As a gift, I recently received a copy of the “Commodore Book”, “On The Edge: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore” by Brian Bagnall.
Until I discovered OSX on newer Macintosh systems, my all-time favorite computer system (and platform) was the Commodore Amiga. I started out on an Amiga 1000, and I had an Amiga 3000 before I moved to Sun systems.
The story of that first Amiga 1000 is worth telling. In 1989 I was a 15-year-old kid who had gone from a TI-99/4A with cassette tape drive to an Atari 520STfm with a single floppy drive. Around the same time, I’d discovered BBSes and started exploring online using a HP-110 “laptop” and its built in 300 baud modem. For Christmas that year I received a Hayes Smartmodem 300 that I attached to the Atari ST.
One of these bulletin boards that I frequented was the PC Pursuit “Net Exchange” BBS, meant to be the support forum for Sprint’s Telenet system. Telenet was a packet-switched network that let you dial into a local modem, connect over their network to a modem in a remote city, and then dial out “locally” to another BBS in that city. Rates for using the Telenet system were much cheaper than paying for normal long distance service.
I grew up in a small town, and there were never any bulletin board systems within reach of a local phone call. However, I’d discovered a 1-800 dialup number for the Telenet system, and through that number, I could access the Net Exchange BBS by using the command “C PURSUIT”. I started lurking around, and eventually sent a message to the sysop who took pity on me and gave me a user account on the system despite the fact that I wasn’t even a Telenet customer.
I hung out in the electronic mail discussions for the Atari ST at first, then discovered that the Amiga discussions had more participants, and were generally more interesting, covering all topics and not just the computer. I received lots of kidding due to being an Atari user in a den full of Amiga fanatics, but I told them “its all I could afford”.
Months went by, and then one day my mother said “You’ve got a .. rather large package here that just arrived for you”. Unknown to me, a number of the people in the Amiga discussions had gotten together in secret, took up a collection, and bought me a decently-configured Amiga 1000 system, along with an adapter so I could use my Atari monitor with it!
The letter they enlcosed said something to the effect of “You’re a smart kid, we thought that you deserved a real computer. All we ask in return is that you do the same favor for some underprivileged kid some day.” I don’t remember all of their names, but one of the guys was named Bill Fischer (lived in Florida), and one of the other main “plotters” was a guy who owned an Amiga-centric computer shop in Nevada (Reno, I think). I’ve tried to look them up on the Internet in the years since, but have never had any luck.
That Amiga immediately became my primary computer system (I don’t remember what I did with the Atari), and I expanded it with memory, extra floppy drives, and eventually found the proper Commodore 1080 color monitor to go along with it. I used it for my Pascal programming class, writing letters, exploring online, and even used it to generate screen titles and special effects for the public-access-TV news show that my high school produced.
Unfortunately, Commodore went bankrupt in ’94, and I had to switch to a 386-based PC clone for college. I picked up a used A3000 while I was living in Oklahoma City and working for ioNET, but it got lost in the shuffle when I left it in storage with a friend after I moved to Texas in 1996. I went from PC clones to Sun systems, and from Sun systems to a G4 Cube running OS X in 2001.
Reading the book last night made me get nostalgic for my Amiga. A couple hours later, after some BitTorrent downloads of KickStart ROM files and a Workbench disk image set, I had a virtual Amiga 4000 on my desktop courtesy of E-UAE:
It’s not quite the same as the “real thing”, but it brings back a ton of memories. I’d love to get my hands on an A3000 or A4000 but can’t afford the eBay prices for them.
As for “returning the favor” done for me seventeen years ago, I do it whenever I can. I’ve given away more “rescued” computer systems than I can count, and also run SunHELP in my spare time.
Every time I’m able to help someone out or give a computer away to someone who can really use it, I’m reminded of the guys all across the country who got together to buy a “real computer” for a kid in a tiny Oklahoma town.