Sometimes added functionality isn’t exactly functional. Sometimes, it’s more a sort of demonstration that something can be done, whether or not it’s actually a very good idea.
UK readers may not recognise the machine below, but those of you in the USA (as long as you’re of a certain vintage) will be familiar with it. It’s a TRS-80 model 100: an incredibly early (1983-ish) laptop-type computer, whose market was mostly in the US and Canada, made in partnership by Kyocera and Microsoft. The 8k version would set you back $1099, and the 24k version $1399 – an absolute ton of money in 1983, when we many of us at Pi Towers were either not born yet, or still at the corduroy dungarees and deelyboppers phase.
The TRS-80, rather amazingly, was a connected machine, with a built-in modem. It was a popular tool for journalists; you could save about eleven pages of text if you were out in the field, and send it over that modem to your editor using a program called TELCOM – an incredibly liberating technology at the time. It was pretty power-efficient as well; it took four AA batteries, which lasted for about 20 hours.
So what better for retro-hardware lovers than an internet-connected TRS-80 model 100? That’s exactly what Sean Gallagher from Ars Technica made.
I successfully logged in to Ars’ editorial IRC channel from the Model 100. And seeing as this machine first saw the market in 1983, it took a substantial amount of help: a Raspberry Pi, a little bit of BASIC code, and a hidden file from the website of a certain Eric S. Raymond.
Sean says that the TRS-80 is the last machine Bill Gates ever wrote a significant amount of code for, and that Gates has said it’s his favourite ever machine.
This is a really tricky problem to work your way around when you consider that modern websites don’t really work within a 40 columns by eight lines display; that the TRS-80 keyboard doesn’t have a | or pipe symbol; that you can’t load a TCP/IP stack onto the device; that Sean had to build his own null-modem cable – it’s a labour of love and an absolutely fascinating read. Head over to Ars Technica to read more about dragging 1980s hardware some of the way into the 21st century.