a 3.5" floppy drive.

That machine stood by me as I worked at Zenith (lusting after 286 and later 383 models), a brief stint at Radio Shack (after our return to Michigan), and my first year or so at ComputerLand of Grand Rapids. The Zenith was my first and last DOS computer.


I hadn't paid much attention to the Macintosh revolution or early versions of Windows. I cut my teeth on the command line and knew it was a much more powerful way to run a computer efficiently. Of course, I was also a geek.

All the people at ComputerLand loved these Macintosh computers. I didn't understand it, but figured I'd just clean up supporting the IBM and Compaq users. Instead, I slowly came to see the light of a graphical user interface. Once I got my own Mac Plus (thanks to an Apple promotion - I certainly didn't have the money for it), I became hooked on the new way of doing things.

I soon left my Zenith behind, swapping it for a Syquest drive with three 44 MB cartridges. This was a great way to backup my huge 40 MB Quantum hard drive and experiment with different setups.


I left the PC world just as Windows was migrating from the fairly competent version 3.0 to version 3.1, which was destined to become the standard on DOS computers over the next few years. I've had very little exposure to Windows 3.1, 95, 98, Me, NT, 2000, or XP; I don't anticipate the changing.

I've had a couple Macs with DOS cards in them, and even ran Virtual PC (or maybe it was SoftPC) on my Mac Plus, but haven't seen any reason to switch from the Mac OS. I now have several Macs with DOS cards and hope to play with some of the alternate operating systems on the DOS side.

My wife and oldest son have Virtual PC on their Macs, which they use to run Switched On Schoolhouse, home education software that only runs under Windows. Nathaniel also does some surfing on the Windows side, which is the only way I know how my sites look under the dominant OS.

Alternate Operating Systems

I've played with BeOS on a Mac and once managed to install BSD on an old Mac - then discovered I didn't have a clue how to do anything once Unix was installed. I look forward to trying various Linux and BSD distributions on my Mac and PC hardware, as well as eventually migrating my personal system (Apple's amazing titanium PowerBook G4) to Mac OS X, which is Unix at the core, within the next year.

I'm not a Windows user, nor do I play one on the Internet. I am a computer user who wants to help others get the most from the hardware, operating systems, and applications they have available. To that end, I've been running Low End Mac since April 1987 and launched Low End PC in August 2001.

That's my story. If you'd like to share yours for publication in Thinking From the Box, please email me. LEPC

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