I feel old.

This isn’t a new thing. I’ve felt old for a while now, and I’m sure anyone who reads this blog (Dave, and my mom most likely) has a better than even chance of reading that and thinking “You’re just a kid!” but it still feels like a fairly powerful truth to me.

Most of the reason for this is the growth and expansion in the power of technology in just the years since I’ve been old enough to notice and pay attention. For fun, I’m going to post a few quick memories about what degree of change I’ve actually had beneath my fingertips. Samples from multiple technological generations, comparing and contrasting in rough terms, the way this power has grown.

The first “computer” I ever owned, as a Texas Instruments machine called the TI 99/4a.

Texas Instruments TI 99/4a

TI 99/4a (Not mine)

… I really never counted the TI-99 as a “real computer”, even as a kid.  It didn’t feel right for some reason. It might have been roughly the same color that the Apples I played with in school at the time were, but other than that the similarities were nonexistent.  Without a disk drive or any cartridge games beyond “Chisholm Trail”, a cattle-herding game, and with only a tiny amount of memory available to be used for playing about in BASIC, it was pretty much useless to me.

Unknown to me at the time – and indeed right up until I began researching my facts for this post – the 99 was actually the first commercially produced 16 bit computer. This meant, that in comparison to other computers of the time like the Commodore 64 and Apple II series systems, it had a greater level of complexity and potential power that could be put to work each time the system began a cycle of computing.  In addition, it ran at a blisteringly fast speed compared to the other personal computer options of its day from 1981 to 1983.  It’s processor, the TI TMS9900, ran at a full 3Mhz meaning that for every second that passed, it was capable of performing something in the range of 3 million simple mathematical calculations or actions.  This might sound like a lot, and indeed, in 1981 it was a fairly incredible amount of power to work with.  In fact, if one was to compare the 16 bit, 3Mhz processor in the TI 99/4a against its contemporaries, the TI would win every time.

So why does everyone know the Apple II or Commodore 64, but not the powerful, capable TI-99/4a?

In short, Texas Instruments got caught in the middle of a vicious battle between Apple and Commodore. Apple, at the higher end of the price options at the time, had a growing lock on the educational computer market.  Commodore on the other hand, engaged Texas Instruments and other computer manufacturers in the United States in a vicious and bloody price war. Even pricing the 99 on a level comparable to the then-inexpensive Commodore VIC-20 failed to stem the tide of red ink. When sales continued to remain low, the price dropped from $299 to a below-cost $150, and eventually to $99 with the release of a revised, cheaper to manufacture version. (seen above) In addition, Commodore sold products with extensive documentation allowing any VIC owner to develop his own hardware or software for the machine with full access to the schematics and other necessary references. Texas Instruments, attempting to keep a firm lock on the full market for TI 99/4a compatible equipment and software, revealed very little information at the time of the system’s launch, and schematics were never released until after the cancellation of the product line in 1983.

By the time I had my TI 99/4a, the system was long “dead”, and nothing new was being produced. After a few weeks of trying to find fun things to do with my new first computer, I stopped playing with it. And eventually, came to what will make up Part 2.