11 adorable images from the dawn of the PC era

Ah, the early 1980s. PC hardware was big, bulky, and insanely expensive, and Bill Gates was small, skinny, and reeking of precocious geekery.

The age of innocence

The Web domain was created on April 24, 1992, but our oldest retrievable online content is from 1998—and it's so damn quaint, you'll be wondering if our editors were creating Web graphics in Paint, and fact-checking stories via AltaVista searches.

Though 1998 qualifies as ancient history, if you want to see the really early days of PCWorld, you need to revisit our first year of magazine publishing, which commenced in March 1983—exactly 30 years ago.

In the following 11 slides, I present some of the wackiest, most adorable images from PCWorld's first few years of print publishing. Yes, all the images are real, and all the following products were really big deals back in the day.

The who and the what?

"CP/M & IBM. It's hard to imagine one without the other." It's hard to imagine one without the other?! Today it's hard to imagine either—for their names are now all but meaningless.

The advertising copy surely made sense in the March 1983 premiere issue of PCWorld, but now CP/M is a long-forgotten OS, and the IBM brand name is about as relevant as Buick and Woolworth's to the vast majority of modern consumers.

Fun fact: In the second column of its ad copy, Digital Research published its public phone number. To what end? To contact a sales associate on stand-by? To chat with the CEO? Oh, the 1980s were such innocent times.

For the price of a luxury watch

Lest we forget, computers used to be really freaking expensive. Davong Systems' main advertising copy reads, "One low price buys you the expanded storage, speed and reliability of a Winchester technology hard disk system." But if you read the slightly finer print, you'll see $1995 earns you a whopping 5MB of formatted disc space!

That's roughly $400 a megabyte. Yet today I regularly lose 1GB flash drives in the cushions of my couch—because they're just that cheap and disposable at less than $2 a pop.

The 8088 is my copilot

Behold: It's not a screenshot, but a photograph of Microsoft Flight Simulator, described by PCWorld in 1983 as "a real-time, graphics and sound simulation program" that "just might be the most innovative and exciting, as well as the hottest-selling, piece of personal computing software since VisiCalc."

Simply breathtaking.

28 going on 13

In 1983, a team of PCWorld editors traveled to Bellevue, Washington to interview a 28-year-old Bill Gates about Microsoft's MS-DOS operating system, and its impact on platform compatibility.

Obviously, I wasn't in the room, but I have read the edited version of the interview. At no point did my editorial predecessors ask Bill if he expected to become the world's most influential VIP in all of computing, or how it felt to be a Chairman of the Board trapped in Billy Mumy's adolescent body.

Champagne dreams, expansion card wishes

Finally, a peripheral manufacturer with elegance and class.

Marketed as "the distinguishable card for the discerning user," this five-function add-in card was clearly intended for the sherry-sipping, polo-pony-riding PC elite—and not the dregs of society who would settle for just any old slab of IBM-compatible circuitry.

Monte Carlo, indeed. It's the first city I think of when I wax nostalgic about the glamorous salad days of the PC's youth.

The picture of mobility

Corona had a PC answer for everyone. If you were a desk-bound office drone, you could opt for the traditional "tabletop" PC on the right. But if you were a jet-setting internationalist, you could opt for the 28-pound "Portable PC," which integrated a 9-inch CRT and some other space-efficient components.

Of special note: The spiral-wound keyboard cable. Why did those ever come into fashion—and why did they ever go away?

Prehistoric rodents

This image appeared in what might be the first mouse review roundup of all time. And because mice were such newfangled contraptions in 1983, PCWorld had to explain why someone might even want such a curious device.

"Designed as a supplement rather than an alternative to the omnipotent keyboard, the mouse is a small, hand-operated device with buttons on top that look like ears, and a long, tail-like cord that connects to the computer. The mouse is one of the easiest and perhaps fastest controllers currently available."

Indeed. As a Mouse Systems ad in a future issue would state, "It's no secret. This is certainly 'The Year of the Mouse.' And the uproar is justified."

Before all the 'troubles' began...

Many, many years before Apple began blessing Windows dual-booting on its Macs, you could buy Quadram's Quadlink expansion card for hardware emulation of the Apple II+ computer on your PC. The Quadlink came with a generous 64K of memory, and consumed only a single ISA slot.

Also included: a parallel port for printers and other hardware, a serial port for modems, and a "game port" for a "variety of entertainment options." Cheeky!

Necessity, the mother of invention

Believe it or not, the Print Screen feature as we know it doesn't trace its roots to the dawn of PC time. No, back in the day, if you wanted an image of what was appearing on your computer screen, you had to photograph it. With a camera.

Enter the VideoSlide 35, a device described by PCWorld as "a gourmet gadget for computer and photographic connoisseurs." It's exactly what it looks like: A contraption designed to ease the pain, and eliminate the guesswork, of photographing CRT monitors.

And, no, the VideoSlide 35 wasn't covered in a stand-alone review. Its write-up was actually a closing sidebar in a sweeping feature story on "taking distortion-free photos of the PC screen."

Multitasking? Huh? What?

Digital Research couldn't be stopped. The CP/M OS eventually evolved into Concurrent CP/M, which offered a rudimentary multitasking environment. It was a difficult concept to wrap one's head around in the early 80s, so telling potential consumers that the OS could "do more than one thing at a time" was an explanation of last resort.

You've been served

It was November 1985. Joe Montana had already led the 49ers to two Super Bowl wins, and now he would compete against PCWorld associate editor Eric Brown for one quarter of play in NFL Challenge, a primordial football sim that tasked players with heady coaching decisions rather than arcade-style running, passing, and tackling.

Montana was already somewhat familiar with personal computers—he told PCWorld that he owned a DEC Rainbow 100 Plus—but we'll credit his hands-on knowledge of football science for whupping Mr. Brown by a score of 13-3 during those 15 minutes of simulated gridiron action.

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