My First Computer Is An IBM
by Lloyd Borrett
Your Computer, December 1982
"But why do you want a computer?" That's the first
question I'm asked by people who see my IBM-PC. You see, I'm
employed as a systems programmer, working on large 16- and
32-bit Data General minicomputers, and my workmates can't
understand why I want my own computer. After all, I have
access to time on computers ranging in size from Data
General minicomputers to a large Control Data mainframe.
As for my friends, they find it hard to believe that,
after working all week surrounded by computers, I can still
bear to be within sight of one outside office hours.
The simplest answer is that access to corporate equipment
isn't the same as having your own computer. But as a reader
of Your Computer, you will already know this plus all
the other reasons.
In fact, I hope to use my IBM-PC mostly for work. There
are a number of tasks which are best carried out on a small
computer, and there are also many programs that are not
readily available on larger computers — for example,
When the majority of people I know think about personal
computers, they think about Tandys and Apples. However,
these are 8-bit computers; my experience with minicomputers
told me long ago that I would require at least a 16-bit
I've watched carefully as announcements about 16-bit
Z8000, M68000, 8086 and 8088-based computers were made.
Clearly, it seemed two types of systems were being produced.
Those based on the Z8000 and M68000 chips are mostly
multi-user, multi-tasking systems, similar to the low end of
the current offerings from the established minicomputer
manufacturers. As a result, they have more 'sophisticated'
(read expensive) hardware and peripherals surrounding them.
The 8086 and 8088-based computers seem to be intended for
use as single-user, mufti-tasking systems. They are not as
complex, and are priced within reach of more users.
The IBM-PC is based on the 8088 chip, and has all the
features I require at a price I can afford. Yes, I know the
Sirius, Panasonic JB3000 and so on are also based on the
8088 chip, but to me the IBM-PC has a lot more going for it.
IBM is currently producing 3000 personal computers a day,
and there is already a complete range of hardware products
available from other sources to extend the capabilities of
the IBM-PC. While some of these products can be used on the
other 8088-based computers, most can't.
To my knowledge, there is no 8088-based computer that is
totally software-compatible with the IBM-PC. The large
software houses in the United States have geared up to
produce software for the IBM-PC, and each day more software
is becoming available. Little of this equipment appears
likely to be converted for use on computers such as the
Sirius and JB3000.
IBM has announced a software package that allows the
IBM-PC to communicate with a host computer supporting IBM's
Systems Network Architecture (SNA) and emulate the IBM 3270
and 3101 terminals. A large number of the IBM-PCs sold in
the United States have been bought by users of IBM
mainframes, and even more will be paying careful
consideration to the IBM-PC now that it can communicate with
their existing computers.
While other microcomputer manufacturers find it hard to
sell their products to 'established' computer users, IBM
doesn't. This will inevitably strengthen IBM's domination of
the 16-bit personal computer market.
Since the Australian release of the IBM-PC is not
expected for some time in 1983, there are at present no
'official' suppliers in Australia. However, there are at
least four places at which a system can be purchased:
Cybernetics Research, 120 Lawson Street, Redfern,
NSW 2016; phone (02) 698 8286.
Customized Technology, PO Box 461, Ashfield, NSW
2131; phone (02) 799 5373.
CompuThink Australia, 66 Albert Road, South
Melbourne, Vic 3205; phone 03) 699 8555.
CPU Computer Centre, 279 Hunction Road, Clayfield,
Qld 4011; phone (07) 57 8023.
When I first saw the IBM-PC, my immediate impression was
that at last someone had got it right. Nearly all the
personal computers I'd seen had been marred by awful
keyboards, flickering screens, loudly clunking disk drives,
poor documentation and/or brittle plastic cases. Not so the
IBM-PC: its keyboard is the best I've used on any terminal,
the disk drives are quiet, the system unit is housed in a
solid case, and the screen doesn't flicker.
My system has 64 kilobytes of memory, the monochrome
display/printer adapter, a disk adapter, two double-sided
13cm disks (total: 640 kilobytes), the IBM monochrome
display, an Epson MX-100III printer
The Neat Touches
The system came packed in four boxes, each of which has
an inventory checklist to ensure you know exactly what to
find inside plus a diagram showing how to unpack (and
re-pack) the contents. These little touches are indicative
of the planning that has gone into the product.
Three excellent manuals are supplied with the system: a
guide to operations, a BASIC manual, and a DOS manual. By
following the instructions, you should have no difficulty
putting the system together, connecting the parts and
getting it started. There is a section which shows how to
use the supplied diagnostics cassette (or diskette) to track
down any problems, and even a section on how to pre¬pare the
system to be moved and set up again.
IBM is using only 16K memory chips, which imposes a limit
of 64K on the system board, and in each of IBM's add-on
memory boards. This is extremely wasteful of space.
Fortunately, there are a number of suppliers who can provide
256, 512 or even 1024K memory on a single board, by using
One of my main worries is how long it will be before IBM
announces the availability of hard disks. I can already buy
hard disks with capacities ranging from 5 to 20 megabytes,
but these may not be compatible with products that IBM plans
to announce. While many people are prepared to put up with
non-standard patches in their systems in order to make use
of the newest, greatest version of peripheral available, I'm
not. Well, not yet.
The printer that IBM uses in the United States is
actually an Epson MX-80. Given that I wanted to use 38cm
paper and the bit image mode, the Epson MX-100 III seemed
the logical choice. I'm surprised IBM doesn't use the Epson
MX-80 F/T with the Graftrax option; for very little extra
cost, this printer provides the friction-feed capability as
well as tractor feed, the ability to use alternate type
fonts, and the printing of screen images.
