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Priming the Pump: How TRS-80 Enthusiasts…

Priming the Pump: How TRS-80 Enthusiasts Helped Spark the PC Revolution

by David Welsh

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This book was written for me and my high-school "computer friends", who grew up on the TRS-80 computers; the authors dug up (or simply *remembered*) a great wealth of industry gossip about what was, in the end, a groundbreaking dead-end of computing. If you actually had a model I/III/4/4p, subscribed to 80 micro, and knew what LDOS was (even if you didn't get to actually *buy* it) then this book is aimed at you, pretty directly - and really, noone else. I don't actually think it will be of interest to anyone with a later entry to computing; we're talking about a period when "proportional spacing" was a *heavily bragged about feature* in a word processor - running on hardware that couldn't actually display lower case letters. (To be fair, the authors do get across some of these ideas in modern terms; it's just that if you don't have the touchstone of experience with that era, you can wonder, not unreasonably, why we even bothered :-)

(In particular, Bruce B and Jon L may find this book interesting. I don't think I'd recommend it to *anyone* else - it's well done for what it is, but it's *very* narrow.)

If you still think you might want to read about this period as an outsider - watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Prl6D7bqQo8 instead - @eevblog's Model 100 teardown, where he just *adores* the extent to which such a useful and novel machine is built with actual *chips* and not custom parts. That's going to be more satisfying anyway... ( )
  eichin | May 10, 2013 |
Radio Shack's TRS-80 microcomputer ruled the roost before the IBM PC came out. They sold by the millions to computer hobbyists and businessmen, thanks to the ubiquity of "the Shack," but were wiped out by the IBM PC onslaught. But Tandy was actively hostile to the TRS-80's supporters, so a huge Counterculture grew in opposition to the RS Establishment, selling better hardware and software, and hacking the innards of the machine. It was all held together by specialist magazines, user groups, and a thousand one-programmer shoestring companies. This was my universe when I was in high school.

"Priming the Pump" is the story of the creation of the Model I, the forces that led to the TRS-80 "ecosystem," the names and games and utilities and DOSes that everyone in the know had heard of. It's also the story of David & Theresa Welsh's word processing system Lazy Writer, which is representative of the many small tech businesses that thrived in the TRS-80 world (due to the general lack of decent software & hardware from Radio Shack). The straight-up history and interviews are very interesting to anyone who was "there," and probably marginally so to anyone who cares about the history of microcomputing.

Like a lot of the handmade artifacts from the micro hobbyist days, this is a labor of love, and you have to take the bad with the good. It's got 50 pages(!) of David Welsh's childhood autobiography from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. The section on TRS-80 magazines gets derailed into a lot of unrelated ones in which Lazy Writer was advertised, but leaves out two of the most important (The Alternate Source and Softside).

But this is nonetheless likely to be the definitive history of that beloved subculture. The Welshes have dug up the true stories behind people whose names were famous (or infamous): Vern Hester, Randy Cook, Dennis Bathory Kitsz, Scott Adams, Wayne Green, Harv Pennington, Big Five Software, Misosys, World Power Systems, and more. Reading it induced pure rushes of emotion in parts of my mind I hadn't touched in a long long time (think of it as "Twilight" for microcomputer geeks). Like the pro-democracy aristocrats before the French Revolution, the heroes of the TRS-80 were shabbily treated by the new world they had set in motion, and "Priming the Pump" goes a long way towards setting them in their rightful context. ( )
  librik | Sep 24, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0979346800, Paperback)

Priming the Pump: How TRS-80 Microcomputer Enthusiasts Helped Spark the PC Revolution by David Welsh and Theresa Welsh takes you back to the largely unknown origins of personal computing. Personal computers grew out of a hobbyist movement in the 1970s, as some began experimenting with the new microchips, building their own computers. Kit computers appeared, available from small mail order companies, but the computer that brought a wider audience to personal computing was the TRS-80 Model I, introduced by Tandy Corporation in August 1977. It was the first complete mass market, off-the-shelf microcomputer that anyone could buy for $599.95. And it was available at 3500 Radio Shack stores nationwide.

Introduction of the TRS-80 meant, for the first time, anyone could experiment with software and affordably use word processing, spreadsheets, accounting, database and other applications... except for one thing: there weren't any programs. So, of necessity, new computer owners became programmers, and enterprising individuals working in basements and garages created the software everyone wanted. Many of them had never done any programming before.

The authors were part of a community of entrepreneurs who sold software for the TRS-80. Besides telling their own story, they also collected stories from key innovators from that era, including some who had never been interviewed before about their contributions to computing. The technology that originated with these amazing microcomputer pioneers went on to change life in fundamental ways and their stories are the heart of this book.There were programmers who created fabulous games like Dancing Demon, Microchess, Oregon Trail and the Scott Adams Adventures; there were rivals who created five different Disk Operating Systems for the TRS-80 and one man's fight with Tandy over who owned the code; there were scam artists who offered products that were too good to be true, and brilliant visionaries who were first with software features later "invented" by big companies with more money but not more talent.

The authors relate how Don French, a computer hobbyist who worked for Radio Shack at the time, suggested to his bosses that they capitalize on the latest craze, home-built computers. Radio Shack took a chance and hired young Steve Leininger away from Silicon Valley and told him to build a machine they could sell cheap. Working alone in an old saddle factory in Fort Worth, he built the first TRS-80; its total development costs were less than $150,000.

Author David Welsh was one of those self-taught computer-buyer/programmers. He created a word processor, Lazy Writer, and, working with his wife Theresa, sold copies worldwide to enthusiastic fans who were eager to ditch their typewriters. This was before Microsoft was a household word, when software was new and exciting and everyone was learning. Software generally had only one author, and programmers were proud of their work; some became stars. David and Thesesa Welsh, who lived through it all, have captured the defining moments and excitement of this era, with the untold stories from the microcomputer pioneers whose efforts and love for their "trash-80" helped spark the PC revolution that followed.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:16 -0400)

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