Indelible Blue Pen

Jason C. McDonald (CodeMouse92)

November 16, 2012

Long Live Geekdom: A Trip Down (Random Access) Memory Lane

After my code decided to be evil and stop working, I decided to take a couple of days and install some additional operating systems on my work computer for testing our project. It turned into a trip down Geekdom Memory Lane. (Anyone remember Windows 3.1?)

After getting Windows 8 installed to another partition of my hard disk, I went to install Windows XP, and experienced a great deal of difficulty getting it to play well with 7 and 8. So, I did what any tech geek would do. I downloaded some Oracle VirtualBox (one of many programs which let you run other operating systems inside a virtual computer.) I got Windows XP and Vista installed without any problems.

Then I remembered I had an install disk for an old classic – Windows 98…

After getting what remains my second-favorite version of Windows running happily on its own virtual machine, I noticed that I had access to two even older siblings…MS-DOS 6 and Windows 3.1!

If you’re under the age of 20, I’ll wager you don’t know what on earth I am talking about. Windows 3.1 only the third version of Microsoft Windows with a graphical user interface. The mouse skipped something awful, the graphics were 16-bit color. But back in the day, it was a big deal!

Of course, I was in preschool during Windows 3.1’s heyday. Happy Days Preschool, where I was in the so-called “Whale” group, had an old Apple Macintosh running, of all things, Mac OS 8 (I remember the old Finder logo). There were actually quite a few neat little educational games that had been installed on there, including “Richard Skarry’s Busytown” and “Arthur”. That was, in fact, my first exposure to computers.

The only other computer in my life (other than my mother’s old Brother word processor, which I was forboden to touch except in special, supervised situations) was the PC at my best friend Alex’s house. She, her little sister Lizzie, and I LOVED playing on that computer. Our personal favorite game was on there: “The Magic Schoolbus Explores the Solar System,” (which, incidentally, I’m liable to buy off of Amazon just for kicks…). I can safely say that THAT game was responsible for me developing a love of science fiction.

Paintbrush on Windows 3.1

Our other favorite was Paintbrush, the original version of Microsoft Paint. The interface is exactly like I remember it, complete with the mouse skipping all over creation, making it almost impossible to draw anything decent. All the same, we loved it. It brings back such memories to play with it now.

Frankly, I feel old when I think about technology back then. The internet was something only big businesses, colleges, and rich people had, and it was all text. GUI-based OSes were still in their young stages. This was when Microsoft Windows was finally becoming popular, and Apple and Microsoft hadn’t yet totally settled the legal battle over Microsoft’s alleged copyright infringement of Apple’s GUI concepts.

Fast forward a few years, my next real exposure to computers took place in the form of Windows 98. We still didn’t own our own PC at home, but I remember going down to the library and paying a dollar an hour to use the dial-up internet computers! The net was still mostly text, and Internet Explorer was king. IRC was the primary means of social networking.  SMS was new to most users of the still-bulky “cellular phones,” and taking pictures with a phone wasn’t even possible yet. I would pay my dollar to the librarian at the front counter, and then spend the next hour downloading printable coloring sheets from PBS Kids…usually only being able to download and print around 4 or 5, considering the internet speed.

Around 2000, we finally purchased our own PC – a Compaq Presario running Windows ME.

What. A. Disaster.

If anyone remembers ME, you’ll recall it was a total bomb. Of course, the Compaqs of that era were glitchy enough anyway, so the combination was a computer that didn’t last long. We soon switched to a Sony VAIO and the brand new Windows XP. For a young computer user who had known Windows 3.1 and Windows 98 (with occasional glimpses of 95), Windows XP was a BIG deal! It had a lot of cool applications and a slick, metallic interface. I remember sitting next to my mother in the living room during IRC chats in her group on iUniverse, where I met my dear Auntie Jane, Grandma Kaz, and Auntie Jo.

Yet, my author mother had first dibs on that computer. I still got a pretty good deal out of the matter – I got her old Brother word processor, which I had been coveting (yes, I know, baaaaaaad) for years. I still have some of the Rich Text Files I wrote on that bugger (and three or four floppy disks which gave up the ghost about half a decade ago).

Shortly after that old Brother died, my mother got her first laptop, a refurbished Toshiba Satellite running, of all things, Windows 98. It worked well for her purposes, and it gave me much-desired access to the Sony VAIO! At the age of 12, I founded what would later become, giving me my first exposure to webmastering. My mother’s website’s IRC channel was in its prime, with the room packed out every week for a new author chat. Forums and web communities were in vogue, and “My” and “Space” were still two separate words.

Of course, as things progressed, Mom’s Toshiba Satellite played possum. I say that because Mom and Dad purchased a newer laptop for her (after the computer shop estimated an $800 repair bill), and then a few months later, our computer whiz neighbor fixed up the Toshiba for me…$5 parts, and 6 hours labor. For the first time, I had my own REAL computer!

Ironically, as my creative projects became more and more computer centered, I eventually became the primary user of the VAIO as well, with the computer taking up semi-permanent residence in my room when we moved to a small house in 2009. In 2010, as I was just beginning my programming journey, the old reliable desktop began showing its age, and I purchased (hindsight, rather hastily) an old PowerMac G4. That was soon joined by a Dell Optiplex that our neighbor gave us (it died completely a year later).

Finally, in 2011, I made the jump to Windows 7, for software development purposes. The irony is, as much as I love 7, I still miss Windows XP and Windows 98 at times. My old reliable Toshiba Satellite, which got me through middle school by letting me type up my reports in the quiet sanctuary of my room, finally decided it had done its time and decided to make war against the mouse port. I retired the laptop to a quiet corner of my closet (I still can’t bring myself to ditch it.)

Thus leading me back to yesterday, when I remembered my old Windows 98 disk. While the installations of Windows Vista and XP on the virtual machine are there mainly for testing my company’s software out, I only justify Windows 98 and 3.1 being on there as pure, computer nerd nostalgia.

To be honest, I don’t know if computer lovers really ever forget their first computers. They’re like old friends, even if we have had our disagreements.

If you want to read more about my adventures with the computers that have essentially taken over my life, here are some of my older posts:

So that’s why they call it “Windows” (My first encounters with those strange creatures we call “programmers,” of which I now am one)

Of Rearranging, Routers, and Surprisingly Helpful Technical Support (Getting the internet up across my first truly large menagerie of computers)

Thank God They Haven’t Invented Artificial Intelligence Yet (Attempting to upgrade my Toshiba Satellite Pro’s hardware)

Burp! [The Write Perspective] (When my PowerMac ate my 150 page draft manuscript.)

Betrayal and Microchips [The Write Perspective] (A look at how our digital companions seemingly plot against us.)



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