A common complaint reported in American magazines is that
the IBM-PC has too few expansion slots. There are five
available, but even with my small configuration I'm left
with only three. While the majority of users will never need
more than five slots, IBM doesn't have an option for those
who will require more. Fortunately, at least one other
manufacturer has filled this void, by marketing an expansion
chassis that features additional slots, and styling it to
complement the IBM-PC.
I intend to add a colour/graphics adapter in order to
provide access to the high-resolution graphics capability of
the IBM-PC, and to extend the memory capacity to 512K, using
half of this as a 'memory disk drive'. Two RS-232C ports
will allow me to communicate with other computers, and a
clock/calendar facility will ensure the system always knows
the correct time.
It Gets Crowded...
If IBM-supplied boards were used, I'd require a total of
11 boards, and still not have the clock/calendar.
Thankfully, there are other suppliers who are more
innovative, and I can obtain all these functions on just two
It's easy to find advertisements for all manner of
multi-function boards for the IBM-PC in American magazines,
but detailed product information is harder to come by.
However, there are at least four American magazines devoted
exclusively to the IBM-PC. I can recommend two: "PC, The
Independent Guide to IBM Personal Computers" and "Personal
Computer Age, the Definitive Journal for the IBM Personal
There are a number of operating systems available for the
IBM-PC. IBM's DOS (read MS-DOS or SB-86) is the operating
system in use on 95 percent of the systems sold. The UCSD
P-system and CP/M-86 are the other two front runners. For
those who require access to existing CP/M-80, there are
already add-on cards available which include a Z80B
processor and 64K memory. These cards enable the IBM to run
standard CP/M-80 programs.
At present, it seems hard to believe anything other than
IBM DOS will dominate the market, but this may change once
MS-DOS Rev 2.0 and Concurrent CP/M-86 become readily
Concurrent CP/M-86 allows more than one program to be
running at the same time. For instance, you could t printing
the output of a VisiCalc model while working on another,
break to look up a phone number in an on-line telephone
directory, and then return to where you left off in the
MS-DOS 2.0 will allow printer spooling, but concentrates
mostly on improving the user interface to the system. Thus,
to some extent the goals of these two operating systems
appear to be different. It will be interesting to see which
one wins out.
There are very few personal computers which don't provide
support for a version of BASIC. The IBM-PC is no exception.
Every system comes with a 40K extended Microsoft BASIC in
ROM (read only memory) which IBM is calling 'Cassette
BASIC'. As well as the standard features associated with
Microsoft BASIC, Cassette BASIC gives you the ability to
plot points and draw lines in both the IBM medium- and
high-resolution modes, use light pens, joysticks and make
sounds through the internal speaker.
The two other levels of BASIC are supplied when DOS is
Disk BASIC requires at least 32K memory and one
floppy-disk drive. It adds a large number of disk input and
output options, the ability to store and redraw rectangular
areas of graphic images, software support for two extra
printers, communications support using a standard RS-232C
port, and access to a date and time-of-day clock. Disk BASIC
is called by typing 'BASIC' when the DOS prompt is
Advanced BASIC, which requires at least 48K memory and
one floppy drive, adds event-trapping, an advanced
music-playing command and some advanced graphics commands.
It is called by typing 'BASICA' from the DOS prompt.
While BASIC was the first programming language I learned,
it has been quite a number of years since I'd made extensive
use of it. At first, I was surprised by the power and
flexibility of the language implemented. None of the
versions of BASIC I'd used on a minicomputer had such an
extensive range of statements and functions.
All three levels of BASIC force you to separate keywords
with a space; this caused some initial problems, as I was
used to a BASIC which inserted spaces for me. The versions
of BASIC which allow these spaces to be left out entirely
encourage the production of unreadable code.
BASIC was originally intended as a teaching language and,
to assist the learner, most of the original implementations
on minicomputers would check the syntax of each statement as
it was input. It's a pity this feature hasn't made it to the
IBM-PC, as it has obvious advantages, especially if the user
is new to the language.
On IBM-PCs running the DOS operating system, there is
support for Fortran 77, Pascal, Forth, COBOL, C, Compiled
BASIC and Macro Assembler. At least 128K memory is required
if these languages are to be used for program development.
The November 1982 issue of Creative Computing
carried a full report on these languages, and the figures
backed up my decision carry out program development in C.
Unfortunately, I don't have a C compiler or the extra memory
required, so for the time being I'm making do with BASIC.
After studying the BASIC manual, and running the sample
programs, I finally sat down and attempted to program my
IBM-PC. I decided to start by implementing the indexed
telephone directory program that Les Bell developed for the
'BASIC for Birdwatchers' tutorial in the July edition of
Although the dialect of BASIC used by both Les and the
IBM were new to me, I didn't have too much trouble in
getting the program up and running. Since then, many other
programs have followed.
Thankfully, the error messages displayed when things go
wrong are very comprehensive, and the BASIC Program Editor,
common to all the versions of IBM BASIC, allows for changes
to be made much quicker and easier than is possible on some
While the IBM-PC doesn't have any earth-shattering
innovations, it also lacks the design problems and flaws
that seem to prevail in many other microcomputers. There is
every reason to believe that the IBM-PC will become one of
the most popular and best-supported micro-computers
Saturday, 15 October 2011