Frank, I can’t believe you are doing this to me. Didn’t you pick up on any of my bitterness about the “It is just a toy” label? Don’t pour salt in the wound man. I cannot let this stand, I got to stick up for the memory of my poor old Amiga 1000.

You really think Amiga was a toy and not the real deal or are you just pulling my leg? Amiga was sure a friendly computer that anybody could use. Perhaps the PC simply came across more as a work machine because it was so extremely limited in its capability. You couldn’t really use it for any fun even if you desperately tried to

I can tell you from unscrewing my Amiga 1000, that is was real solid stuff. Boy do I regret doing that. It was like a tank inside. I never had that much effort to actually open a computer before.

I guess a PC was heavy and solid in the same way a rock is heavy and solid. Sure it takes some effort with the sledgehammer to break it, but that doesn’t really make it all that useful except as a paperweight.

Everything on the PC was profoundly primitive:

  • PCs could not tell if you had inserted a floppy disk or not. Hence floppy icons where just there. Only when you clicked it would the PC attempt to read from a disk drive and hope a floppy was there. That it couldn’t even sense the presence of a disk after it was inserted just seemed very primitive.
  • The graphics was for year terribly slow. It would not vertically sync with the drawing of the screen so you would often get tearing effects. Very unprofessional looking. The Amiga could wait with swapping its frame buffer until the cathode ray had reached the end.
  • DOS couldn’t multitask except for using something as primitive as terminate and stay resident programs (TSR). I programmed that in assembly. You had to fiddle with interrupt vector tables directly.
  • Despite being stuck on a command line most of the time, DOS was very unsophisticated compared to the Amiga CLI.

No, it isn’t. It still sucks but you must have internalized it so much that it isn’t visible to you. Try deleting a DLL or something for a program running. Nope, cannot do that, because files are referenced directly by path instead of through an inode. Thank the primitive DOS underpinnings still present on modern Windows.

Don’t get me started on the drive letters A:, B:, C: etc. They mean nothing and are assigned rather arbitrary. I remember computers in the past where one had various paths encoded in a program or in some setup. Then you install some new hardware and on occasion if you got unlucky the drive letters got shuffled around and your path got broken. A terrible primitive design from the quick hack called DOS, but which modern Windows still maintains backwards compatibility with decades later.

Amiga had a far more beautiful system. You had floppy disks named logical things such as DF0:, DF1:, DF3: etc. Hard drives where called HD0:, HD1 etc. Logical stuff!

And to be even more sensible they had logical devices such as SYS:, C:, L:, LIBS: etc. This is how you should do it. So that your boot volume was e.g. always SYS: regardless of what device you actually booted on. Of course you could also just used the Unix way. DOS in contrast conflates everything. Logical devices, physical devices etc. It is all just one big mess. This is actually one of my biggest issues with working with a Windows PC still.

You still got stuff like a search path cannot be longer than 260 character easily causing odd problems. Or how DOS decided to use a different separator character from everybody else, a backlash which is commonly used to escape characters. Ok I will not go on. My point is that the legacy of DOS and the crappy PC underpinning is still with and rears its ugly head even in 2020.

If you are a geek there is nothing really great about it. It is a system which is so messy and complex that you can really just give up trying to really understand it at any depth.

Say you want to do some low level hacking to learn more about hardware and assembly coding? Good luck with that. With over 1500 instructions current x86 architecture is a complex beast. Registers are a mess with no consistency.

I remember first time I did Assembly coding on a PC after having done it on Amiga. My Got it was a hack on top of a kludge. It was no fun at all. And that mess seeped through when doing C code where you had to make distinctions between near and far pointers thanks to the dumb segment registers.

People could interact directly and easily with hardware on an Amiga. You could learn a lot about how a computer worked, back then. Today’s PC, you may as well threat as an iPad but without the user friendliness and a lot of quickness.

People who want to learn about hardware today have to use an Arduino or something. Maybe Raspberry Pi. I am not sure. I really think it is hard to find anything quite matching the accessibility, flexibility, power and simplicity of the computers of the 1980s golden era.

By that logic a Rasberry Pi is a real work computer and modern PCs are toys. Just because something has a lot of capability and can play games doesn’t make it a toy.

Anyway I do think the quirkiness of the PC underpinnings matter. It means the architecture could never get scaled down to smaller system such as microcontrollers, phones and tablets. That meant it opened up for an under dog coming up from the bottom and eating its way into the PC market. That is what we are seeing with ARM today. Today we are seeing the beginning of the end of the x86 hegemony. It will not be missed.

And RISC-V is coming quickly behind, and offers some really fund and simply systems which I think a new generation can enjoy working with. It will enable the kind of versatile hobbyist systems which has been hard to achieve since the 80s.

Written by

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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