Last modification: 01/19/08 19:26

The Retro Computer Page

 

 

I won't lie to ya, my first computer was a $499 TRS-80 Model I paid for by working a parking lot the summer of '78. Some of the other machines back then were the Apple II, Commodore PET, Exidy Sorcerer, Compucolor, Video Brain, Kim I, Altair, Altos, and the Processor Technology Sol with walnut side panels. Business users talked about the S-100 bus a lot. Quite possibly the longest-lived series of computers ever made, the TRS-80 was discontinued by Radio Shack in 1990 but still available by special order for several years after.

Microsoft was still a small company back then, mostly making BASIC ROMs for the various computers. Their first "consumer" product was a port of the original FORTRAN Crowther & Woods Adventure game, and their logo looked like this:

At least one company sold a clone of the Apple II, (Franklin) and at least three sold clones of the TRS-80. Of these, the LNW Research LNW80 was the most amazing1, similar in horsepower to an IBM PC with EGA (which didn't exist until years later). You could buy it, or build it as a kit. LNW eventually "disappeared" in 1984 when its bankruptcy was preceded by a staged robbery of their warehouse ("even the water cooler was taken!"). The inventory surfaced later at an all-LNW repair facility in Southern California. LNW Research was named after its three founders; Gene Lu, Ken Woog, and company president Michael G. Norton.

Click here to see the evolution of the LNW-80 over the years:
LNW80 (1982) Model 2 (1983) Team (1983)

as well as some modest beginnings:
System Expansion (kit - 1981) LNDoubler 5/8 System Expansion II

Being a TRS-80 owner was a lonely job, something like being a KISS (or Rush, or Yngwie, or...) fan. Fortunately the wealth of software and number of users made up for the fact that most TRS-80's had neither color graphics nor sex appeal. What they did have though, was a readable screen, a great CPU and a really good price. Those edge card connectors were notoriously unreliable, though; Radio Shack never quite shook off the old "Trash 80" epithet and stopped manufacturing PC's themselves in 1993.

Frank Durda IV was one of the last Radio Shack TRS-80 employees. For an excellent behind-the-scenes tale of the final days of Tandy's disk operating system LS-DOS, (now open-source) be sure and visit him at Madsoft.

Other great sources include Ira Goldfklang's incredible TRS-80 Revived page, David Keil's excellent series of emulators, and Stan Veit's History of the Personal Computer for some great TRS-80 history.  It's scary to think that, video aside, my Pentium emulates a Model I faster than it originally ran! Special thanks to F.J. Kraan, who maintains another great page of LNW history along with TRS-80.org.

Finally, we have a book about the TRS-80 to add to the ones that have been written about every other major 8-bit computer of the day: Priming the Pump: How TRS-80 Enthusiasts Helped Spark the PC Revolution by David & Theresa Welsh. Amazing stuff, this! It's worth the price for the "DOS Wars" chapter alone. <:^D And for Commodore users, Brian Bagnall's "Commodore: A Company On The Edge" almost deserves it own page.

Just one of many great Vintage Computer Advertisements From The Late 1970's


1
Actually, the most amazing one was their final model, the LNW "Team". Why Team? Because it also run CP/M, TRS-80 Model 4 and IBM software (via an OEM'ed PC add-on board designed to fit inside the Team's System Expansion II-styled floppy-disk housing). To the best of my knowledge, my LNW Team was the last one shipped by LNW Research; it was almost lost during the closing of their plant, which is where I first heard about the "robbery" incident.

 


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