My first computer...the Atari 800XL

Some Computerworld bloggers have been telling tales of their first computers. I figured I'd throw mine into the pool here...

The year was 1984, I was 11 years old and baseball cards were rapidly fading as my hobby of choice as I was entering the world of electronics. My friend had an Atari 800 which he was doing some really cool basic programming with. He had also just got a modem which totally blew me away...

At school we were being taught some really basic computer skills with a Apple ][e. It really didn't seem that interesting at the time, partially because no one had been trained on how to use it. The Macintosh was a few years away for me, though I remember thinking how nice and portable it was. Commodore 64 was the big platform at the time - but my first experiences with the VIC-20 we negative. Also, our local library had a Radio Shack TRS-80 which was pretty weak. I could even beat the chess game at the highest level. Again - this was all perception to an 11 year old.


Somehow, I convinced my parents to get an Atari. The best one at the time was the 800XL. I also got a 5.25' floppy, a letter quality daisy wheel printer and a 300 baud modem. The most important thing I picked up that day was an was a book of 200 BASIC games written for the Apple ][ platform.

Oh, I also got and awesome Larry Bird vs. Dr. J One-on-One game cartridge. It was an Atari after all.

I remember having to turn in all of my school reports typed on the Atari (my parent's requirements - for buying me the thing, not my school's). The word processor was not much more than even a text editor and the daisy-wheel printer was slightly faster than my writing ability. Saving files on Atari DOS 2.0 was a chore but learning a disk operating system obviously has its importance.

The fun and most of the learning I got was manually entering and compiling BASIC programs from the book. As they were written for the Apple BASIC compiler, I had to learn how things like strings worked on both platforms. A teacher at school was helpful - but I got the most help from my friends.

As we'd compile the games my friends and I would realize that we could change how the game worked by manipulating the variables of the program. This was both highly educational and fun. Soon we were creating our own games and writing programs of our own.

At first I had little success with the modem. I didn't know of any BBS's and wasn't able to get the modem scripts to work properly. A few months later I got it sorted out and was able to connect up to friends and BBS's. This my first experience "online". This obviously opened lot of doors.

A few years later it broke and I changed over to Macintosh and haven't really looked back. I've spent plenty of time in college on Solaris and have dealt plenty with Windows boxes as well...but it is impossible to recollect a more rewarding computing experience than compiling my first game or making my first BBS connection - which were done on my Atari.

Recently, on a trip home, I rediscovered the the old Atari. I was going to fire it up - but I couldn't find the TV/Monitor connector I would need. Strange that this would be the missing link. Maybe next time. I wanted to see if I still had my Dr. J moves against Larry Bird.

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