Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Nostalgia for the old Amstrad PCW

BBC News today has a nice piece of nostalgia focusing on the Amstrad PCW, which was my first computer too:

Nostalgia for a techno cul-de-sac
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

Today Amstrad is best-known for its charismatic boss, Sir Alan Sugar, and has been sold to broadcaster BSkyB for £125m. But in the 1980s, it was responsible for home computing milestones.

With its monochrome screen, strange-sized disk and off-grey/white plastic, the Amstrad PCW was not a machine built for aesthetic qualities.
I wrote my PhD dissertation on mine, having bought one second hand from an American post-graduate student in Oxford who was about to leave to return to the States (I still remember his name -- Mark Sandy). It was the summer of 1989, and I had been strongly encouraged by Professor Ed Sanders, who was tutoring me that term, at Queen's College, to learn to type since the essay I handed him every week was written in fountain pen. I remember him saying that the two things that American high school graduates had over their British counterparts were (a) that they could drive and (b) that they could type. So I bought the Amstrad for £295, about £100 cheaper than it would have cost me to buy it new from Dixons. I used it for the next six years and had few complaints except that my monitor had a tilt at the top of the screen. It's funny to think back on using a computer that had no internet and no mouse, that was, in fact, as the article above says, "a glorified electric typewriter". Its word processing package was called Locoscript and I remember it being every easy to use, and it had a Greek facility that was very easy to use and did not look at all bad. Hebrew was another issue, and one had to jump through some real hoops, especially to get it to work from right to left.

I think I still have mine somewhere.


Anonymous said...

I still remember you using that damn' thing in, what, '91?

Mark Goodacre said...

Hi Richard; yes -- you always used to take the mickey of it. Had it at Alan Bullock Close throughout, and Wren Road before that.

Anonymous said...

I have very fond memories of the old PCW. I designed many pictorial worksheets for my Chemistry students on it, wrote two novels (they were dreadful, but that was my fault rather than Amstrad's!) on it and generally had a lot of fun.

OK so it was slow, slow, slow and didn't have the stuff we take for granted these days. But it was reliable. No blue screens, incomprehensible error messages, pointless nagging or freezes. Locomotive Software, who wrote the LocoScript and (I think) the CP/M software always answered the phone and were happy to take feedback and correct the few mistakes that did occur.

Right, so it wouldn't be a competitor in today's market, but when I have to deal with the rubbish that Micro***t have put out since XP, there are more than a few occasions when I miss the old PCW.

All the best


Mark Goodacre said...

Excellent -- yes, it was a trusty old warhorse!